The top two Class A softball teams in the state of Maine this year came from neighboring towns in Forecaster Country, but when the dust settled, only one got to play for a state championship.
Last Wednesday evening, the defending champion Red Riots of South Portland expected to take another step toward defense of their championship, but the Scarborough Red Storm stopped them dead in their tracks.
Scarborough junior standout pitcher Mo Hannan took advantage of a South Portland mistake to score the game’s lone run in the top of the first inning and stymied the Red Riots from there as the Red Storm advanced with a 1-0 victory in the Western A Final at St. Joseph’s College in Standish.
Saturday, in the state final in Augusta, Hannan was again dominant and this time, Scarborough’s hitting roared to life as the Red Storm made it three championships in five seasons with a 5-0 win over Messalonskee.
“This is well deserved for an incredible group of young ladies,” said longtime Scarborough coach Tom Griffin. “They worked hard and never wavered. They had a lot of confidence.”
Since 2003, Scarborough and South Portland have battled in the playoffs every year but 2006. The Red Storm won five of the previous seven encounters, 3-0 in the 2003 semifinals, 3-0 in the 2004 quarterfinals, 7-1 in the 2007 regional final, 1-0 in the 2008 semifinals and 2-0 in the 2009 regional final. The Red Riots downed Scarborough in the 2005 regional final (1-0) and again last year, 5-2, en route to their first state championship.
On May 24, South Portland made the Red Storm victim number 13 in a perfect 16-win regular season, 3-1. The loss was the only blemish on Scarborough’s 15-1 mark.
Both teams took care of business in the early rounds of the playoffs as the top-ranked Red Riots eliminated No. 8 Sanford (11-0) and No. 4 McAuley (14-2, in five innings), while the No. 2 Red Storm blanked No. 7 Noble (9-0, in five innings) and third-ranked Thornton Academy (2-0).
Something had to give in the regional final and that something was the defending champs. Barely.
Hannan led off the top of the first with a single to right field off Red Riots’ senior ace Alexis Bogdanovich and the ball got past the outfielder, allowing Hannan to go all the way to third. Junior Dominique Burnham was next and she hit a ground ball to South Portland senior second baseman Danielle DiBiase, which allowed Hannan to race home for a 1-0 lead.
“Dominique’s a great contact hitter,” said Griffin. “We could have bunted, but why take the chance? She’d been successful making contact on Bogdanovich. She drove in the run. That’s what she does. That’s why she hits second. She didn’t have the season she hoped, but she picked it up on offense and defense in the second half. She had as good a second half as anyone I knew we were capable of holding the lead. That run allowed us to relax and put pressure on them. You could see their faces change.”
Then, it was up to Hannan’s ability on the mound to hold the Red Riots at bay. She did so, allowing just four hits and two walks, while striking out 11 batters.
South Portland’s great chance came in the bottom of the fourth.
Sophomore shortstop Danica Gleason led off with a single and was caught in a rundown after rounding first, but Scarborough junior catcher Abby Rutt threw the ball away. Luckily for the Red Storm, sophomore centerfielder Grace Farnkoff was able to cut off the errant throw before it could roll all the way to the wall. Gleason, who would have scored in that scenario, had to stop at second.
Next up was Red Riots senior slugging catcher Katlin Norton, who hit a slow ground ball between the first and second basemen. Senior second baseman Lauren Aceto grabbed the ball and seeing the first baseman out of position, had to race Norton to the bag. Aceto dove and made the out just before Norton’s foot landed. Gleason moved to third on the play.
That brought up Bogdanovich, who grounded to sophomore Marisa O’Toole at short. With Gleason breaking for the plate, O’Toole’s throw had to be perfect and it was. Rutt made the tag and Gleason was called out, delighting Scarborough, while upsetting the South Portland contingent, which felt the runner was safe.
“It was a bang-bang play,” said Griffin. “Clearly the ball was there in time and clearly (Abby) blocked the plate.”
“I didn’t agree with the call, but I didn’t think it would be our only chance either,” said Red Riots’ coach Ralph Aceto.
After hitting a batter and walking the next to load the bases, Hannan escaped the jam with a strikeout.
“Mo is such a tiger,” said Griffin. “Such an emotionally strong kid. She’s the complete player. That was (South Portland’s) great chance to score. (Mo) had a couple jams, but we made some outstanding plays. It was heartbreaking, I’m sure, to South Portland.”
