SACO—The Scarborough softball team finally faced a heavy dose of adversity Thursday afternoon.
But it wasn’t enough to keep the defending Class A state champions out of the win column.
After five easy victories, by a composite 70-8 margin, the Red Storm could muster almost no offense against Thornton Academy senior ace Julia Geaumont for five innings, but in the sixth, Scarborough came to life.
An infield single and error opened the door and the Red Storm rallied for four runs, taking the lead for good on a clutch two-out, two-run single from junior Grace Farnkoff. Scarborough added two unearned runs in the seventh and junior Erin Giles slammed the door on the 6-3 victory, giving the Red Storm a 6-0 record, while dropping the Golden Trojans to 5-1.
“It was really intense,” Farnkoff said. “I was getting nervous, but we knew we had to stay calm. We know our offense is capable of so much and was capable of coming alive and it wound up happening.”
Scarborough won a relatively unexpected Class A state championship last spring, but entered 2012 as the prohibitive favorite and hasn’t disappointed. The Red Storm opened with a 13-0 home romp over Biddeford in five innings, then went to Portland and rolled, 19-2, again in five innings. Visiting South Portland was supposed to give Scarborough a challenge, but the Red Storm again put up double figures in runs, winning, 14-6. Easy 12-0 victories at Gorham (in six innings) and at home to Bonny Eagle (in five frames) preceded Thursday’s game, but Scarborough was hindered by the loss of senior ace and blistering hitter senior Mo Hannan, who is out with mononucleosis for at least another week or two.
Thornton Academy entered the contest having dazzled in its five games, winning by a composite 73-2 margin. The Golden Trojans opened with a 17-1 romp at rival Biddeford. They then easily handled visiting Portland (21-1, in five innings), outdueled host South Portland (2-0), then blanked visiting Gorham (13-0, in five innings) and host Bonny Eagle (20-0).
Since the teams first started playing in 2004, Scarborough had won all 11 meetings, starting with a 1-0 (10 inning) triumph.
In addition to its regular season dominance, the Red Storm took playoff decisions in the 2005 quarterfinals (1-0, in 10 innings), 4-0 in the 2010 semifinals and 2-0 in last year’s semifinals.
For most of Thursday’s game, it appeared as if Thornton Academy was going to finally break its Scarborough hex, but in the end, the Red Storm pulled it out.
Geaumont was in control early, getting Scarborough sophomore first baseman Alyssa Williamson to ground out to second base, striking out junior second baseman Marissa O’Toole and inducing a harmless flyout to right off the bat of Giles.
The Golden Trojans threatened against Giles in the bottom of the first, as Geaumont led off with a bloop single and after junior leftfielder Karen Jacques bunted into a double play, freshman shortstop Bailey Tremblay doubled over the head of rightfielder Brenna Kent. A wild pitch moved Tremblay to third, but she was stranded there as Giles got sophomore third baseman Sam Schildroth to ground out to sophomore Megan Murrell at third, with Williamson making a nice scoop to end the inning.
Geaumont set the side down in order in the second, as Murrell lined out to first, senior leftfielder Dominique Burnham grounded out to second and Kent flied out to right.
Giles settled down in the bottom of the second, getting sophomore first baseman Erin Brayden to ground out to second, then striking out sophomore designated player Jordan Agger and senior second baseman Chrissy Remmes looking.
Geaumont continued her dominance in the third, getting Farnkoff to bounce out to second, inducing junior catcher Paige Moore-Haskell to bounce back to the mound, then catching junior centerfielder Mary Redmond looking at strike three.
Thornton Academy finally got to Giles in the bottom of the third.
Freshman centerfielder Brooke Cross got the rally started by walking on a full count pitch. After senior rightfielder Katie Kalagias hit into a force play, Geaumont reached on an error. Sophomore Morgan Dube ran for Geaumont and both Kalagias and Dube moved up when Jacques sacrificed. Tremblay then came through with a single to right, scoring both runners for a 2-0 lead.
Geaumont proved human in the top of the fourth when Williamson led off with a single to center on the first pitch, but O’Toole’s sacrifice turned into a double play after a baserunning blunder and after Giles walked, Murrell grounded back to the mound.
A two-out single from Cross in the bottom of the inning went for naught when Giles got Kalagias to foul out to right.
Geaumont got the first two hitters in the top of the fifth, then walked Farnkoff. Moore-Haskell then flew out to left and the Golden Trojans retained the lead.
In the bottom of the fifth, Geaumont walked leading off, Dube pinch-ran and was sacrificed to second by Jacques and after Tremblay walked, Schildroth singled to center, scoring Dube for a 3-0 advantage. A walk to Brayden loaded the bases, but Giles escaped the jam by getting Dube to line to Murrell, who doubled Tremblay off third, ending the inning with Scarborough still within hailing distance.
The Red Storm then finally came alive in the sixth.
Redmond got the rally started with an innocuous grounder on the infield, but she beat the throw to first.
“That was pure athleticism,” said longtime Scarborough coach Tom Griffin. “We’re happy to have her. She has great hand-eye coordination, great speed and instincts.”
Williamson then grounded to Remmes, who attempted to tag Redmond, but bobbled the ball. Her throw to first was late and just like that, Scarborough had two on with no outs.
“We were a little worried, but we eventually found the holes,” Giles said. “(Mary’s infield single and the error) helped get the team going. We’re always into it, but once people start hitting, everyone was on the edge of their seat and jumping up and down you feed off each other and the next person goes up there confident. The pitcher gets rattled. We had made good contact (earlier in the game), but we hit it right to people. “
A seeing-eye single to right by O’Toole loaded the bases and Giles was grazed by a pitch to score Redmond, putting the Red Storm on the board.
