SOUTH PORTLAND—On a day where it honored a beloved, departed member, the South Portland softball program earned a confident-boosting and Heal Points-rich victory over a squad riding a enormous wave of emotion.
In a contest which essentially had the No. 2 spot for the upcoming playoffs at stake, the Red Riots produced 10 runs against a Cheverus team which handed defending state champion Scarborough its first loss the day before.
Paced by the hitting of juniors Amanda Linscott and Katlin Norton and the offense and glove of freshman shortstop Danica Gleason, the Red Riots had all the answers, scoring four times in the third inning, once in the fourth and five more in the fifth. They also got timely plays from their defense and a gutsy effort on the mound from junior ace Alexis Bogdanovich to improve to 13-1 with a 10-6 victory, dropping the Stags to 11-4 in the process.
“This is huge,” said second-year South Portland coach Ralph Aceto. “It was a great game. I can’t say enough about Cheverus. They battled back. I think this is big for the girls.”
Both teams entered 2010 hoping to be the top threat to toppling Scarborough.
For most of the year, South Portland has been as good or better than anyone, getting stellar pitching from Bogdanovich, while crushing the ball. The Red Riots won their first 10 contests, then lost, 5-0, at Scarborough, before blanking visiting Biddeford, 5-0, and rolling at Portland, 10-5.
Cheverus, meanwhile, stumbled out the gate, blowing an eight-run lead in the final inning in a shocking, 13-12 loss in the opener, then, after an 11-3 home win over Sanford, it lost, 3-2, at Kennebunk. The Stags then rattled off seven in a row behind their senior ace, Theresa Hendrix, who, along with classmate Audrey Grinnell, makes up arguably the most potent hitting tandem in the league. After falling, 9-8, at Thornton Academy, Cheverus won, 6-4, at Biddeford and 14-3 at home over Portland, then, Tuesday, the Stags rode a two-run homer from senior catcher Jasmyn Welch and a superb effort on the mound from Hendrix to end Scarborough’s 19-game win streak.
Prior to the game, South Portland dedicated a new scoreboard which honored Jerry Kill, the father of former Red Riots standouts Kara and Kristin and longtime program supporter. Kill passed away suddenly and unexpectedly last August and his void is immeasurable.
“We were friends since our kids were 11 or 12 and played against each other in Little League,” Aceto said. “Jerry’s the parent that every coach wants to have. I won’t tell you he didn’t question coaches, but he did it (beyond the field). We miss him. We’ve been fortunate that the Niagara (the college from which Kristin Kill just graduated) and South Portland communities donated money and time to the sign. I can’t say enough about Parks and Rec to get this thing up and running. I think it’s absolutely fabulous. It means a lot to the program. It’s been a long time coming. We have the sign, now let’s get some lights and make this the facility what it should be. Everybody that comes here is in awe. This is another step. Thanks to Jerry Kill.”
On the field Wednesday, the Stags suffered a bit of a hangover as their defense didn’t rise to the occasion and South Portland took advantage time and again.
Hendrix led off the game with a slap single to centerfield, but was erased when senior third baseman Anna Snook hit into a double play, as Red Riots junior second baseman Danielle DiBiase fielded a ground ball, tagged Hendrix and threw to first. After a pair of walks, Bogdanovich got out of the jam by fanning senior leftfielder Maggie Grindatti.
DiBiase looked to spark a rally in the bottom half when she reached first despite striking out, as strike three eluded Welch. DiBiase advanced no further, as Gleason lined to third on a bunt, Bogdanovich fanned and senior catcher Stephanie Thibeault grounded out to short.
After Cheverus went down in order in the top of the second, on three Bogdanovich strikeouts, the hosts threatened as Norton, a junior designated player, led off with a double, but she couldn’t advance and the game was scoreless after two.
Hendrix put the Stags on top in the third. With one out, she ripped a Bogdanovich offering just fair down the leftfield line and by the time senior Kalie Swiger got the ball in, Hendrix circled the bases, just beating the relay throw for a 1-0 advantage.
While the early going suggested a pitcher’s duel, the rest of the contest featured plenty of offense (and plenty of miscues on defense).
South Portland took the lead for good in the bottom of the third.
With one out, Gleason crushed a pitch over Grindatti’s head for a triple. After Bogdanovich walked and was replaced by a pinch-runner, Hendrix made an error on a fielder’s choice, allowing the tying run to score before she made a putout at home. Norton followed with an RBI single to center, Linscott, a junior third baseman, singled to put runners at first and third and Swiger followed with a ground ball that went under junior Lexi Hilton’s glove for two more runs and a 4-1 lead.
Bogdanovich allowed a Grindatti single to start the top of the fourth, but after inducing a forceout from freshman designated player Staci Swallow, Thibeault threw Swallow out trying to steal and junior second baseman Erin Bucci struck out as Thibeault made an incredibly athletic play, catching the third strike foul tip with her bare hand.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Red Riots tacked on another run as freshman rightfielder Erin Bogdanovich led off with a bunt single, stole second and after a walk and an error, came home when Thibeault lined to left. Cheverus appeared to get the third out at third base before Bogdanovich scored, but despite what most on hand saw, the umpires ruled that the run had crossed the plate before the tag and it was 5-1.
