South Portland scratches out win at Deering

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South Portland’s baseball team celebrates after the final out of Saturday’s 2-1 win at Deering.

Chris Lambert photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

South Portland 2 Deering 1

SP- 001 000 1- 2 8 3
D- 010 000 0 – 1 6 1

Bottom 2nd
Hill scored on error.

Top 3rd
Hasson singled to center, Troiano scored. 

Top 7th
Troiano reached on infield single, McHugh scored.

Multiple hits:
SP- Troiano 3, Johnson
D- Hill

Runs:
SP- McHugh, Troiano
D- Hill

RBI:
SP- Hasson, Troiano

Double:
D- Hill

Stolen bases:
SP- Troiano 2, Johnson 
D- Lynch

Left on base:
SP- 6
D- 7

Johnson, Buckley (7) and Horton; Bartell and Lynch

SP:
Johnson (W, 3-1) 6.2 IP 6 H 1 R 0 ER 2 BB 6 K 1 WP
Buckley (Save, 3) 0.1 IP 0 H 0 R 0 BB 0 K 

D:
Bartell (L, 2-2) 7 IP 8 H 2 R 2 ER 1 BB 2 K

Time: 1:49

PORTLAND—South Portland’s baseball team was an unknown quantity coming into the 2017 season, but as we hit the three-quarters pole, the Red Riots are putting it all together thanks to their ability to find different ways to win every time they take the field.

South Portland needed a little of everything when it battled Deering in a battle of contenders Saturday morning at Hadlock Field, but when the dust settled, the Red Riots did just enough to prevail.

The Rams took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second, when sophomore first baseman Luke Hill doubled and scored on an error, but despite good chances, including having the bases loaded with nobody out in the fourth, Deering couldn’t strike again against South Portland junior starting pitcher Zach Johnson.

The Red Riots drew even in the third against Rams senior starter Riley Bartell, as with two outs, senior centerfielder Sam Troiano beat out an infield hit, stole second and scored on a single from junior shortstop Riley Hasson.

Despite ample chances on both sides, the score remained tied until the top of the seventh, when South Portland went ahead.

After junior second baseman Noah McHugh led off with a single, he moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and took third on a ground out. With first base open, Deering chose to pitch to Troiano and he made the hosts pay with a sharp ground ball that senior shortstop James Sinclair couldn’t handle and McHugh came home for the lead.

In the bottom half, the Rams put two runners on and with two outs, Johnson was replaced by junior Connor Buckley, who got the last out of the game on a pop fly and the Red Riots were able to get out of town with a 2-1 victory.

Johnson earned the win and had a pair of hits and Troiano had three hits as South Portland improved to 9-3 and dropped Deering to 5-6 in the process.

“It’s never easy with this group,” said Red Riots coach Mike Owens. “I’m happy with the end result, but I thought we made a few mistakes to keep them in the game. I said coming in to the season that 10 (wins) would be a good goal and we’re almost there.”

Playoffs on their mind

Both teams appear bound for the postseason and both are hoping to move up in the standings in the season’s final days.

Deering opened with a 1-0 home win over Sanford, then won at Thornton Academy, 4-2, and lost at home to Gorham, 10-1 and at Scarborough 12-3. After doubling up host Massabesic in a slugfest, 20-10, Deering fell at Biddeford, 3-1, and beat visiting Westbrook by a 3-1 score. After losses at Cheverus (7-0) and Windham (5-3), the Rams edged visiting Marshwood Thursday, 5-4.

South Portland started with a 3-1 win at Windham and after a 2-1 loss at Gorham, the Red Riots downed host Marshwood (2-1), visiting Thornton Academy (8-7) and host Sanford (2-0, in nine innings). After falling at home to Portland (5-2), South Portland beat host Noble, 8-0, then was blanked by visiting Cheverus (4-0), before downing host Scarborough (5-2) and visiting Westbrook (2-0) and Massabesic (9-1).

