Deering senior centerfielder Dom Bernard goes all out, but can’t corral a fly ball during the Rams’ 9-2 loss to Thornton Academy in the teams’ mutual season opener Thursday night.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.


Thornton Academy 9 Deering 2

TA- 020 400 3- 9 9 3
D- 001 000 1- 2 10 2

Repeat hitters:
TA- Balzano 3, Hall, Searle-Belanger 2
D- Latini 3, Viola, Westphal 2              

Lambert, Searle-Belanger (7) and Hall; Dame, Sinclair (6) and Minervino

Lambert (W, 1-0) 6.1 IP 8 H 1 R 1 ER 8 K 1 HBP
Searle-Belanger 0.2 IP 2 H 1 R 0 ER  

Dame (L, 0-1) 5 IP 5 H 6 R 2 ER 5 BB 2 K 1 WP
Sinclair 2 IP 4 H 3 R 3 ER 1 BB 3 K 

Time: 2:05

PORTLAND—Deering’s baseball team had the daunting task of going up against one of the league’s best pitchers, Thornton Academy senior Ben Lambert, in the teams’ mutual season opener Thursday.

The Rams managed to produce seven hits in the first three innings, but only scored a single run and that came back to haunt them.

That’s because the Golden Trojans took advantage of every opportunity to get in the win column.

Thornton Academy scored twice in the second inning, broke the game open with four runs in the fourth, then tacked on three more in the seventh to end all doubt and went on to a 9-2 victory.

The Rams made two errors, committed several other mistakes, stranded 11 runners and lost their season opener for the fourth year in a row.

“We just couldn’t string enough hits together,” said second-year Deering coach Josh Stowell  “In spots where it would have been nice to put the ball in play, we struck out. They put pressure on us and we didn’t make plays and that hurt.”

Building on success

It’s one thing to make a leap into contention and yet another to stay among the top teams and that’s the challenge that Deering faces in 2016.

After missing the playoffs three straight seasons, the Rams responded well to Stowell (a one-time program standout) last spring and finished 10-6. After a decisive victory over rival Cheverus in the preliminary round, Deering led rival Portland by three runs late in the quarterfinals, but the Bulldogs rallied to win, 4-3.

Thornton Academy went 11-5 in the regular season last year, but was upset by Gorham in the preliminary round.

In the teams’ lone meeting late spring, the host Golden Trojans prevailed, 7-1.

Thursday, on an ideal late April evening (the temperature was a balmy 63 at first pitch at 7:03 p.m.), Deering hoped to beat Thornton Academy for the third time in four years, but it wasn’t to be.

Rams junior starting pitcher Colby Dame made quick work of the Golden Trojans in the top of the first, getting freshman shortstop Luke Chessie to fly out to left, sophomore third baseman Brogan Searle-Belanger to fly to right and spreading the wealth by getting Lambert to fly out to center.

The Rams then had a golden opportunity in the bottom of the inning, but couldn’t grab the lead.

Senior leftfielder Ian Westphal led off with a single to right-center. Senior second baseman Pat Viola then singled to left to set the table, but Lambert showed what he’s made of, catching senior centerfielder Dom Bernard looking at strike three, doing the same to junior third baseman Spencer Todd and getting junior designated hitter Orey Dutton to line out to deep center.

“We came out and faced one of the better pitchers in the league and I felt we hit the ball well,” Stowell said. “He might not give up that many hits all season. We tried to get a bunt down and it didn’t happen. Dom can run. He was just as likely to get on base and get guys over, but he had to get it done.”

Thornton Academy grabbed the lead in the second inning, thanks in part to Deering’s largesse.

