STANDISH—With one pitch Tuesday afternoon, the balance of power in Western Class A softball underwent a seismic shift.
In an entertaining showdown at St. Joseph’s College, the second-ranked Red Riots of South Portland purged themselves of five years of frustration and ended the repeat bid of the Scarborough Red Storm, thanks to a monster, clutch, three-run home run from junior Katlin Norton.
Norton’s blast in the top of the fifth put the Red Riots ahead to stay, 4-1. They added another run in the frame, then held on behind strong defense and a solid pitching effort from junior Alexis Bogdanovich, but they couldn’t exhale until Scarborough sophomore Abby Rutt’s deep fly ball with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning fell safely into the glove of freshman centerfielder Erin Bogdanovich to clinch the 5-2 victory.
South Portland improved to 18-1, ended the Red Storm’s season at 17-2 and advanced to meet Bangor (18-1) in the Class A state final Saturday at 4 p.m., in Standish.
“This is just awesome,” Norton said. “If it was any other team it would be great, but to beat (Scarborough) in this game is just amazing.”
Hits and runs
Heading into the regional final, suggesting that Scarborough and South Portland were rivals was akin to calling the hammer and the nail or the windshield and a bug rivals.
Since the teams began playing in 2003, the Red Storm won 12 of 13 meetings, outscoring the Red Riots, 40-6 in the process. In fact, South Portland entered Tuesday having failed to score in each of its prior five meetings with the Scarborough juggernaut.
On May 17, a tense, back-and-forth affair was broken open by a grand slam by Red Storm sophomore Dominique Burnham and Scarborough won by a deceptive score of 5-0.
The teams have played in five of the past seven postseasons. Scarborough won in the 2003 semifinals (3-0), 2004 quarterfinals (3-0), 2007 regional final (7-1, the last time South Portland had scored a run against the Red Storm), 2008 semifinals (1-0) and last year’s regional final (2-0). The Red Riots lone win against Scarborough came in 2005, at St. Joe’s, when they pushed home a run in the rain in the bottom of the seventh to win their lone previous regional championship, 1-0.
Both teams were pushed in their prior playoff tests.
Scarborough fought off No. 9 Bonny Eagle’s upset bid in the quarterfinals, winning, 2-1, on freshman Marissa O’Toole’s RBI single in the bottom of the seventh. The Red Storm then eliminated No. 5 Thornton Academy, 4-0, in the semis.
South Portland got a scare from No. 7 McAuley in the quarterfinals, but held on to win, 6-4. In the semifinals, the Red Riots grabbed a big early lead, then defeated No. 3 Kennebunk, 7-4.
Tuesday, South Portland suggested early on that it might just break through against the Red Storm’s sophomore ace Mo Hannan.
With one out in the top of the first, freshman shortstop Danica Gleason laced a double over the head of Scarborough senior leftfielder Jordan Finley. Hannan then bore down and got Norton to pop out to senior Jenn Colpitts at shortstop and induced senior catcher Stephanie Thibeault to pop out to first ending the threat.
Scarborough seemed to seize control in the bottom of the first when Colpitts beat out a bunt single, stole second and raced home when senior catcher Heather Carrier (after staying alive when two foul pop-ups landed safely) crushed a double to left. Despite hitting Rutt, Bogdanovich worked out of the jam and it remained a 1-0 contest.
Bogdanovich beat out an infield hit to start the top of the second, but Hannan set down the next three batters. Bogdanovich then retired the bottom of the Red Storm order to keep it a 1-0 game heading for the third.
There, for the first time in three years and two days, the Red Riots broke through and touched the dish against their nemesis.
Erin Bogdanovich led off with a full-count walk and while junior second baseman Danielle DiBiase was striking out, stole second. Carrier’s throw was wild, but it appeared Bogdanovich wasn’t going to be able to advance until the ball went through the legs of Burnham, which allowed Bogdanovich to race home to tie the score and give her team an enormous boost.