Heading into play Saturday, Deering had won 12 of 18 meetings dating back to 2002 (see sidebar, below), but South Portland had taken the past three, including a 4-3 home victory last spring.

This time around, the Rams sought their first victory over the Red Riots since May 21, 2013 (6-1 in South Portland), but the Red Riots beat Deering for the fourth time in a row.

Both pitchers had clean innings in the first.

Bartell got Troiano to ground sharply to Sinclair at shortstop and Hasson followed by doing the same thing. Johnson then hit a line drive to right that tailed toward the line, forcing junior Keegan Stanton to chase it down and he did so with a nice running catch to retire the side.

In the bottom half, Johnson got junior catcher Jack Lynch leading off to squib a ball in front of the plate which sophomore catcher Caden Horton grabbed to throw him out. Junior centerfielder Luc Harrison then looked at strike three and Sinclair hit a shot to deep center, but Troiano was there for the third out.

Bartell worked around a one-out hit in the second.

After junior first baseman Jake Poole grounded out slowly to third leading off, senior leftielder Gordon Whittemore lined the game’s first hit, a single to center, but Horton popped up to first and McHugh’s grounder up the middle was grabbed by Rams senior second baseman Jacob Dikas right at the bag and he tagged it for the force out to end the threat.

Deering started quietly in the bottom half, as Bartell skied to Hasson at short, but Hill doubled to left. Senior designated hitter Colby Dame, who was supposed to be the Rams’ starting pitcher, but was scratched at the last minute in favor of Bartell, then grounded the ball to McHugh at second, who couldn’t handle it and when the ball got through to the outfield, Hill came home with the game’s first run. Junior rightfielder Khem Johnston’s throw home got away, allowing Dame to go to second, but he’d be stranded there, as Stanton bounced out to third and Gikas popped out to short.

South Portland got the run right back in the top of the third with some two-out magic. 

After Bartell got Johnston to fly to center, junior third baseman Jimmy DiBiase grounded out to Hill at first with Bartell covering, but Troiano beat out an infield hit to the right side. Troiano, who has no peer as a base stealer, promptly pilfered second and Hasson delivered him with a single to center to tie the score.

“I was happy with our approach,” Owens said. “We hit some balls hard. Our focus in practice has been to go up the middle and the other way and we did a good job with that today.”

Johnson followed with a line single to right-center and Hasson had a full head of steam, but was held at third. Bartell then caught Poole looking at strike three to end the frame with the game tied, 1-1.

Johnson preserved the tie in the bottom half, getting senior leftfielder Rob Dacey to pop to short, fanning Lynch and getting Harrison to line out to a leaping Hasson.

Whittemore started the fourth with a fly ball to right-center which Stanton ran down and caught while tumbling to the ground. Horton then grounded to second and McHugh bounced out to third to end the quick frame.

The Rams then had a major squander in the bottom half.

Leading off, Sinclair grounded a single into right-center and Bartell, on a full count pitch, blooped a single to left-center. That set the stage for Hill, who walked on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases. Dame hit the ball hard on a line, but it was right at Hasson at short for the first out. Stanton then looked at strike three and on a full count pitch, Gikas did the same, ending the threat and keeping the game tied.

“When the going got tough, I was able to buckle down,” Johnson said. “I was just trying to focus and throw strikes. I was confident in our team. Our defense can overcome a lot.”

“I don’t think Zach had his best stuff today, but in true fashion, he battled and gave us a chance to win,” Owens said. “That was the game right there. I think the game hinged on that. He made his best pitches when it counted.”

“That’s a cardinal sin in baseball,” lamented Deering coach Josh Stowell. “When you have bases loaded with nobody out, you have to find a way to get a run across. We had to drive the ball. We didn’t put great at-bats together.”

The Red Riots had a chance to take the lead in the fifth, but ran themselves out of the inning.

Johnston grounded to third leading off, but DiBiase was hit by a pitch and Troiano beat out another infield single, this one to third. Hasson looked at strike three and with Johnson at the plate, Bartell picked DiBiase off second with Sinclair applying the tag.

