SOUTH PORTLAND—The new-look South Portland softball team has overcome a slow start this spring and is rounding into contender form.
Wednesday afternoon, the Red Riots made it five straight victories, blanking visiting Kennebunk, one of the league’s top teams, by a 4-0 score.
Junior ace Erin Bogdanovich allowed just three hits and the South Portland offense finally came alive in the bottom of the sixth inning to break a scoreless tie.
Freshman second baseman Laurine German got the rally started with a single. German stole second and scored the only run her team would need on an error and the Red Riots pushed three more runs across as they improved to 6-2 and moved temporarily into first place in the Western Class A Heal Points standings, while dropping the Rams to 6-1 in the process.
Kennebunk, led by its senior battery of pitcher Hannah King and Valparaiso University-bound catcher Janelle Bouchard, won its first six games with relative ease. The Rams defeated McAuley (15-0), Marshwood (11-6), Cheverus (15-3), Windham (10-3), Westbrook (1-0) and Portland (14-0, in five innings).
South Portland, which reached the regional final in 2011 only to fall to eventual state champion Scarborough before losing several key players to graduation, opened the 2012 season with a 6-1 home win over Bonny Eagle, then dropped consecutive games for the first time since April 21-23, 2007 (14-6 at Scarborough and 2-0 to visiting Thornton Academy). The Red Riots then beat host Noble (7-0), visiting Sanford (11-0), host Massabesic (17-0, in six innings) and host McAuley (8-3).
Even though South Portland beat the Lions Monday, coach Ralph Aceto wasn’t pleased.
“I wasn’t really happy with the way we played at McAuley,” Aceto said. “I was very discouraged. We had a long talk yesterday in practice.”
Since Kennebunk joined the Southern Maine Activities Association in 2004, it hasn’t been able to top South Portland. The Red Riots won the first meeting, 5-3, and extended their win streak over the Rams to 10 last year with a 13-0 six-inning triumph. That run includes a 13-0 (five-inning) victory in the 2007 semifinals and a 7-4 triumph in the 2010 semifinals.
Heading into Wednesday’s game, South Portland had outscored Kennebunk by a composite 83-13 margin in their meetings.
This encounter would prove much closer, but the Red Riots once again found a way to prevail, even though it took awhile.
Bogdanovich retired the first two hitters before the dangerous Bouchard reached on an error. Rams shortstop Carinn Burns then grounded back to the mound to end the top of the first.
In the bottom half, German walked with one out, but King got South Portland junior shortstop Danica Gleason to fly out to left and caught sophomore centerfielder Olivia Indorf looking at strike three.
Kennebunk appeared to have a good thing going when King belted a shot to the base of the leftfield wall leading off the second. King wasn’t content to stop at second for a double, however, and attempted to get to third, but was gunned down, as freshman Kiley Kennedy threw to Gleason, who got the ball to senior third baseman Libby Grant to apply the tag.
Bogdanovich struck out leftfielder Brittany Madore and induced a lineout to German off the bat of rightfielder Meg Dube to end the top of the second inning.
In the bottom half, Kennedy reached on a two-out error, but Grant fanned to end the threat.
First baseman Allison King led off the top of the third with a single to right, but Maddy Kasprzak’s attempted sacrifice turned into a force out at second. Bogdanovich struck out designated player Meg Cadigan and got third baseman Liz Cable to ground to third for out number three.
The Red Riots went quietly in their half of the third.
In the top of the fourth, Hannah King walked with two down, but Madore bounced out to senior first baseman Lindsay Cannon.
In the bottom of the frame, Gleason led off with a single to center and moved to second when Indorf blooped a single to center. Just when it appeared South Portland had a rally going, however, junior catcher Sam DiBiase popped out to first and Gleason was doubled off second base. Cannon grounded out to second and the game remained scoreless.
Bogdanovich had her first 1-2-3 inning in the fifth, capping it with strikeouts of Allison King and Kasprzak. In the bottom half, junior rightfielder Kelsey Morton walked with two down, but Bogdanovich grounded out to short and that was that.
Cadigan led off the top of the sixth with a bunt single, but Cable took strike three looking, Bouchard hit a weak grounder back to the mound and Burns grounded out to short.
The Red Riots then finally got some offense going in the bottom half.