“We needed to get around to that third time (through the order),” said Griffin. “We needed to change things up. We frontloaded the lineup on purpose and at the back, we tried to play a little small ball, really hoping they’d get on base before Alyssa came up again and it all worked out. We strung hits together. We made the best of our opportunities. We made contact all game. I told the kids if we put the ball in play, we’d win the game.”
After Murrell flew out to left, chasing home Williamson to make it 3-2, Burnham walked to reload the bases. A shot to rightfield off the bat of Kent appeared to be enough to tie the score, but O’Toole took off at the crack of the bat instead of tagging up and the bases remained loaded.
“I was really concerned,” Griffin said. “It could’ve tied the game. It wasn’t a lack of effort. Just a lack of focus. She felt worse than anyone on that field, but her teammate picked her up.”
Just when it appeared Scarborough had squandered its opportunity, Farnkoff came through, ripping a shot to right that landed just in front of Kalagias. O’Toole and Giles came in to score and just like that, the Red Storm had a 4-3 lead.
“I knew I just had to do my job,” said Farnkoff. “Make contact and something good would happen. It felt good coming off the bat. I just hoped it would drop. I ran as fast as I could and it did.”
“(Not scoring on the fly ball) was definitely worrisome, but we have a great lineup 1 through 9,” Giles said. “Grace was coming up and we knew she could pull it through. She had a great hit in a perfect spot.”
“We had Grace No. 2 (in the order), but we slotted her down,” Griffin added. “It had nothing to do with her hitting, just with Mo not being here. She was great. She didn’t hesitate. That’s the type of kid I’ve got. They pull for each other. It’s not about stats.”
In the bottom of the sixth, Thornton Academy threatened after Cross beat out an infield hit with one down and after Kalagias sacrificed her to second, Geaumont was intentionally walked, but Giles made the defensive play of the day, racing over to catch Jacques’ little pop fly on the infield, running into Murrell in the process, but hanging on to keep Scarborough on top.
The Red Storm then got some breathing room in the seventh.
Moore-Haskell led off with a single just over Tremblay’s glove. Moore-Haskell was caught stealing, but Redmond singled to left. One out later, O’Toole rocketed a shot to deep left-center, but the ball ricocheted right off the wall, forcing Redmond to stop at third on O’Toole’s double. Giles walked to load the bases and Murrell hit a grounder to the left of Tremblay. Tremblay couldn’t come up with the ball and Redmond and O’Toole both came home to make it 6-3.
Giles quickly ended the suspense in the bottom of the inning as Tremblay lined out to Farnkoff, Schildroth hit a grounder to O’Toole, who made a nice play going to her right before throwing out the runner, and Brayden ended the contest by grounding out to Farnkoff.
Shorthanded, Scarborough had been tested, but survived.
“It showed the strength of the team, especially without Mo,” said Farnkoff. “We knew we couldn’t let our confidence down. We’re so deep. It showed today. Three runs was nothing for us.”
“It was definitely nervewracking,” Giles said. “This was a really good game. Thornton’s an incredible team. We knew that going into this, but we were able to show what kind of team we are. Everyone was upset Mo was out, but we pulled it together and showed we have incredible hitters 1 through 9.”
“We’ve played some great games over the years, but this is probably the most gutsy game I’ve seen the girls play,” Griffin added. “We were far from perfect. We made some big mistakes. They dug down and they found a way. I’m just so proud of them. They stayed focused and confident. Things worked out. Julia’s a tremendous competitor. I have so much respect for her. They’re a really good team. We’re just really fortunate we came up with the big inning and found a way to win.”
The unrelenting Red Storm offense took its time to get going, but ultimately produced seven hits, including two each from O’Toole (who had the team’s lone extra base hit) and Redmond. O’Toole and Redmond also scored twice, while Giles and Williamson touched home once each. Farnkoff drove in two runs, while Giles and Murrell also had an RBI.
“We showed a lot of character, especially without Mo,” Griffin said. “We had to move forward and we were confident. We’re not a one-pony team. We don’t focus on one kid carrying us. We have a lot of depth. The extra kid in our lineup (Paige-Haskell) was key and came up with a big hit and did a nice job behind the plate. She had her opportunity and did a fantastic job.”
Giles struggled for much of the outing, but wound up improving to 3-0 by scattering seven hits. She walked six and struck out two and also threw a wild pitch, but was most effective at the end of the game.
“I wasn’t as sharp as aI could have been,” Giles said. “I didn’t get down on myself. I had to stay positive and I got better and better as the game went on. I settled down.”
“Erin came up big at the end to shut it down,’ Griffin said. “It wasn’t her best performance, but she found a way to keep us in the game.”
Thornton Academy got two hits each from Cross, Schildroth and Tremblay. Dube scored twice, while Kalagias also scored a run. Tremblay had two RBI, Schildroth one.
Geaumont wound up surrendering six runs (two earned) on seven hits. She walked four, hit a batter and struck out two and she fell to 5-1 on the season.
There’s a very good chance Thornton Academy and Scarborough will square off again in the Western A Final June 12.
The Golden Trojans are back in action Monday at Noble.
The Red Storm hosts Noble Friday and visits Sanford Monday.
Scarborough doesn’t figure to be tested much over the next several weeks, but knows it can rise to any challenge.
“It’s good to have a game like this,” said Giles. “I love playing competitive games. These show what we’re make of. It’s good for us in the future. We pulled it off and showed our stuff.”
“Anything can happen, but this helps our confidence,” said Farnkoff. “We pulled through. It showed we can come back. We have strength throughout our order. We have to treat every game and every opponent the same. We have to keep our eye on the prize and play for that day. When playoffs come around, good things will happen.”
“This puts us in the driver’s seat now,” Griffin added. “I’m just so proud of them. They stayed calm and confident and never panicked. Some teams might have folded, but they didn’t.”