PORTLAND—The South Portland softball team never met its match during the 2011 regular season.
Now, the defending Class A state champion Red Riots look to cap their perfect run with another title.
Tuesday afternoon, South Portland won its 16th straight game without a loss this spring and its 25th overall, 1-0, at McAuley, in the teams’ mutual regular season finale.
The Lions certainly didn’t make things easy as senior pitcher Jen Field kept the big bats of the Red Riots off balance, but South Portland scored the game’s lone run by virtue of an error and a junior third baseman Libby Grant’s sacrifice fly and senior ace Alexis Bogdanovich made it stand up.
The Red Riots will be the top seed for the upcoming playoffs, while the Lions, who finished a program-best 12-4, will be either fourth or fifth.
“It was scary for a bit, but it’s always good to beat McAuley,” Grant said. “We’re such big rivals. I know they always want to beat us. “
South Portland won its first six games this season by a composite 69-0 margin. The road then got tougher, but the Red Riots passed tests at Thornton Academy (7-2) and Biddeford (5-4, in a 12-inning marathon) before holding off visiting Scarborough, 3-1, in a long-awaited showdown last week. South Portland then returned to its explosive ways with easy triumphs at Cheverus (19-4, in five innings) and at home over Bonny Eagle (15-2, also in five innings).
McAuley, coming off an inspirational 11-win campaign in 2010, which ended with a 6-4 loss to South Portland in the quarterfinals, won its first 11 games this spring before falling, 3-1, at home to Thornton Academy. The Lions then lost, 7-1, at Scarborough and 7-1 to visiting Biddeford, before getting back in the win column Friday with an easy 14-2 (five inning) triumph at Portland.
McAuley entered Tuesday’s contest hoping to end a seven-game losing streak to the Red Riots, which dates to April 30, 2004 (a 12-0, five inning triumph), but it wasn’t to be.
In the top of the first, Field (who has stepped in on the mound after sophomore Gabby Townsend was sidelined by injury) came out an made an immediate statement by getting South Portland senior second baseman Danielle DiBiase to ground out to senior third baseman Maura Esten, inducing sophomore centerfielder Erin Bogdanovich to line back to the mound and getting sophomore shortstop Danica Gleason to ground back to the mound, for a 1-2-3 inning.
The Lions got something going in their half.
With one out, senior second baseman Sara Mercier singled to center. One out later, sophomore catcher Sam Schildroth drew a walk, but Alexis Bodganovich bore down and struck out Townsend (the leftfielder) to keep the game scoreless.
South Portland then struck for the game’s lone run in the top of the second.
Leading off, senior catcher Katlin Norton singled in front of Townsend, down the leftfield line. Bogdanovich then hit back to Field, who threw to senior shortstop Kayla Daigle for a force out. Senior first baseman Amanda Linscott then hit back to Field as well, but this time, Field’s throw went into centerfield, putting runners at first and third. After Linscott stole second, Grant pounded a ball that appeared ticketed for the right-centerfield gap, but McAuley’s standout junior centerfielder Shelby Bryant ran it down. Bogdanovich scored easily, but instead of enjoying a big inning, the Red Riots led just 1-0.
“(Field’s pitches were) the perfect speed for me,” Grant said. “I struggled batting at the beginning of the season and I worked on changing my swing and worked on my form more. I think we were all too anxious because the pitches looked so good and we just wanted to pound it.”
“One mistake is all you need,” South Portland coach Ralph Aceto said. “I’m sure (Lions coach) Robby (Ferrante) will say you can’t give teams more than three outs in an inning.”
After Bogdanovich struck out the side swinging in the bottom of the second, senior leftfielder Stephanie McDonough led off the top of the third by beating out an infield single to deep short. DiBiase sacrificed her to second, but Erin Bogdanovich’s blooper to left was snared by a diving Townsend and Gleason bounced out to Daigle at short to end the threat.
Bodganovich continued to dominate in the bottom half, sandwiching two strikeouts around a ground ball back to the mound. In the top of the fourth, the pitcher singled with one down and Grant singled to center one out later. After Grant stole second, however, sophomore rightfielder Kelsey Morton popped out to Mercier at second to end the frame.
Sophomore first baseman Molly Mack led off the bottom of the inning by reaching on an error in center by Erin Bogdanovich, but Schildroth struck out looking. After Townsend bunted the potential tying run to second, Daigle popped out foul to third, keeping it 1-0.
