SCARBOROUGH — Scarborough High and South Portland. South Portland and Scarborough.
When it comes to Western Class A softball the order doesn’t really matter.
The two programs have been at the top, and figure to be there again this season.
“Since we’ve been in Class A, South Portland’s been the school that’s either been in our way or the team we had to get through,” said Tom Griffin, the 23-year Scarborough coach.
Scarborough moved up to Class A in 2003. The teams have met in the playoffs nine of the past 10 seasons with Scarborough wining six. The last four seasons the matchup has been in the Western Maine final, each winning twice.
Since South Portland’s 2005 Western Class A title, each team has won the region three times. Scarborough has won three state titles (2007, 2009, and 2011). South Portland won it all in 2010, losing 2-0 to Cony in last spring’s title game.
The only team to upset the Scarborough/South Portland applecart was Biddeford in 2006. The Tigers beat Scarborough in 13 innings, edged South Portland the next day 2-1 in the Western final and went on to beat Cony in the state final.
“It was a once in a lifetime experience,” Biddeford Coach Leon Paquin said. “Our pitcher was as calm as could be and the kids all had the right temperament.”
In other words, his team became a lot like Scarborough and South Portland: excellent pitching, very sound defense and clutch hitting that forged a confident team that expected success.
Take South Portland’s 2012 season. With Erin Bogdanovich taking over the role of ace pitcher from her sister Alexis (now pitching at Maine) and several new starters, some thought South Portland had lost ground, especially when it was 1-2, losing to Scarborough and Thornton Academy.
Then it rattled off 16 straight wins, walloping Thornton in the Western semi and rallying late to snap Scarborough’s 27-game win streak in the Western final.
“I guess some people were a little surprised at our finish last year,” South Portland Coach Ralph Aceto said. “I really wasn’t. I knew the way we performed at the beginning of the year certainly wasn’t going to be the way we performed at the end. We had so many new people in new positions. They knew we could play better and they knew we would play better.”
Both Aceto and Griffin said their cities’ youth leagues are the foundation for high school success.
The Little League softball programs are annually among the best in the state. Then the girls transition to summer travel teams with plenty of indoor practice sessions in the winter.
“The biggest thing is the passion for the sport in the community, actually for all the sports in our community,” Griffin said. “Softball takes a priority in the community.”
Griffin, a health and physical education teacher at Scarborough Middle School, is intimately involved in all levels of the development, from summer programs to winter camps to group pitching lessons.
During the offseason his camps and group lessons are often attended by players from South Portland and other neighboring communities.
Aceto runs his own construction company, specializing in the installation of dropped ceilings. His job keeps him from being as connected to the summer and youth programs as Griffin.
He does make sure he’s encouraging, visible and promoting a simple but strong message.
“It comes from me and (the current varsity) kids and the kids that preceded them, and the coaches that preceded me: With South Portland softball there is an expectation of playing well,” Aceto said.
“We’re motivating (the younger players) to be better so our city will see us and we’ll have more people coming up over the years,” Bogdanovich said.
SAME BUT DIFFERENT
On the field, Scarborough and South Portland success radiates from the game’s epicenter.
“The key there for both those programs has just been dominant pitching. You get a dominant pitcher in this state, you can go far,” said Thornton Coach John Provost.
For Scarborough, it’s usually multiple top-level pitchers. Last year the Red Storm had five pitchers, three now pitching for college programs. Junior Alyssa Williamson (5-0, 0.23 ERA) and senior pitcher/infielder Erin Giles, along with four-year starting second baseman Marisa O’Toole, will lead the way this season.
South Portland doesn’t have the same depth but does have Bogdanovich, an imposing 6-foot left-hander.
She was playing under-18 summer ball as a seventh grader and last year struck out 103 in 80 innings.
Another difference involves vacation-week preparation.
Scarborough’s team departs for Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday. The program will immerse itself in a softball-first environment, playing nine games in six days, getting in a couple of practices, and still having time for team-bonding activities and the theme parks.
“We try to go every other year. It’s too expensive to do every year,” Griffin said. “It brings the kids together. The whole week is about softball. We’re playing it, practicing it, talking about it while waiting in the lines at Disney.”
The last three times Scarborough has made a Disney trip, it won a state title.
South Portland will be hosting its own tournament this season and, according to senior shortstop and four-year starter Danica Gleason, thinking about the inevitable showdown with Scarborough.
“Even if we’re ranked ahead of them they get everything. They’re always looked at as the best team and it’s like, you don’t have to go to Disney to be the best team,” Gleason said.
Gleason’s right, of course.
Scarborough doesn’t win because of Disney magic. It wins for the same reason South Portland does: commitment to a program.
“With Scarborough and South Portland they pay the price as the whole group,” Biddeford’s Paquin said.
“It gives them an edge in the big games. You play so much, you have confidence and you don’t panic.”
Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or at firstname.lastname@example.org