Undaunted, the Stags rallied right back in the fifth behind their most potent bats.
After senior rightfielder Maggie Corrigan reached on an error and senior centerfielder Keturah Smith singled to right, Hendrix ripped a single to center to load the bases. Alexis Bogdanovich appeared to get out of the jam when she induced a double play off the bat of Snook, as Gleason fielded a grounder, stepped on second and threw to first.
“I knew, my instinct was just to go 2 and then go 1,” Gleason said.
However, just as soon as it looked like South Portland was off the hook, Grinnell swung at an outside pitch and pounded it over the fence in left-center to cut the deficit to 5-4.
“We talked before the game about staying away from (Audrey),” Aceto said. “I don’t know if it was a missed sign or if it was misplaced, but it went bye-bye.”
The Red Riots got the three runs back and then some in the bottom of the inning.
Norton walked, Linscott blooped a single behind third, Swiger reached on an error to load the bases and junior Brittany Harrison, pinch-hitting, was hit by a pitch to make it 6-4. With one out, DiBiase doubled to deep left to chase home two runs, Gleason hit a sacrifice fly and a passed ball made it 10-4.
Cheverus made one final charge in the seventh. Smith led off with an infield hit, Hendrix ripped her fourth hit of the day, a single, and Snook singled to center to load the bases. Grinnell grounded out to first to score a run and Welch hit a sacrifice fly to center to make it 10-6, but Bogdanovich got Grindatti to line to Linscott, ending the game.
Bogdanovich got the win, despite getting hit hard at times. She allowed six runs, five earned, on 10 hits and three walks, but fanned nine. Offensively, South Portland produced 10 hits. DiBiase drove in a pair of runs. Linscott had a pair of hits. Gleason tripled and drove in a run. Harrison scored twice. Norton singled, doubled and had an RBI while scoring two runs.
“I always go up there confident knowing I’m going to hit the ball and it just happens,” Norton said. “We needed to get Alexis runs. We haven’t given her many runs. We needed to give her some support and back her up. We need to be confident (at the plate). We showed we can hit against a pitcher like Theresa. We did pretty good against other good pitchers. Scarborough has good pitchers, but we need to be confident and know we can hit the ball.”
“We had some baserunning blunders today, but we played defense,” Aceto said. “I told the girls from Day One, if we play defense, we can play with anybody.
“We had a little different approach this week on our hitting. (Former pitching ace) Julie DiMatteo came back and threw some live batting practice. We backed off using the machine and worked on driving the outside pitch to rightfield. What (hitting coach) Marc (Sandora) and I did this week helped. The girls gained confidence and took it from there. They all swung the bat. That’s what I’ve been preaching all year. Put it in play and the other team will make mistakes.”
“I think this boosts our confidence a lot,” Gleason added. “We’ve been kind of down since the Scarborough game, but this brings our confidence up a lot. We’ve come a long way. We didn’t have confidence at first, but it’s come up a lot. I think we need to come together as a team and work for each other and not worry about anything else.”
Hendrix surrendered 10 runs in her six innings, but only half were earned. She allowed eight hits and four walks, along with a hit batter, and struck out eight. The Cheverus offense was paced by multiple hits from Hendrix, Grindatti and Smith, homers from Hendrix and Grinnell and three RBI from Grinnell. Hendrix scored three times, while Smith touched home twice.
“Emotionally it was tough,” said Stags coach Amy McMullin. “If we had a day off in-between (Scarborough and South Portland), it might have been a different story, but we hold ourselves to no excuses. Offensively, we played great. I don’t know if anyone’s scored six runs on South Portland. Defensively, I never want to see (today’s) team again. We weren’t focused when we got to the field. We were still celebrating the big win from yesterday. As soon as we got here, I could feel a bad vibe and tried to nip it in the bud, but it didn’t quite happen.
“Theresa pitched so well yesterday. I give her a lot of credit. Our team didn’t give her a lot of help. They didn’t have 10 earned runs. A lot of routine outs we didn’t make. I’m proud we didn’t give up. We battled and I’m proud of them. Defensively, it just wasn’t our game.”
“I don’t think Alexis or Theresa had their best stuff, but they both battled hard,” Aceto said. “Theresa and Audrey are two of the best hitters in the SMAA in my assumption. To do what they did to Alexis was amazing. If you get Theresa out you’re happy. That last inning, if there was an open base in front of her, I would have walked her. I don’t even want to see her.
Cheverus (fourth in the latest Heals) finishes up at home against Bonny Eagle Tuesday of next week.
“(The number two spot) is out of the question now,” McMullin said. “I think we have a good shot at three. We’ll be three or four. We’ll take (playing South Portland) again. We’re getting stronger. We’ll be ready for playoffs.””
South Portland has moved into the top Heal Points spot by virtue of the victory. The Red Riots are at Bonny Eagle Friday and host McAuley Tuesday.
“I’d rather play at home,” said Norton. “Having homefield is nice, but it’s not a necessity.”
“I look forward to seeing my old buddy (McAuley coach) Robbie Ferrante and another good game,” Aceto said. “You’re really starting to see the pecking order. I have no doubt we’ll have two home playoff games. I figure Scarborough and us will be 1-2.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com