By Eric Carson

PORTLAND — The South Portland Red Riots offense managed to scrap together eight hits off Deering’s hard-throwing ace Taylor Candage, last year’s league MVP, but never did get that big hit they were looking for in a key situation, stranding at least one base runner in every inning but the first.

The Red Riots’ inability to touch home plate spoiled a terrific outing on the hill from sophomore Jon Medici. The lefthander kept unbeaten Deering off-balance with a sneaky live fastball and an effective curve, scattering seven hits to seven different batters over six complete innings of work in a hard luck, 3-1 loss to the second-ranked Rams on Monday night at Hadlock Field.

Medici allowed two runs in the bottom of the first inning on three hits and two balks, but settled down and retired the side in order in the second on three groundballs to the infield. The Rams touched Medici for a single run in the third on an RBI-groundout, but he whiffed the final batter to end the threat and kept Deering off the scoreboard the rest of the way.

“The plan was to just come out and throw strikes,” said Medici. “We wanted to keep it low and make them hit ground balls. My fastball was pretty good today and I was able to throw the curve for strikes to keep them off-balance. We did a great job on defense. They made all the plays they should and a few extras to keep it close.”

The Red Riots offense had at least one hit in every inning, but grounded into an inning-ending double-play in the third, left the bases loaded with only one out in the fourth, and ran into a double-play on a designed hit-and-run play in the fifth.

In the top of the sixth inning, sophomore Zach Horton led off with a stand-up double down the leftfield line and scored on a Jon DiBiase tapper that was misplayed by the shortstop. Ranging to his right to field the slow-rolling grounder, the Deering shortstop one-hopped his throw to first and it rolled to the fence, allowing DiBiase to reach second and Horton to race around and score easily to close the gap to 3-1.

“We work hard,” said Horton. “We don’t give up. We have a way of always coming back but we fell a little short today. We got a pretty good schedule ahead. I don’t see why we can’t win every game.”

Medici was helped along the way by an outstanding defensive effort in the field by a very young Red Riots team. DiBiase, a junior at third base, is the veteran in a very good infield. Sophomore Paul Reny plays a slick shortstop, sophomore Travis Gulliver locks down second base, and the power-hitting Horton is the every day first basemen.

South Portland does start two seniors in the field every day, three when Chris Gorham doesn’t pitch and plays center, and one of them is Ryan Curit, the junior rightfielder. Curit’s diving, tumbling catch at home against Portland preserved a 6-5 win in the season opener, and his diving snare of a line drive off the red-hot bat of Deering sophomore Sam Balzano may have been a tougher play.

With two outs and a runner on second base in the bottom of the sixth inning, Balzano hit a sinking liner right at Curit that would freeze most outfielders in their tracks. But Curit made a great read, charged in and dove headfirst to pluck a sure hit right off the outfield grass for the final out of the sixth.

“We played very well against the top-ranked team in the state,” said South Portland coach Tony DiBiase. “They threw their No. 1 pitcher at us, but we hit the ball well and played good defense. (Medici) pitched great. We’ve been waiting for that. We had a chance to get right back into it with the bases loaded but we didn’t get that key hit. What I like about this team is they always compete. With the exception of maybe one game, we’ve had a legitimate chance to win every game. We keep improving. I see something every game that we get better at.”

Unfortunately, the Red Riots couldn’t turn the momentum from Curit’s play into an offensive rally in their last at-bat, when they wasted a lead-off single by Gorham and fell to 5-4 with a tough loss to Deering, the two-time defending Class A state champions.

Deering (8-0) was led by senior Regan Flaherty, who doubled home Balzano in the first inning and came around to score on hard single to right by senior Marc Ouimet. Flaherty’s RBI-groundout in the bottom of the third scored senior Mark Powers with the Rams’ third and final run of the game.

On the hill for Deering, Candage went the distance, allowing eight hits but stranding eight men, while striking out five and walking only one to earn the win. South Portland’s only repeat hitter was DiBiase, but junior Mike Foley and senior catcher Mike Dicenso added hits, as did Reny and Curit, all singles.

“South Portland battles,” said first-year Deering coach Mike Coutts. “They’re very well coached. They do a lot of the little things and they know what to do with the baseball. They’re not out there throwing the ball over place. They compete all the time and they never give up at-bats. (DiBiase) has done an awesome job with them.”

South Portland returned to the diamond Tuesday to host Kennebunk and improved to 6-4 with a 12-1 (five inning) victory, keyed by a two-run Curit homer.

Thursday, too late for print, the Red Riots (seventh in the latest Western Class A Heal Points standings) were at Thornton Academy. Saturday, South Portland is at Gorham. Tuesday, May 26, the Red Riots host Noble.