Perfect pitcher sends perfect Storm to semifinals

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Scarborough junior ace Lilly Volk is all smiles as she’s congratulated by senior Maggie Murphy at the conclusion of the Red Storm’s 12-0 (six-inning) home victory over Portland in Thursday’s Class A South quarterfinal. Volk was perfect for all six innings, fanning 10.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

SCARBOROUGH—Scarborough’s offense is just fine, thank you.

And the Red Storm’s pitching?

Wow.

Thursday evening, in a Class A South quarterfinal at the Kippy Mitchell Sports Complex, Scarborough’s defending Western A champion softball team began its quest for the state title which eluded it last year with a memorable performance.

Spearheaded by a pitching gem for the ages.

Hosting Cinderella Portland, which came into the game enjoying its deepest playoff run in a decade, the top-ranked Red Storm turned to junior ace Lilly Volk to set the tone and she did that.

And much, much more.

Volk struck out the side in the top of the first inning and was just getting warmed up.

Volk then set the eighth-ranked Bulldogs down in order again in the second.

In the bottom half, Scarborough got the only runs it would need when junior catcher Hannah Ricker belted a two-run single and sophomore second baseman Katie Verreault stole home for a 3-0 lead.

Volk then made easy work of Portland in the third, fourth and fifth innings, not allowing a single baserunner.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Red Storm scored two unearned runs, as sophomore rightfielder Chloe Griffin scored on an error and senior first baseman Kaleigh Scoville came home on a ground out for a 5-0 advantage.

When Volk set the Bulldogs down 1-2-3 in the sixth, she was three outs away from a perfect game, or so we thought.

Instead, Volk never had to come out to pitch the seventh inning, as sophomore rightfielder Chloe Griffin hit a two-run double, junior designated player Abbie Murrell had an RBI single, a run scored on a passed ball, another scored on a grounder, another came home on an error and sophomore shortstop Laura Powell raced home on a fielder’s choice to end the game by the mercy rule, 12-0.

Volk faced 18 batters and retired them all, striking out 10, and after being relatively quiet for the final two games of the regular season, the offense produced 12 hits as Scarborough improved to 17-0, ended Portland’s run at 10-8 and advanced to host No. 5 Windham (13-5) in the semifinals Saturday at 1 p.m.

“It feels really good,” said Volk. “That’s my goal, that’s any pitcher’s goal, being perfect, but it doesn’t happen a lot. I’ve worked really hard. I’ve gone all season throwing one-hitters, two-hitters, which are great, but it’s so close. To finally hit my goal, I know my coach will be proud of me and that feels good.”

Two different stories

Scarborough has been an unstoppable juggernaut for years, while Portland, the state’s one-time gold standard, has been climbing its way back into contention.

After losing last year’s Class A Final, 1-0, to Messalonskee, in a game essentially decided by one pitch, this spring, the Red Storm crushed just about everyone, winning their 16 games by an unimaginable composite margin of 251 runs to 11. Scarborough did get tested at the end, however, and had to hold on to beat visiting Windham, 2-0, then rallied for two seventh inning runs to edge visiting Biddeford, 4-3. Scarborough’s 16-0 mark gave it the top seed in the region.

“Those closer games were good for us,” Red Storm coach Tom Griffin said. “We need to know if someone challenges us, we can dig deep and keep our poise and composure and do the little things. If you don’t go that in the regular season, in the playoffs, you can take backwards steps and be back on your heels. We don’t like losing, so we’re happy we won. We know we can handle ourselves in those situations.” 

Portland stole headlines all year, going 9-7, then, Monday, in a thrilling preliminary round game against No. 9 Marshwood, the Bulldogs tied the game with a run in the seventh, then won it, 3-2, on a triple from junior second baseman Taylor Crosby followed by a single from senior catcher Gianna Gaudet.

The teams met once in the regular season, a 14-2 victory for Scarborough at Portland May 10. That decision gave Griffin his 400th win with the program.

The teams split two previous playoffs meetings (see sidebar below), but they hadn’t met in the postseason since 2006.

Thursday, Volk never gave the Bulldogs a chance.

In the top of the first, Volk fanned junior shortstop Morgan Boyle, sophomore Sydney Gilbert and her opposite number, sophomore Jess Brown.

In the bottom half, Red Storm senior third baseman Maggie Murphy led off with a single and stole second base, but she didn’t score, as Chloe Griffin flew out to left, Scoville flew out to right and after Murphy moved to third on a wild pitch, Murrell flew out to sophomore Mabel Pence in right.

In the top of the second, Volk struck out senior first baseman Isabelle DiMillo, then Crosby had the best bid for a hit, ripping a line drive which Powell had to climb the ladder to catch at short. Sophomore centerfielder Kitara Rosmus ended the frame by popping to third.