Field had a strong top of the fifth, retiring the Red Riots in order, but in the bottom half, the Lions went 1-2-3, as Esten bounced hard to short and Field and senior rightfielder Nona Gillis both went down swinging.
Gleason led off the top of the sixth with a bloop single to center, but after Norton popped out to second, Alexis Bogdanovich hit a little pop up to Field, who turned it into a double play, catching Gleason off first for the third out.
McAuley looked to get a rally going in the bottom of the sixth when Bryant beat out an infield hit.
The Lions could have had the speedy Bryant to steal her way into scoring position, but decided against it.
“(Shelby) still has a sore knee, plus (Norton) is good,” Ferrante said. “ I wanted to put the ball down and get her in scoring position.”
Mercier couldn’t get a bunt down, however, popping out to the mound. Mack didn’t have any luck either, as her bunt was snared out of the air by Norton in foul territory. Mercier then struck out to end the hosts’ last real opportunity.
Field gave up a one-out single to left-center by Grant in the seventh, but after Morton struck out, Grant was called out at first for leaving too early and it was on to the bottom of the seventh.
There, Bogdanovich slammed the door, fanning Townsend swinging, getting Daigle to bounce out to short, then ending it by inducing a pop fly off the bat of Esten, which Linscott caught at first.
“I knew (McAuley would) be better than in the preseason,” Grant said. “They’ve had a good season and are a good team. I think we’re a better team, but we didn’t play like it today. It’s awesome (to go 16-0). All of our seniors love softball so much. It feels so good to give an undefeated season to them.”
“It was what I expected,” Aceto added. “I knew McAuley could play. They have some good ballplayers out there. I’m not happy with the way we swung the bats. Maybe it’s my fault for giving them the weekend off. Field is a tough pitcher, but we were way out in front of everything, dropping our shoulders and popping everything up.”
Bogdanovich allowed just two hits and one walk in her seven innings and was overpowering to the tune of 13 strikeouts.
“I’m so happy Alexis is on my team,” Grant said.
“It’s probably a good thing we had Alexis on today,” Aceto added. “She threw strikes and pretty much carried us through the game.”
Grant was the game’s lone multiple hitter and had the only RBI. Alexis Bogdanovich had the game’s only run. Grant and Linscott had stolen bases.
For McAuley, Field was steady throughout, allowing just six hits and the unearned run, while walking no one and striking out one.
“It was encouraging,” Field said. “It felt really good to stop them. They’re a really good hitting team. Our defense played really well. I was hitting my spots. That really helped. We could hit (Alexis). Leaving people on base didn’t help. One or two key hits are what we needed and we couldn’t do that. We kept it close and we battled.”
Bryant and Mercier had the only Lions’ hits.
“We had two chances,” Ferrante lamented. “We knew we weren’t going to get many. Going in, I said if (Alexis) got 10 or more strikeouts, I knew we’d be in trouble. She got 13. Still, they feel very confident. We felt confident even coming into today. They know they can play. We played seven innings today and made one mistake. You can’t do that against this team. I thought we’d have to play an A-plus game today and we played an A game.”
The Lions are awaiting the final Heal Points standings to see if they’ll go fourth (which would mean a home game in the quarterfinals June 9) or fifth (which would force them to travel). Kennebunk is the likely first foe.
“I’m excited for the playoffs,” Field said. “We have some good confidence. This builds it up. Probably both (Gabby and I) will pitch a little. We haven’t talked about that yet. It’s good to have options.”
South Portland is the No. 1 seed in Western A and will host the quarterfinal and semifinal round. The road to the championship appears to go through the Red Riots.
“I think we’ll be in the contest, but it’ll be who shows up,” Grant said. “There are a lot of good teams this year.”
SP- 010 000 0- 1 5 1
M- 000 000 0- 0 2 1
Grant flew out to right-center, A. Bogdanovich scored.
RBI- SP, Grant
Repeat hitter- SP, Grant
Run- SP, A. Bogdanovich
Stolen bases- SP, Grant, Linscott
A. Bogdanovich and Norton; Field and Schildroth
A. Bogdanovich (W, 9-0) 7 IP 2 H 0 R 1 BB 13 K
Ross (L, 2-3) 7 IP 6 H 1 R 0 ER 0 BB 1 K