German got the surge started. After falling behind 0-2, she moved up in the batter’s box and slapped the next King offering into centerfield.
“I was thinking she was going to throw a changeup,” German said. “I tried to use my brain, move up in the box and get ahead of the changeup. I noticed she was throwing low ones in the beginning. I moved up in the box because her third pitch was high.”
“I’d put Laurine on par with any second baseman in the league with what she can do at the plate or in the field,” Aceto said. “She can battle. That was on her. She’s done this long enough now. She’s smart enough. At 0-2, I just told her to put the ball in play. She stayed back on a changeup and sent the ball up the middle.”
German then stole second to put extra pressure on the Kennebunk defense.
“Laurine’s really fast,” Bogdanovich said. “I had confidence in her baserunning too.”
Gleason grounded to second, but Chloe Brown’s throw to first was low and squirted away from Allison King just enough for German to break for home. The throw to the plate was too late and the Red Riots had the game’s first run.
“I actually thought we’d score,” said German. “We were pumped and excited. We were all cheering each other on.”
South Portland wasn’t finished.
Indorf hit a grounder to Hannah King’s right. The pitcher looked at second, then at first, then decided not to throw to either base and both runners were safe on the fielder’s choice. After DiBiase sacrificed the runners to second and third, Cannon blooped an RBI single to right, scoring Gleason, moving Indorf to third and taking second on the throw. Kennedy then delivered a single to score Indorf and when an outfielder made an error, Cannon scored as well and the lead was 4-0.
“During the sixth inning, I got everyone going, cheering and everything,” said Bogdanovich. “That helped.”
It was then up to Bogdanovich to slam the door and the ace secured her fourth successive shutout as she got Hannah King to ground to third (Cannon made a nice scoop on Grant’s throw), Madore to fly to Morton in right and Dube to pop to German to end it.
“I told the girls it’s a good statement win,” Aceto said. “I just told them I didn’t know if I was my speech or if they just woke up. What we did at Massabesic is what we’re capable of. There’s stuff to clean up. We made baserunning blunders. We’re still learning.”
Bogdanovich improved to 5-1 by allowing just three hits and a walk in seven scoreless innings. She fanned six.
“I knew they’re a good team with (Bouchard),” Bogdanovich said. “Their coach was my summer coach. He’s taught them well. I was nervous, but I knew if I had confidence in myself, I had the team behind me.”
There wasn’t much offense for the Red Riots, but Cannon, German, Gleason and Indorf all scored runs and Cannon and Kennedy had RBI.
King (4-1) was the hard-luck loser for Kennebunk, allowing no earned runs in six innings. She surrendered five hits and two walks while striking out seven.
“Hannah, I’ve coached against her four years,” Aceto said. “I like to say a lot of kids don’t become pitchers until they’re juniors or seniors. She has become a full-fledged pitcher. She worked the ball in and out and kept us off balance.”
Kennebunk (fourth in the Western A Heals) is home against Gorham Friday and plays at Bonny Eagle Monday. A home game with Scarborough (May 16) and a trip to Thornton Academy (May 18) still loom.
South Portland is midway through its schedule and will spend the rest of the season hoping to win games and jockey for postseason positioning. The Red Riots are scheduled to host Deering Thursday, although that contest could be postponed for the third time due to rain. South Portland is at Marshwood Friday. Monday brings a visit from Cheverus.
Now that the Red Riots have gotten through the heavy lifting portion of their schedule, they’ll be in good position to finish strong.
“I feel like we’ve really pulled it together,” said Bogdanovich. “We’re playing better than I expected. We were a little iffy in the beginning. The hitting or the fielding wasn’t there. Now we have both. I think we can go pretty far if we keep it up.”
“We’re playing well together,” said German. “We’re a really close team. I’m really positive about this team. I think we’ll do well as the season goes by. We’ll keep positive.”
In addition to keeping his motivational oratory to a minimum, Aceto hopes to get his team to the postseason, where South Portland could be a tough out.
“My goal this year is to get to the playoffs and I want to be at St. Joe’s (for the Western A Final) again,” Aceto said. “Anything can happen up there. If we get up there, I’ll take my chances with these kids. They play loose. Sometimes to a detriment. I’ve had to work harder than in the past three years, but I can’t say I’ve had more fun with a bunch of kids.”