Scarborough got the jump in the bottom half.

Volk led off by popping to second. Powell then ripped a single off the glove Bulldogs freshman third baseman Grace Stacey, sophomore centerfielder Lindsey Kelley singled to left and after the runners moved up on a wild pitch, Verreault reached on a bunt as the runners held to load the bases. That brought up Ricker, who lined a single to right-center, scoring Powell and Kelley for a 2-0 lead as Verreault moved to third. Ricker then took off for second and Verreault broke for home when Gaudet threw to Crosby. Crosby’s throw home was too late to caught Verreault and the lead was three. Murphy then walked, but Griffin popped out to Crosby, who made a nice sliding catch. Scoville walked to load the bases, but Brown escaped further damage by getting Murrell to right, where Pence made a sprawling catch.

In the third, Volk struck out Gaudet and Stacey and got junior designated player Annie Twombly to line softly to second.

In the bottom half, Brown got Volk to line back to her, Powell to bunt out to third and Kelley to pop to short.

Volk was just as dominant her second time through Portland’s order, starting in the top of the fourth, as she got Boyle to pop to second, Gilbert to bunt back to the mound (Volk threw to Verreault covering) and Brown to chase strike three.

Brown kept her team in it in the bottom half, getting Verreault to ground to short, Ricker to slap a liner to third, where Stacey made a sno-cone catch, and Murphy to look at strike three.

Volk made quick work of the Bulldogs again in the fifth, with some help from her first baseman. DiMillo’s sharp grounder to first was knocked down by Scoville, who recovered and tagged the bag for the first out. Crosby then grounded to short, but Powell’s throw to first was low. Scoville dug it out just in time to record the second out. Volk then caught Rosmus looking at strike three to end it.

Scarborough got some breathing room in the bottom half, with some help.

Griffin led off with a single to left. Scoville then reached on a Crosby error and as Scoville stole second, Gaudet’s throwing error scored Griffin and put Scoville at third when Stacey couldn’t handle the throw back to the infield. Murrell followed with a grounder to Brown, who threw to first with Scoville scoring for a 5-0 lead. Volk then doubled to center, but Powell lined to right and Kelley popped out to short.

Volk started what proved to be her final inning, the top of the sixth, by striking out Gaudet on an off-speed pitch. Stacey then struck out swinging and Twombly grounded out to second.

Little did anyone suspect, but that was Portland’s final at-bat of the season.

That’s because the Red Storm put up a seven-spot in the bottom of the sixth to end the contest.

Verreault seemingly popped up leading off for the first out, but Crosby couldn’t hold the ball and Verreault reached safely. She then stole second. Senior pinch-hitter Tori Hale struck out, but Murphy beat out a bunt single. Griffin then crushed a double to center, easily scoring Verreault and the speedy Murphy wasn’t far behind, touching home as well to make it 7-0. Scoville singled off Stacey’s glove and Murrell singled to center to score Griffin and put runners at the corners.

That did it for Brown, as Portland coach Robbie Ferrante pulled his starter in favor of Gilbert.

Gilbert struck out Volk, but strike three got away from Gaudet, allowing Scoville to score and reloading the bases. After freshman pinch-runner Courtney Brochu stole second, Powell’s grounder got past Crosby and sophomore pinch-runner Felicia O’Reilly and Brochu both scored to make it 11-0. Sophomore pinch-hitter Hunter Greenleaf followed with a double down the line but Powell was stopped at third, extending the game. Sophomore pinch-hitter Sam Carreiro was hit by a pitch to load the bases and sophomore pinch-hitter Emily Jefferds ended it by hitting a grounder to Gilbert, whose throw home was too late to catch Powell and Scarborough had a walkoff 12-0 victory.

“I knew they’d come in on fire,” Volk said. “We knew they’d bring energy and we had to get on top and build on that and play like it was 0-0 the whole way.”

“We’ve had two weeks off and our one scrimmage got rained out, so we focused on defense because to win a state championship, it comes down to defense,” Griffin said.

Volk, who has verbally committed to play at the University of Maine, was the story, throwing 60 pitches (45 for strikes) in a no-hit, no-walk, no-nothin’ display of brilliance. She struck out 10.

“I would have liked to have the full seven innings, but I’ll take what I can get and walk away head held high,” Volk said. “It was exciting. I had to take it one pitch at a time and play every pitch like it’s the state championship game. Everyone knows what happened last  year with one pitch. I know if I leave one ball up high in the middle, it could be hit out and that could be the game. That’s my mindset. It only takes one ball and I have to get the job done. My changeup was good today. That was fun to play around with.”

