SP softball starts playoff run with prelim win over Westbrook

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South Portland freshman pitcher Mia Micucci throws a strike during the Red Riots’ 8-2 win over Westbrook in Tuesday’s Class A South preliminary round playoff game.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Portland Press Herald photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Class A South prelim

South Portland 8 Westbrook 2

W- 002 000 0- 2 6 4
SP- 431 000 x- 8 11 3

Bottom 1st
Grant grounded out to short, Rende scored. Connor singled to center, Connors scored. Connor and Owen scored on error.

Bottom 2nd
Luce singled to left, Grant and Connor scored. Whitten singled to center, Luce scored.

Top 3rd
Van Zandt singled to center, Greeley and Johns scored.

Botttom 3rd
Grant flew out to left, Flaherty scored.

Multiple hits:
W- Petry, Van Zandt
SP- Connors, Rende, Whitten

Runs:
W- Greeley, Johns
SP- Connor 2, Connors, Flaherty, Grant, Luce, Owen, Rende

RBI:
W- Van Zandt 2
SP- Grant, Luce 2, Connor, Whitten

Stolen bases:
SP- Connors, Rende 2

Left on base:
W- 9
SP- 7

Greeley, Johns (2) and Poitras; Micucci and Connor.

W:
Greely (L) 1 IP 4 H 4 R 2 ER 1 BB 0 K
Johns 5 IP 7 H 4 R 1 ER 0 BB 2 K

SP:
Micucci (W, 9-4) 7 IP 6 H 2 R 0 ER 4 BB 10 K 2 WP 

Time: 1:42

SOUTH PORTLAND—South Portland’s softball team is off to the quarterfinals, but the Red Riots are far from satisfied.

And that spells bad news for the rest of the Class A South playoff field.

Tuesday afternoon at Jerry Kill Memorial Field at Wainwright Farms, South Portland, the No. 5 seed in Class A South, hosted 12th-ranked Westbrook in the preliminary round and made quick work of the Blue Blazes to advance.

After Red Riots freshman ace Mia Micucci set Westbrook down in the top of the first inning, her teammates staked her to a 4-0 lead, as sophomore second baseman Chloe Grant drove in a run with a ground out, freshman catcher Elise Connor hit an RBI single and two more runs came home on a throwing error.

South Portland tacked on three more runs in the bottom of the second, as senior rightfielder Cortney Luce ripped a two-run single and senior shortstop Kaylee Whitten followed with a run-scoring single to make it 7-0.

The Blue Blazes got two runs back in the top of the third, as senior third baseman Mikayla Van Zandt hit a two-run single, but in the bottom of the frame, Grant’s sacrifice fly pushed the lead back to six.

From there, Micucci worked in and out of trouble and stranded nine Westbrook runners as the Red Riots went on to an 8-2 victory.

South Portland improved to 11-6, ended the Blue Blazes’ season at 6-11 and advanced to take on No. 4 Massabesic (11-5) in the Class A South quarterfinals Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in Waterboro.

“We came out and scored seven runs in two innings, then let our foot off the gas pedal,” said Red Riots coach Ralph Aceto. “You can’t do that in the playoffs. We may have gotten away with one today, but you can’t do that against a top four team in the league.”

First step

South Portland came into the season believing it was primed to return to the upper echelon of Class A South and the Red Riots only got stronger as the spring progressed.

After an 8-1 loss at Biddeford to start the year, South Portland won at Falmouth, 14-2. After a 5-1 loss at the Cheverus/North Yarmouth Academy co-op team, the Red Riots won at Kennebunk (5-0), at home over Gorham (12-6) and at home over Marshwood (8-1). After letting a late lead slip away in a 4-3 loss at Portland, South Portland gave perennial powerhouse and two-time defending state champion Scarborough a scare before falling, 3-1, in Scarborough. After that, the Red Riots won six of seven, blanking visiting Sanford (9-0), winning at home over Bonny Eagle (7-4) and after falling at home to Thornton Academy (12-3), South Portland won at Massabesic (13-5), beat visiting Deering (11-1) and Windham (10-3), then held on for a 7-5 victory at Westbrook. The Red Riots closed the regular season with a 6-1 home loss to Noble and wound up with the No. 5 seed in Class A South, necessitating a preliminary round contest.