Scarborough went on to close the door from there and held on for the 1-0 triumph.
“Just getting an opportunity to play South Portland was what we wanted to do,” Griffin said. “We got that chance. On the mound and on offense, we felt we matched up really well. I thought they had a much better defense, especially up the middle, but we focused on defense to prepare for the playoffs. I could really see it turn around late in the season. They were ready. I thought we wanted to win that game more. They got tight and we got aggressive.”
The Red Riots got another gem from Bogdanovich, Maine’s Softball Player of the Year, who will play at St. Anselm (N.H.) next year. Bogdanovich surrendered just six hits and fanned 11, but South Portland’s season ended at 18-1.
“We played the game not to lose and (Scarborough) played it to win,” Aceto lamented. “We were tight. We made one mistake and that was it. We had chances. Alexis and Mo were pitch-for-pitch the whole game. I wasn’t concerned about the early run. I didn’t think it would be a 1-0 game or they’d shut us out. They did and hats off to them.
“It’s not so much that we lost, but if it was anyone else, it wouldn’t have hurt so bad. We’re rivals. We’re always there. There’s not dislike in any way, shape or form. It’s just like when your neighbor gets a new car you can’t afford.”
The Red Riots have averaged 17 wins a year dating back to 2005 and even though last year’s squad won it all and this one fell agonizingly short, you could make the argument that this might have been the finest team in program history.
“I can’t not be happy about the season we had,” Aceto said. “I feel bad, but I feel worse for the five seniors. This one loss wasn’t their legacy. They raised the bar for softball in South Portland and won a championship.”
The Red Riots will have to scramble to replace the likes of Bogdanovich, DiBiase, Norton, Amanda Linscott and Stephanie McDonough, but plenty of firepower will return in 2012.
“We have good kids coming back,” said Aceto. “Erin Bogdanovich, Danica, Olivia Indorf, Kelsey Morton, Libby Grant. I couldn’t be any happier with the kids coming in.”
Griffin admitted he was worried about how his team would bounce back emotionally after beating South Portland.
“My big fear was how we’d play coming off that emotional win,” he said. “We would have been in trouble if (the state championship game) was the next day. Luckily, we had a couple days to relax. I told the kids the mission wasn’t over. They certainly went in confident.”
The Red Storm had reason with Hannan leading the way and the ace sparkled again, allowing just two hits, while striking out 10.
The offense finally came in the fifth and sixth innings. Hannan, fittingly, drove in the first run, with an RBI double. Rutt’s RBI single chased Hannan home and sophomore third baseman Erin Giles doubled to score Rutt.
Scarborough scored twice more in the sixth as Aceto singled home Farnkoff and Hannan delivered another with an RBI hit.
“Messalonskee has a good freshman pitcher, but we knew it would be only a matter of time until we caught up with her fastballs,” Griffin said. “We had balls hard earlier. Things finally opened up in the fifth and sixth.”
Messalonskee did have a good scoring chance in the bottom of the sixth after a hit batter, single and double steal, but Farnkoff made the defensive play of the day, ranging to her right to run down a ball near the fence to end all doubt.
“It was a great running catch,” said Griffin. “It was the only hard hit ball they had all day. Mo wasn’t at her best, but it was good enough.”
Hannan slammed the door in the seventh and the Red Storm finished 19-1 with the 5-0 victory.
“I can’t say enough good things about these kids,” Griffin said. “I’m so thrilled. They worked so hard. They’re wonderful kids. They really supported each other and knew their role.”
Scarborough loses five seniors, Aceto, first baseman Alana Peoples and reserves Carolyn Bennett, Hannah Freeman and Rene Quinn.
“We’ll miss them all greatly,” said Griffin. “They brought energy to practice and off the bench. Lauren had a huge state game. Alana was an emotional leader. A wonderful captain.”
The Red Storm also lose Rutt, who will pursue her dream of playing college hockey at prep school next year. With that said, with Hannan and plenty of other key cogs returning, Scarborough has a great shot at repeating as state champion for the first time.
“I think our lineup will be strong 1 through 9 next year,” Griffin said. “I have all my pitchers back and we have some nice freshmen coming in. It’s a challenge to repeat. It’s something special and it’s our goal.”