Deering ran itself out of a potential rally in the bottom half, as after Dacey beat out an infield single, the Rams tried a hit-and-run, but Lynch flew out to center and Dacey couldn’t get back to first in time as Troiano’s throw to Poole resulted in a double play. Harrison then flew out to right.

South Portland had another great chance in the sixth, but couldn’t score, thanks in large part to a sensational defensive play. 

Johnson led off with a line single to right and when Stanton couldn’t handle the hop, Johnson went to second on the error. A sharp grounder by Poole to first moved Johnson to third. After Whittemore walked, with Horton at the plate, Whittemore was caught off first and eventually tagged out by Bartell. Horton then crushed a ball deep down the rightfield line. Stanton ran after it and dove on the warning track to somehow track it down, robbing the Red Riots of a run and keeping the game tied.

Sinclair and Bartell both struck out looking to start the bottom of the sixth before Hill singled to center. Dame then lined out to Hasson to send the game to the fateful top of the seventh.

There, McHugh led off with a solid single to center. After Johnston sacrificed him to second, McHugh took third on DiBiase’s ground out to second.

That brought up Troiano with first base open, but Deering chose to pitch to him and after taking three pitches out of the strike zone, Troiano hit a sharp grounder to the left of Sinclair. Sinclair had to go two steps to his left and couldn’t field the ball cleanly and Troiano reached on the hit with McHugh coming home for a 2-1 lead.

“When I got to first base, I thought that they could have just walked me,” Troiano said. “As soon as I saw (Sinclair) bobble it, I hustled more.”

“I was shocked (they pitched to him),” Owens said. “I thought they were trying to pitch around him and see if he’d chase. Normally 3-0 is a take count, but I gave him the green light because I trusted he’d swing at a good pitch and I didn’t want to take the bat out of the hands of our best hitter.”

“We thought about (walking him), but he’d steal second base anyway and we’d still have first base open,” Stowell said. “He’s the fastest guy in the league. That’s how we looked at it. Up until that point, he’d hit the ball on the ground. He hit the ball hard to our best fielder and it just happened to pop out of his glove. It happens.”

Troiano stole second, but Hasson bounced back to Bartell to end the frame.

Stanton gave the Rams life in the bottom half, singling through the hole between short and third. Junior Bobby Ridge came in to run and Gikas got ahead in the count 3-0, but after taking a strike, he laid down a bunt to DiBiase at third, who threw to Hasson at short for the first out. Dacey then hit a liner to right that Johnston raced in to catch for the second out.

Lynch then got ahead in the count 3-0, Johnson battled back full and after Lynch crushed a ball just foul deep down the leftfield line and fouled off a second pitch, he hit a little pop up in foul territory, but it was lost in the sun and landed harmlessly. After a couple more fouls, Lynch walked and ball four got away, allowing Gikas to go to third.

That ended Johnson’s day, as Owens replaced him with Buckley, who brought a quick end to the contest, getting Harrison to pop the ball behind short. For a split second, it appeared as if the ball might drop between the retreating Hasson and the charging Troiano, but Hasson got back to cradle it to end the game and give South Portland a 2-1 victory in 1 hour, 49 minutes.

“It’s pretty frustrating to not be able to finish, but it would have been worse to not get the win,” Johnson said. “I had a lot of faith in Connor getting the save. I was hoping Riley would get to that ball. After we lost here to Portland last year, we definitely wanted to win here today.”

“Zach did a good job and we battled,” Troiano said. “We never put Connor in an easy position. Every time he comes in, he competes. Our defense has been very good and someone 1 through 9 always comes up big for us like Noah did today. It’s fun to play here. (Our home field) is really windy. Here it was nice and warm.”

“I was impressed how (Zach) battled even without his best stuff, but he couldn’t throw his off-speed pitch and we felt like we were playing with fire,” Owens added. “Buckley is our curve ball guy and we felt that was the time to (make the change).” 