Westbrook was competitive throughout and earned the 12th and final playoff spot in the region with a 6-10 mark.

The teams had met just once before in the playoffs and it came in the 1981 Western A Final, a 4-1 Blue Blazes’ victory.

In the regular season meeting, South Portland had to rally for three runs in the top of the seventh to prevail.

Tuesday, on a pleasant (66 degrees at first pitch) and breezy afternoon, the Red Riots came out and took quick care of business.

Micucci started the game by striking out senior second baseman Desiree Hodgkins, but junior shortstop Angelica Johns followed with a sharp single to center. Micucci then fanned junior first baseman Libby Cole and with Van Zandt at the plate, Johns tried to steal second, but Connor threw to Whitten, who applied the tag for the final out of the frame.

South Portland then went out and put up a crooked number against Westbrook senior starter Emily Greeley. 

Senior centerfielder Grace Rende led off with a single up the middle and after Rende stole second, sophomore designated player Julia Connors beat out an infield single and stole second as well. Grant then grounded out to short, but on the play, Rende came home and Connors moved to third. Connor followed with a sharp single to center and Connors came home for a 2-0 lead. Freshman leftfielder Hylah Owen then grounded to second, but the ball was mishandled by Hodgkins for an error, putting runners at second and third. Greeley got Luce to pop out to catcher Whitney Poitras for the second out to get to the brink of escaping the inning, but Whitten grounded to senior Kiana Fuller at third, whose throw was wild, bringing home both Connors and Owen to make it 4-0. Micucci singled to left and senior third baseman Meghan Livingston walked to load the bases before Rende popped up to short to limit the damage.

“This was our first home playoff game in my four years and we were really excited,” Rende said. “We had some nerves, but that early lead allowed us to relax and Mia to relax.”

In the top of the second, Micucci fanned Van Zandt on a 3-2 pitch, then appeared to retire Fuller as well, but Fuller was allowed to take first when Connor was called for catcher’s interference. Junior centerfielder Ally LaPierre followed with a pop out to second and on a 3-2 pitch, sophomore centerfielder Ally Petry lined out to short for the third out.

In the bottom half, South Portland opened things up further against Johns, who came on to replace Greeley.

Connors led off and reached on an error by Fuller at third. Grant followed with a sharp single to left and after Connor grounded into a short-to-third force out, Owen flew out to center, with the runners moving up to second and third. Luce came up with the clutch two-out hit, a single to center, and both runners came home and on the play, Petry mishandled the ball and Luce took second on the error. Whitten then singled to center and Luce came home. On the play, Whitten tried to go to second, but was thrown out.

Regardless, the Red Riots enjoyed a comfortable 7-0 lead.

To their credit, the Blue Blazes battled back in the top of the third.

Senior designated player Justice Michaud reached on catcher’s interference leading off the frame. Greeley then walked. Hodgkins struck out for the first out and Johns grounded the ball to Livingston, who stepped on third for the second out. Cole walked to load the bases and Van Zandt followed with a single to center, scoring Greeley and Johns to cut the deficit to 7-2. Micucci then limited the damage by getting Fuller to look at strike three.

South Portland answered with its final run in the bottom of the third.

Micucci struck out swinging leading off, but Livingston singled to right and freshman courtesy runner Julia Flaherty took second when Rende beat out an infield single off the glove of Johns at short. Connors then beat out an infield single as well to load the bases and Grant delivered Flaherty with a deep fly ball to left. Rende and Connors each moved up on a stolen base, but Connor’s bid to extend the lead ended with a line drive right at Fuller to keep the score 8-2.

Micucci would strike out the side in the fourth, fanning LaPierre on a 3-2 pitch and after Petry singled to left and moved to second on an error by Owen, Micucci caught Michaud looking at strike three, then fanned Greeley.

