SCARBOROUGH—Scarborough broke open a one-run game with a five-run fifth inning and sophomore Joe Cronin made quick work of a good-hitting South Portland team, spinning a four-hitter over the distance in the Red Storm’s galvanizing, 7-2 victory in a Western Class A baseball game with major playoff implications Tuesday afternoon at McFarland Field.
Cronin worked quickly and efficiently, struck out six, and avoided the big inning by spreading out the Red Riots’ four hits to just one each inning after cruising hitless through the first three.
Trailing 1-0, Scarborough scored twice in the fourth to take the lead and capitalized on South Portland’s adventurous day in the field to tack on five more in the fifth and run away.
Senior Brendan Sullivan doubled home a run, sophomore Ben Wessel tripled home another and Cronin helped himself with a two-out, RBI single for a 7-1 lead after the decisive Scarborough fifth.
Back on the mound, Cronin kept a fast tempo and pounded the mitt with strikes as he briskly turned over the feared South Portland lineup, striking out at least one batter in every inning but the second. Cronin let in single runs in the second and seventh innings, the first one unearned, with the second somewhere in that gray area between an error and a triple. By definition, it was a two-out, RBI triple off the bat of Red Riots junior Evan Indorf for the 7-2 final.
“The key for me was making sure I threw first-pitch strikes,” said Cronin. “It makes things a lot easier ahead in the count. When I get in a good rhythm, I like to work quickly and keep everyone involved. It helped to get the offense going behind me like we did. Early in the season we struggled to come up with big hits and big innings.”
With the win, the Red Storm improved to 10-3, one of only three teams remaining with just three losses (three-time defending Class A champion Deering and powerhouse Westbrook are the others). Scarborough, quite literally, woke up on Tuesday in sixth place in the Western A Heal Points standings and went to bed in third, leaping three slots.
“Big win for us today,” said Scarborough coach Joe Cronin. “The league is wide open this year so we’ll take any win we can get. I was happy with how we played overall. It’s a long week for us with four games and Deering next. But we feel confident because we have a lot of pitching depth. If we can position ourselves right for the playoffs I think we’re deeper than most teams in that regard.”
Against South Portland (now 8-5 and eighth in the region), facing a proven righty in senior Matt Lee, the Red Storm came out complacent the first trip around and fell behind early watching first pitch strikes. This gave Lee the chance to snap off one breaking ball after another on the black, striking out five and limiting the Red Storm to just a pair of hits and two runs after the fourth.
But Scarborough made adjustments and came out swinging early, starting with senior Jake Rutt’s double to leadoff the two-run fourth. The Red Storm loaded the bases with no outs as Sullivan was hit by a pitch and senior Dan Murphy put a nice two-strike bunt down the line toward first and reached on an error. The only play was to tag out Murphy up the line, but the ball popped free on contact. Lee walked in Rutt from third when he lost senior Luke Bogdanovich to tie the game, and Scarborough took a 2-1 run lead on a sacrifice fly to left by Wessel that scored Sullivan.
Lee came back out for the fifth and was met with a single by Scarborough junior Kevin Philbrick before hitting Rutt with a pitch, the second of three batters he plunked in the game. Sullivan followed by ripping the first pitch he saw for an RBI double down the line in left to give the Red Storm a 3-1 lead. Murphy grounded back to Lee for the first out, and the Red Riots got the second out at first on a groundball that cost them a run. With Rutt now on third and dangling down the line toward home, Lee got Bogdanovich to ground sharply to third with enough time to look the runner back and get the sure out at first. But Rutt broke on the throw and scored easily ahead of the relay from first. With two outs, Wessel’s triple to deep center brought home Sullivan and chased Lee after 4 2/3 innings in a 5-1 game.
“Hitting can be funny,” said Rutt, after padding his league-leading average with a pair of doubles in three trips. “But we’re starting to come around. (Lee) was looking to get ahead and throwing a lot of first-pitch strikes. So we came out looking to swing early in the count and came up with some big hits with enough power to move runners along.”
The Red Storm scored twice more against South Portland lefty junior Jon Medici, helped in large parts by consecutive errors by the Red Riots’ infield. Scarborough junior Ryan Mancini popped to the fringe of the outfield grass and briefly into the sun, reaching when the ball skipped off the first basemen’s glove to allow Wessel in from third. Still with two away, sophomore catcher Conor McCann grounded to short, but the throw to first sailed and both runners took an extra base up into scoring position. Cronin pretty much summed up the day for South Portland, blooping a little flare that found its way into right field and scored Mancini to give Scarborough a 7-1 advantage. Sophomore Brendan Horton rushed in from center to back up the play and gunned down McCann trying to score from second to finally get South Portland back in the dugout.
In the sixth, Cronin got the first two batters but gave up a two-out walk to junior Zach Horton and senior Ryan Curit’s second single, but escaped on a pop-out to foul territory behind first base to preserve the six-run lead.
Cronin did nearly the same thing in the seventh, setting the first two batters down in order before walking Red Riots senior Connor Hasson. Indorf followed with a tailing liner that skipped away in right to knock in Hasson with a triple. Cronin came back and whiffed the final batter to earn Scarborough a monster win.
Scarborough’s win coupled with Westbrook’s unexpected loss on Saturday shook up the top of the league standings. Surprising Bonny Eagle, a team the Red Storm already beat in the second game of the season, slipped into second place (just behind Westbrook) despite four losses. Scarborough is just above Deering in fourth, giving the Red Storm a chance to control their own destiny – and soon. Scarborough will visit Hadlock Field on Thursday to face the Rams for the first time since last year’s epic regional final they lost, knowing full well a win will likely secure sole possession of second place with two games left in the regular season.
The loss slides South Portland into jeopardy of falling out of the playoff picture (only eight teams qualify), but the Red Riots get a much-needed shot at redemption Thursday when they host Westbrook.
“We haven’t been able to score enough runs to offset innings when our defense is shaky like that,” said South Portland coach Tony DiBiase. “But we haven’t put together the offense I thought we would this year. We’ve lost a lot of close games this season, with the exception of this one. I think waiting for that big inning is frustrated a lot of guys. But Scarborough’s pitcher threw a great game. We just got beat.”
South Portland junior Andrew Richards delivers a pitch to Deering Saturday. Richards went the distance, but took a tough 4-3 loss.
South Portland senior Jon DiBiase touches home while the throw eludes the Deering catcher during Saturday night’s contest at Hadlock Field. The Red Riots couldn’t hold a 3-2 seventh inning lead and lost, 4-3.