“(Lilly) knows how to properly prepare,” Tom Griffin said. “She’s obviously extremely talented. She doesn’t sit on her reputation. The biggest thing about Lilly is her mental ability. She knows how to love the game. She loves to pitch and it’s obvious to anyone who watches her perform. The kids love playing behind her.” 

Offensively, Chloe Griffin and Murphy both had two hits and 10 different players had hits.

“We have no holes in the lineup,” Volk said. “Even the girls off the bench can hit. Everyone can hit and everyone has faith that we all can hit.”

Griffin, Powell, Scoville and Verreault all scored twice, while Brochu, Kelley, Murphy and O’Reilly all touched home once. Griffin, Murrell and Ricker had two RBI apiece, while Jefferds and Powell also drove in a run. Verreault had two stolen bases, while Brochu and O’Reilly had one apiece.

The Red Storm left eight runners on base, but it didn’t matter.

What a ride

Portland couldn’t generate any offense and made five errors, but was very much in the game until the last two innings.

Brown, who was superb this spring, fell to 8-6 after giving up 10 runs (seven earned) on 11 hits and two walks in 5.1 innings. She struck out two and threw a wild pitch. Gilbert didn’t officially retire any of the five hitters she faced, although she did have a strikeout. Gilbert gave up two unearned runs on one hit and hit a batter.

“They just keep coming and this is their time of year,” Ferrante said, of the Red Storm. “We didn’t get a baserunner. We wanted to get one more shot. It’s a big learning process for our girls and hopefully we learned. There were two innings we gave them five outs.

“The girls will be alright. I’m meeting with them again Monday and I’ll see different, happier faces. They worked hard and it paid off. I had a lot of fun this year. This is a good group to be around.”

After the game, Tom Griffin tipped his capped to Ferrante and his team.

“I really admire Robbie,” Griffin said. “He’s such a great gentleman of the game. I’ve got great respect for him. He’s a kind person, someone I enjoy coaching against. He does things the right way and he’s bringing their program back the right way. They made big steps. The kids don’t realize how dominant Portland used to be in softball. Their girls had a positive attitude and played their hearts out.”

Portland loses DiMillo, Gaudet and Anna Freund to graduation, but everyone else returns, meaning the Bulldogs shouldn’t be a one-hit wonder.

They want to build on what they accomplished in 2016.

“We have a nice foundation for next year,” Ferrante said. “Hopefully we’ll get back here. We’ll keep plugging.”

Step two

Scarborough remains home for the semifinal round Saturday, against a team it saw recently.

The Red Storm are 2-2 all-time against the Eagles in the playoffs, with a 12-8 victory in last year’s quarterfinals the most recent. Scarborough’s first scare this season came May 26, when the Red Storm edged visiting Windham, 2-0.

Scarborough will be bolstered by the return from knee injury of senior shortstop Chloe Gorey, who missed the second half of the regular season.

As if the Red Storm need any more firepower.

This time around, look for Scarborough’s offense to be primed to produce more runs and for Volk, or whoever takes the hill, to continue to excel.

“We’re so determined to finish (this year),” Volk said. “There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t think about (last year’s state final loss). Me personally, there aren’t hours that go by. That’s what we eat, drink and sleep. Winning it is our goal and we’ll do whatever it takes.

“Windham gave us a tough game last time. They’ve seen me throw. I have to find something different. I have to find a way to catch them off-guard, whether it’s a change-up, or moving pitches more rapidly. We’ll find a way and hopefully get the job done. We know our offense can handle it.”

“(Windham’s) going to be what we expect,” Tom Griffin said. “They’re a very good offensive team. They hit the longball. Their pitcher has had an outstanding season. We didn’t pound the ball off her last time. Hopefully, we’ll have more success this time.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Scarborough junior Lilly Volk shows her unhittable form. Volk fanned 10 and allowed only eight balls to be put in play.

Portland sophomore pitcher Jess Brown throws a strike.

Scarborough sophomore centerfielder Lindsey Kelley makes contact.

Portland junior designated player Annie Twombly hits a pop up.

Scarborough sophomore Laura Powell lines a hit.

Portland senior first baseman Isabelle DiMillo catches a pop up.

Scarborough senior Maggie Murphy celebrates with sophomore Katie Verreault (10) after scoring a run.

Previous Portland stories

Season Preview

Portland 6 Deering 2

Class A South prelim
Portland 3 Marshwood 2 (8) 

Previous Scarborough stories

Season Preview

Scarborough 13 Sanford 4

Previous Portland-Scarborough playoff results

2006 Western A quarterfinals
Scarborough 3 Portland 0

2004 Western A Final
Portland 3 Scarborough 1 

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.