“A bad throw like that usually doesn’t happen,” said Erin Bogdanovich. “It definitely helped our confidence.”
“We got a run,” said Norton. “That’s what (got us going). They made errors and they don’t usually make errors. We usually make the errors and it costs us, but it cost them. When we scored, everyone got their adrenaline up and we knew we could do it.”
“We had baserunners the first two innings, but the big thing that really got us going was Erin stealing second and scoring on the error,” added South Portland coach Ralph Aceto.
Scarborough hoped to answer in the bottom of the third when Carrier poked a one-out single to right, but Hannan grounded out and Rutt did the same.
In the top of the fourth, the Red Riots saw junior third baseman Amanda Linscott reach on an error with one out, but Hannan retired the next two hitters. In the bottom half, freshman rightfielder Erin Giles doubled to left-center with one down, but junior Alana Peoples struck out and senior Melissa Dellatorre’s liner to center was caught by a racing Erin Bogdanovich to keep the game tied.
Then, in the top of the fifth, South Portland took the lead for good.
With one down, DiBiase got the rally started with a single to center. Gleason then laid down a bunt to Hannan’s left and reached safely when no one covered the first base bag. That brought Norton to the plate and she wasted no time in stealing the show, pounding Hannan’s first offering to deep left-center.
The ball rose high above the field and seemed to gain speed as it soared past the outfielders and cleared the left-center field fence by quite a distance. Norton floated around the bases and just like that, the Red Riots had a seemingly commanding 4-1 lead.
“I knew I needed to hit it,” Norton said. “I wasn’t really planning to hit a home run. I usually don’t swing at the first pitch. It was a good pitch and once I hit it, I knew. I was trying to contain my excitement since it wasn’t the seventh inning yet, but I was really happy I didn’t have to sprint since I’m not that fast. I was so happy it wasn’t just a solo home run.”
“Once we had the lead, I knew we could do it,” Alexis Bogdanovich said. “It brought our confidence up.”
“With Katlin coming up, I felt good,” Aceto added. “I knew we’d get at least one (run) out of it. That’s the kid we wanted there in that spot. I moved her into the ‘3’ hole a couple games ago and left her there to sink or swim. She works at her craft. She wasn’t happy with the way she practiced yesterday and went home and hit some more. She’s a great kid.”
Thibeault followed by reaching on a ground ball that was booted by Burnham. That did it for Hannan, as she was pulled in favor of Dellatorre. Dellatorre retired Alexis Bogdanovich on a ground ball, but sophomore pinch-runner Emily Masters stole second and came home to make it 5-1 when Linscott blooped a hit to right.
It took Bogdanovich just eight pitches to retire Scarborough in order in the bottom of the fifth. In the top of the sixth, South Portland got a one-out single from Erin Bogdanovich, but she couldn’t advance. Rutt had a one-out single in the bottom half, but Alexis Bogdanovich struck out Peoples looking and got Giles to bounce back to the mound to put her team within three outs of victory.
The Red Riots went down in order for the only time in the top of the seventh and appeared home-free, but the proud, champion Red Storm had one final rally in store.
Peoples led off with a single to instill some hope. After Dellatorre lined out to short, O’Toole hit a little pop that landed between home and first along the line. The ball appeared ready to squib foul, but senior first baseman Olivia Whitton grabbed it and O’Toole reached on an infield single. Colpitts popped out to first to put South Portland within an out of victory, but that final out would be awhile in coming.
Carrier, riding a personal three-season championship streak (softball and field hockey in 2009, basketball in February), wasn’t about to make the last out and drew a walk to load the bases. Hannan followed by singling to left on the first pitch, scoring Peoples to make it 5-2, putting the tying run at first and bringing up the dangerous Rutt as the potential winning run.