Johnson improved to 3-1 by giving up just one unearned run on six hits in 6.2 innings. He walked two, threw a wild pitch and struck out six. Buckley retired the only batter he faced for his third save.

Troiano paced the offense with three hits, a run scored and an RBI. Johnson also had multiple hits. McHugh scored the other run and Hasson added an RBI. Troiano stole two bases and Johnson had one. South Portland left six runners on base.

Deering got two hits, including a double, from Hill, who also scored the Rams’ lone run. Lynch had a stolen base. The Rams stranded seven base runners.

Bartell was the hard-luck loser, giving up two earned runs on eight hits in a complete game effort. He walked one and struck out two.

“Riley stepped up,” Stowell said. “Colby was a late scratch. He couldn’t get loose. His arm was tight. It happened earlier in the season too, but it’s nothing serious. Riley did great. I don’t think he hit 90 pitches. He battled for us and that’s all you can ask.

“We battled to the end. There were a couple spots where things didn’t bounce our way and it didn’t quite work out for us today. It all comes down to execution. We bunted into their trap. We had to get it down on the other side and our baserunning had to be better as well.

“We did do some good things today. We made some plays defensively. There were a lot of positives. (South Portland’s) a good team and I think we’re similar.”

Final stretch

Both teams will be tested in their final games, but each has a chance to move up with some victories.

Deering (now ninth in the Class A South Heal Points standings) hopes to bounce back Monday at Sanford. After playing at Noble Thursday, the Rams close at home versus Thornton Academy, Bonny Eagle and Portland.

“We have five left and we have to make a move,” Stowell said. “We have to string hits together and put some big innings together. We’re a couple runs away from being a team that’s a few games over .500, not under. We have to keep working and trying to execute and we should be able to put it together and get in the playoffs and have a chance to make a run.”

South Portland (fifth in Class A South), is home with Marshwood Tuesday, goes to Biddeford Thursday, then closes at home versus Bonny Eagle and Windham.

“We have a lot of new guys, but we’ve improved a lot and we’ve adjusted,” Johnson said. “We have to keep improving the way we have, hitting and defensively cleaning up errors, and we’ll be fine.”

“We need to hit better and hopefully we can grab one of the top four spots and get a first round bye,” Troiano said.

“We still have a ways to go to make a run in the playoffs,” Owens added. “We’re getting better and better each day. This is a group that’s young varsity experience-wise. We’re getting a little better each day and that’s our goal right now.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter:@foresports.

South Portland junior Zach Johnson goes into his windup. Johnson earned the victory.

Deering senior Riley Bartell delivers a pitch. Bartell was the hard-luck loser.

Dering junior rightfielder Keegan Stanton makes a sensational diving catch on the warning track to end the top of the sixth inning.

Deering junior third baseman Alex McGonagle fields a ground ball.

Deering junior centerfielder Luc Harrison makes contact.

South Portland junior third baseman Jimmy DiBiase is tagged out by Deering senior shortstop James Sinclair on a pickoff play.

South Portland junior shortstop Riley Hasson makes contact.

South Portland junior third baseman Jimmy DiBiase fields a ground ball.

Recent South Portland-Deering results

2016
@ South Portland 4 Deering 3

2015
South Portland 2 @ Deering 1

2014
South Portland 12 @ Deering 1 

2013
Deering 6 @ South Portland 1

2012
South Portland 5 @ Deering 1 (9)

2011
Deering 4 @ South Portland 3
@ Deering 7 South Portland 3

2010
@ Deering 4 South Portland 3

2009
@ Deering 3 South Portland 1

2008
Deering 10 @ South Portland 9
Western A quarterfinals
@ Deering 11 South Portland 3

2007
@ Deering 9 South Portland 1
Western A quarterfinals
@ Deering 2 South Portland 1

2006
@ South Portland 3 Deering 1

2005
@ Deering 6 South Portland 0

2004
Deering 13 @ South Portland 7

2003
Deering 6 @ South Portland 0

2002
South Portland 3 @ Deering 2

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.