In the bottom half, the Red Riots failed to score for the first time, as Owen bounced out to third, Luce grounded out to first and after Whiten singled to left and Micucci reached on an error at third, Livingston grounded out to third to end it.

Westbrook threatened in the top of the fifth, but couldn’t score.

Hodgkins led off with a ground out to third, but Johns followed by drawing a walk. Cole struck out, but Van Zandt blooped a single to right to put runners at the corners. A wild pitch moved Van Zandt into scoring position as well, but Micucci escaped the jam by getting Fuller to bounce back to the mound.

In the bottom half, Johns set South Portland down in order, as Rende popped out to second, Connors lined back to the mound and Grant popped out to short.

The Blue Blazes left two more runners on in the top of the sixth.

LaPierre flew out to center leading off, but Petry reached on an infield single down the third base line. Sophomore pinch-hitter Aria Brunner struck out, but after Michaud walked on a 3-2 pitch, Hodgkins popped foul to Connor behind the plate to retire the side.

In the bottom half, the Red Riots again went quietly, as Connor popped out to second on the first pitch, Owen flew to center on the first pitch and Luce chased strike three.

Micucci then slammed the door in the seventh, getting Johnson to pop out to third and after Cole singled up the middle, she got Van Zandt to fly out deep to center and Fuller to bounce out to second to finish off South Portland’s 8-2 victory.

Micucci improved to 9-4 on the year by going the distance, allowing two unearned runs on six hits. She walked four, struck out 10 and threw two wild pitches.

“Mia is a very good freshman pitcher,” Rende said. “She works hard no matter what and I’m proud of her.”

“Mia did well,” Aceto said. “She struggled a little with her fastball, but her drop-ball worked well, so she went to that and got strikeouts with that.”

Connors, Rende and Whitten all had a pair of hits, pacing an 11-hit attack.

Connor scored twice, while Connors, Flaherty, Grant, Luce, Owen and Rende all touched home once.

Grant and Luce each drove in a pair of runs, while Connor and Whitten had one RBI apiece.

Connors and Rende both stole two bases.

The Red Riots stranded seven base runners.

For Westbrook, Van Zandt had two hits and two RBI. Petry also had two hits and Greeley and Johns both scored runs.

The Blue Blazes stranded nine runners.

Greeley took the loss, giving up four runs (two earned) on four hits in her one inning of work. She walked one and didn’t strike out a batter.

Johns was very effective in relief, giving up four runs (one earned) on seven hits in five innings. She did walk a batter and fanned two.

“We hung around,” said Westbrook coach Ed St. John. “I have six seniors and I have to credit them for going hard until the very end. We just didn’t get the big hit.

“This is the first time we’ve made the playoffs in six years. My seniors set the foundation and set the bar at a level to go up. We’ve got five or six returning and some injured girls will be back, as well as a good middle school group coming up who will step right in. This is the start of something.”

Back to Waterboro

On May 18, South Portland handled host Massabesic, 13-5, as Livingston hit a home run, Whitten had two triples and drove in a pair of runs, Connor had four hits and two RBI and Micucci added three hits. 

The teams have played twice before in the playoffs, with the Mustangs winning both: 9-4 in the 1993 Western A quarterfinals and 3-1 in the 2015 Western A preliminary round.

The Red Riots hope to flip the script this time around.

“I think we’re heading in the right direction,” Rende said. “If we stay relaxed and play like I know we can, we’ll be fine. We’re having fun.”

“We have to put the ball in play and play good defense,” Aceto said. “We’re in any game where we play defense. The games we’ve had problems are games we’ve made errors.

“We’re heading in the right direction. The kids are all buying in. The freshmen have stepped up and the seniors have come to play. I’m excited to see what’s to come the rest of this season and next. We want to be top four every year.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

South Portland shortstop Kaylee Whitten tags out Westbrook’s Angelica Johns on a stolen base attempt.

South Portland’s Cortney Luce crosses home as Westbrook catcher Whitney Poitras awaits the throw.

Previous South Portland-Westbrook playoff result

1981 Western A Final
Westbrook 4 South Portland 1

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