PORTLAND – Westbrook third baseman Jake Gardiner waited for the high chop to come down. Deering’s runner on third base was heading home with the tying run with two outs in the seventh inning.

Gardiner fielded the ball and fired to first base for the out that secured fourth-seeded Westbrook’s 7-6 victory against the three-time defending Class A state champions in a Western Maine semifinal Saturday at Hadlock Field.

Westbrook (13-5) will play Biddeford in the final at 7 p.m. Tuesday at St. Joseph’s College.

“The ball hung in the air for a while,” said Gardiner. “I was getting a little nervous. I didn’t think it would come down.”

Westbrook also beat top-ranked Deering (13-5) in the regular season, but had been snakebit the last two years, losing to Deering in the regional final in 2008 and last year in the Telegram League championship game, both by a run.

A year ago, many people felt the Blazes and Rams would square off in the regional final, but Westbrook was upset by South Portland in the quarterfinals. On Friday, Westbrook beat the Red Riots in the quarterfinals to set up the showdown with Deering.

The Blazes built a 7-1 lead, then had to hold on.

Westbrook got gutsy pitching from Matt Weimer, who won his fifth game of the season. Weimer was relieved with one out in the seventh by Sean Murphy, who has only pitched sparingly this season because of a sore shoulder.

“We gave Matt the game ball,” said Westbrook Coach Mike Rutherford. “He had thrown something like 130 pitches.”

Weimer’s biggest strikeout came against Jamie Ross for the second out in the fifth after Deering scored twice to make it 7-4 and had a runner on third. Weimer got the third out on a grounder.

“It was making me nervous on those last two outs,” Weimer said. “I’m glad the coach had confidence in me to go out and win the game. It feels good to reach the Western Maine final with a win over Deering. They’ve been the team we’ve struggled to beat.”

The bottom of the order produced the heaviest offense for the Blazes.

Gardiner, the seventh hitter in the lineup, doubled to right for a run in the second. In the four-run third, Gardiner doubled to left for another run. The key blow in the inning was two-run double by Tom Lemay that gave Westbrook a 7-1 lead.

“We haven’t had a hit this season that’s knocked teams out of the game like Tommy’s,” said Rutherford.

Deering got a run back in the bottom of the third and chipped away with two in the fifth and two in the seventh.

In the seventh, the Rams made it interesting. Nick Colucci singled sharply through the middle, He was forced at second on a grounder by Jake Nichols. Ross then tripled to right to score Nichols.

The next batter, Nick DiBiase facing Murphy, doubled to left to score Ross. DiBiase went to third on a groundout. That’s as far as he got as Gardiner patiently waited for the high chop to come to him before firing to first to get a sliding John Miranda.

DiBiase relieved for Deering in the third inning and pitched scoreless ball the rest of the way.

“DiBiase kept them in the game and gave Deering a chance to win,” said Rutherford. “We beat Deering in the regular season and now in the playoffs. After losing close games to them the last two years, I think we’ve turned the corner.”

Deering’s early mistakes hurt. It had a runner tagged out between third and home in the second inning and a runner picked off first in the fourth.

Despite key graduation losses from last year’s unbeaten state champions, Deering found its own identity with new players.

“We didn’t win the state championship, but in a lot of ways this season was just as successful in what we accomplished,” said Coach Mike Coutts.

“I couldn’t have asked any more of them. They played their hearts out and competed every time out.”

 

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at:

[email protected]