With emotions on both sides running amok, the confrontation was decided with one pitch as Bogdanovich brought the heat and Rutt made solid contact and sent a deep drive to center. Erin Bogdanovich, playing deep, took a few steps back and calmly made the catch just a couple strides in front of the wall and just like that, South Portland was the new Western A champion by virtue of a palpitating 5-2 triumph.
“I got a little nervous, but I played it like any other catch,” said Erin Bogdanovich. “We did it!”
“I knew she could catch it,” said Alexis Bogdanovich. “She’s a really fast runner and a good player all around. I had a good feeling. We knew we had to capitalize on their errors and had to hit. It feels great. It’s just so exciting.”
“I knew we needed more runs, but we were holding them,” said Norton. “The seventh inning was a little scary. On the last out, I was like, ‘(Oh, no!).’ I was afraid it was gone. Today it looked like everything was going. I saw Erin and knew she had it.”
Aceto admitted that he probably gained a few gray hairs in the last inning.
“My heart was in my throat when I saw Carrier, Hannan and Rutt (coming up),” he said. “I didn’t want us to get to Carrier. I didn’t even want to see Carrier. On Rutt’s ball, I had no doubt Erin had it. If (Rutt) pulled it (to left), we would have been in trouble. I had the outfielders back. It’s nice to be on the other end of it. We didn’t want to receive the (runner-up trophy). We wanted to get the (championship trophy).”
The Red Riots finished with eight hits, two each from Gleason and Norton, who both doubled. Norton, of course, had the biggest blast of all.
“The kids had been shut out by them the last five times, but I’m not surprised we played with them,” Aceto said. “Scarborough is the team we all strive to be like, but we talk about it all the time, to put the ball in play and they’ll make mistakes. They’re just as human as we are. I don’t know why it worked today. This is what you see with (the mound moved back three feet this spring). Kids will put the ball in play.”
Bogdanovich continued her stellar season on the mound, allowing two runs on eight hits, while walking one and hitting a batter. She struck out five and threw 91 pitches.
“Alexis got us here last year and did it again,” Aceto said.
Scarborough lost for just the third time in two seasons and fell short in its bid for a third Class A title in five seasons.
“We didn’t give up,” said longtime Red Storm coach Tom Griffin. “I think the better team today won. We didn’t play defense. They’re a very good team and we knew that. It’s not like we lost to an inferior team. They’re excellent and deserved it.”
Hannan gave up five runs (three earned) on six hits and a walk, while striking out five. She threw 88 pitches in 4.1 innings.
“Mo was not on today and her ball wasn’t moving,” said Griffin. “We thought about making a move (after the fourth), but we know how tough she can be. Melissa’s pitched twice against (South Portland). This is the first time Mo’s been beaten in high school ball. She’s a tough kid. It just wasn’t her day today.”
Scarborough got two hits from Carrier, including a double. Giles also doubled. Carrier and Hannan drove in runs. Dellatorre surrendered two hits in her 2.2 innings of relief.
“Abby certainly made a good bid for it (at the end),” said Griffin. “Getting here is the hard part. Anything short of getting here, we would have been devastated. I know the kids are disappointed, but it’s not like we gave it away. South Portland went out there, played solid defense and they deserve this win.”
The Red Storm lose Carrier, Colpitts, Dellatorre and Finley to graduation, but as always, return many standouts and should be right back knocking on the championship door a year from now.
“We have some good, young kids who gained experience this year,” Griffin said. “Hopefully this makes them hungrier for next year.”
Brink of history
South Portland, meanwhile, will play in its second-ever state final (it lost, 7-4, to Messalonskee in 2005) and will seek its first Class A championship Saturday afternoon. The Red Riots have no history with Bangor.
They won’t rest on their laurels.
“Scarborough’s a great team, but I think we’re ready for one more,” Erin Bogdanovich said.
“Ralph’s pretty good at getting us to forget about it,” Norton said. “We’ll celebrate tonight, but tomorrow it’s back at it.”
“If we play like this, we’ll can beat anybody,” Aceto added.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com