SOUTH PORTLAND – The mothers and fathers and girlfriends and just plain fans of Augusta Post 205 held their breath. Their team’s nine-run lead in a knockout game Saturday at the Maine State American Legion baseball tournament was cut to seven, and then to four.

Another team coached by Mike D’Andrea was coming back. The Portland-area boys who are Nova Seafood still had nine outs to work with. Eyes peered at D’Andrea, as if anyone had a chance of deciphering his next move.

“He’s a legend,” said Ray Vallee, the veteran Augusta coach. “You’re not going to outcoach him on game day. I know he’s going to outwit me. My hope is to have my players better prepared.”

That’s why there was immense satisfaction on the Augusta side of the field, but little of the glee that would shout disrespect. Augusta scored the last five runs of the game to complete a 16-7 win. There was no need nor desire to dance on Nova Seafood’s grave.

“Give Mike better talent and he wins every time,” said Bob Lippert, a fixture among youth baseball coaches in Augusta. “Give him equal talent and he wins seven out of 10. He’s that good.”

Understanding that there is no love between the baseball communities of Portland and Augusta helps underline the depth of respect fellow coaches and baseball people have for D’Andrea. Hey, Augusta fans haven’t forgotten that it was a D’Andrea-coached Deering girls’ basketball team that beat the Paul Vachon-coached Cony girls for the state championship in 2004.

Later that year, D’Andrea and Nova Seafood won American Legion baseball’s national championship. It helped that Ryan Flaherty, now an infielder in the Chicago Cubs organization, played on that team. D’Andrea played beside him at shortstop in practice, first at Deering, then with Nova, teaching and challenging.

D’Andrea was a better pitcher than position player, but he was a baseball player. He understands the small pieces that create the whole. He communicates. Not with the bombast and spit that’s meant to impress or intimidate, but with an intensity and directness that can’t help but drive the point home.

Flaherty wasn’t the only one who got his attention. As basketball coach, D’Andrea would work the matchups with his players. If you beat her, and you beat her and . . . we’re going to win.

Nova Seafood beat Augusta 2-1 in the American Legion tournament last year. “Nova was better than us at eight positions,” said Vallee. “We were happy to keep it that close.

“Today, we thought we could play with them.”

Afterward, D’Andrea said he was done coaching American Legion baseball. The legend, who isn’t much older than 40, is moving on. Thornton Academy is looking for a baseball coach. So is Scarborough. After two years of being away from high school coaching, D’Andrea is ready to come back.

He resigned from his coaching positions at Deering High in the aftermath of a drinking party at an assistant coach’s house. D’Andrea wasn’t there, but it was his team, his staff, and ultimately, his responsibility.

D’Andrea’s supporters and detractors squared off. Mention his name today, and praise and invective still flies. But not at Wainwright Sports Complex where this year’s American Legion baseball tournament ends today. There’s too much respect for a man who can draw the best from his players.

“He teaches competitiveness,” said Ed Flaherty, the University of Southern Maine coach. “You don’t see a lot of that anymore.”

D’Andrea was composed when he spoke with his players after the last out. You learn more about yourself from losing, and there were more than a few lessons to go around.

Across the field, Dave Rollins let himself smile. His daughter, Katie, was the state’s best high school basketball player in 2004. She played for Cony in the championship game won by Deering. Rollins was at Wainwright to watch “the neighborhood kids” play baseball.

“Beating Nova is like beating the Yankees. It always makes you feel good.”

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be reached at 791-6412 or at:

[email protected]