PORTLAND—The South Portland Red Riots picked up what could be a season-changing victory using the long ball, a little small ball and one very odd ball, to upend the Cheverus Stags 4-3 in a Western Class A baseball game Thursday afternoon at MacDonald Field.
Trailing 2-0 after four complete, South Portland juniors Paul Reny and Zach Horton hit back-to-back home runs to begin the top of the fifth and senior Mike Foley delivered an RBI double for a 3-2 lead over the suddenly reeling Stags.
In the seventh, three seniors helped the Red Riots manufacture an insurance run that would prove to be the difference. Jon DiBiase dropped a perfect bunt down the first base line to sacrifice Ryan Curit to second and Matt Lee delivered what would become the game-winning RBI with a base hit to left for a 4-2 lead.
Junior Andrew Richards, the ace of the Red Riots staff, was touched for a run in the home half of the seventh on a pair of a singles and a sacrifice fly from Cheverus senior Jack Bushey that scored Kyle Randall to make it a one-run game.
But with two outs, Richards got the ground ball South Portland needed to secure the 4-3 victory. The righthander went the distance for the win, surrendering the three runs on 11 hits to help the Red Riots improve to 5-2 on the season.
Richards (3-1) pounded the bottom half of the strike zone to record eight outs via the ground ball, struck out four and walked only one in a tidy 86-pitch outing. South Portland’s defense helped Richards escape major trouble early in the game, turning a pair of inning-ending double plays to close out the first and second frames. The first double play erased runners on the corners, the second wiped out a bases-loaded opportunity for Cheverus and bought Richards time to settle down.
“Richards throw strikes and keeps the ball down,” said South Portland coach Tony DiBiase. “We have to catch the ball when he pitches. As long as we make the plays in the field we’re going to be in every game he’s out there. We have a very good team. Hopefully this win gives us the confidence we need to go out and beat the best teams.”
After reeling off six straight wins to begin the season, the Stags slipped and fell, 6-3, to Bonny Eagle on Tuesday and suddenly find themselves at 6-2 midway through the regular season.
Cheverus sophomore Louie DiStasio was saddled with the loss in a complete game, 130-pitch effort against the Red Riots. With a one-hitter going into the top of the fifth, DiStasio (2-1) was tagged for consecutive homers before recording an out, the first one likely triggering the second. In one of the more bizarre occurrences the game of baseball has to offer, Reny’s deep drive to right goes in the books as a solo home run though it was anything but conventional.
Leading off the fifth, Reny struck a deep fly that forced Cheverus sophomore Spencer Cooke to turn and give chase toward the collapsible mesh fence in right. Quickly running out of real estate, Cooke lunged to make the catch but watched the ball sail over his glove and land at the base of the fence. Focused on making the play, Cooke couldn’t hit the brakes in time and tumbled right over the fence and out of play. The fence bounced back while the ball stayed in play with Cooke on the other side. While Bushey raced over from centerfield to retrieve the ball, Reny circled the bases and scored South Portland’s first run on an inside the park home run of the most unusual variety.
“I saw him miss the ball and just kept running,” said Reny. “I picked up the third base coach and he was waving me home. When I was rounding third I was thinking,’what the heck happened out there?’ We showed why we are where we are. We proved we can play with the best teams in the league, and beat the best teams. We just need to stay consistent.”
After a quick check on Cooke by the Cheverus coaches and training staff, DiStasio toed the rubber to face the dangerous Horton in a 2-1 game. Horton dug in on the left side and crushed a solo home run to deep right that was never in question to tie the game.
DiStasio (2-1) regrouped and fanned Curit, then retired DiBiase on a fly ball to center for the second out. But Lee followed with an opposite field single to right, and lumbered home all the way from first base when Foley ripped a line-drive double to deep left to give South Portland a 3-2 lead after the top of the fifth.
In the home half of the fifth, Cheverus junior catcher Nic Lops led off with the second of his three singles on the day and stole second base. Richards set down the next two batters, and Curit saved a run with a graceful running catch over his shoulder in right to rob Cheverus senior Tom Webber of at least a double and the game-tying RBI.
DiStasio went back out and set the Red Riots down in order in the top of the sixth, but Richards returned the favor with a 1-2-3 bottom half of the inning to set the stage for the seventh.
Horton led off the last inning for South Portland and popped to left for the first out, but Curit battled back from an 0-2 count and eventually drew a walk. DiBiase, the next batter, moved Curit over to second with the bunt, and Lee grounded through the hole on the left side to plate the run that would come back to haunt the Stags.
“The fourth run was big for us,” said DiBiase. “We tried to get the runner over and give one of our best hitters a chance. We didn’t know we would need that extra run but it turned out to be huge.”
With the Red Riots leading 4-2, Cheverus pushed a run across in the seventh on a bloop single to short-right by Randall, a sharply hit ground ball from Lops that found its way into centerfield, and a sac-fly off Bushey’s bat to pull within 4-3.
But with Lops still on first, Richards got the final out on a routine ground ball to end the game and send Cheverus to its second straight loss in a wide-open league that’s just started to take shape with half the season now in the books.
“This was a great example of how balanced this league is,” said Cheverus coach Mac McKew. “It was a good game. We out-hit them, but they got those back-to-back home runs. DiStasio threw the ball well against a good team. I think South Portland is the best hitting team in the league. We have to come out and bounce back tomorrow. We have to mentally get past this and move on.”
The Stags didn’t have to wait long to try and get back to their winning ways, traveling to Sanford Friday for a game they should win. Another test awaits Cheverus next Tuesday when it hosts Scarborough at 4 p.m.
After posting a 3-1 record on a four-game road swing, South Portland heads home to welcome the surprising Bonny Eagle Scots Saturday at 11 a.m. Next up, the Red Riots will host the Portland Bulldogs on Tuesday.