Junior first baseman Evan Balzano led off by drilling a Dame offering deep to the right-center and settling for a double. After junior catcher Brandon Hall lined out to right and senior rightfielder Josh LePauloue struck out looking, a Dame wild pitch moved Balzano to third and after senior leftfielder Andrew Coleman walked on a 3-2 pitch and stole second, another Dame wild pitch scored Balzano, who barely slid under Dame’s tag after senior Luciano Minervino collected the carom. Coleman took third and after junior second baseman Chase Wescott walked, Dame tried to pick him off, but his throw went awry and Coleman came in to make it 2-0. Senior centerfielder Zach Ham grounded out back to the mound, but the damage was done.

The Rams had a chance to answer in their half, but again left two runners.

Senior first baseman Jake Latini led off with a single down the leftfield line. After Minervino looked at strike three and Dame grounded into a force out, junior rightfielder Riley Bartell singled off the glove of Searle-Belanger, bringing Westphal to the plate, who hit the ball hard, but it was right at LePauloue, who caught it for out number three.

Dame walked Chessie leading off the top of the third, but got Searle-Belanger to fly to left and Lambert to fly out to right before picking off Chessie (who was thrown out at second) to end the inning.

Deering broke through in its half, but could’ve had more.

Viola singled to right to start the frame and after Bernard flew out to right and Todd lined to second, Dutton singled to left-center and Latini had a clutch two-out single to right-center to score Viola to get the Rams on the board. Minervino then struck out to keep Thornton Academy ahead by a run.

The Golden Trojans extended their lead in the fourth. 

Balzano led off with his second hit, a single to right. Hall then ripped a single to center. LePauloue followed with a bunt just to the right of the plate. Minervino picked the ball up a split second before it went foul and threw high to first, allowing LePauloue to reach safely. On the play, Hall to moved to third and Balzano to come home. 

For the visitors, the fun was just beginning.

LePauloue stole second base, Coleman drew a walk to load the bases and Wescott walked to bring home a run. After Ham lined out to short, Chessie hit a sacrifice fly and after Latini couldn’t corral a foul ball, Searle-Belanger singled to center to score another run. Wescott was gunned down at home (Minervino missed the initial tag as Wescott leaped over him, but he applied it a split second later before the runner touched the plate), but Thornton Academy was in command, up, 6-1.

Deering hoped to answer in its half of the fourth, but couldn’t do so.

After Dame was hit by a pitch, Bartell popped out to short, Westphal beat out an infield single and Chessie’s error put runners at the corners, but after Westphal stole second, Viola struck out swinging and Bernard ended the threat by grounding out to Balzano, who threw to the hustling Lambert for the out,.

Dame’s last inning saw him retire Lambert on a grounder to short and after Balzano singled to right, Hall struck out and LePauloue lined out to center.

In the bottom of the fifth, Todd flew out to right, Dutton grounded out to first (with Lambert covering) and after Latini reached on an error, Minervino looked at strike three.

Sinclair replaced Dame to start the sixth and after catching Coleman looking at strike three, he gave up an infield single to Wescott, but he got Ham to fly to left, then took one for the team, taking Chessie’s line drive off his leg only to see it ricochet to Latini at first for the final out.

The Rams went quietly in the bottom half, as Dame struck out swinging, Bartell bounced out to Lambert and Westphal grounded out to third.

Thornton Academy tacked on three more runs in the seventh.

Searle-Belanger led off with a bloop single to right. After Lambert lined out to right, Balzano walked and Hall singled to load the bases. LePauloue struck out for the second out, but Coleman ripped a shot to right-center and after Bernard’s dive came up short, all three runners scored for the rarely seen three-run single and a 9-1 lead.

To its credit, Deering didn’t go quietly in the bottom of the seventh.

Lambert struck out senior pinch-hitter Peter Rozzi leading off, then gave way to Searle-Belanger, who gave up a single to senior pinch-hitter Nate Loranger. Pinch-hitter Ben James popped out to shortstop, but a potential game-ending ground ball to short by Dutton was misplayed and Latini followed with a single to score the Rams’ second run. Minervino then ended the contest by grounding out to second and the Golden Trojans prevailed, 9-2.

“Defensively, we have to button it up a little bit,” Stowell said. “It was more mental errors tonight. Guys weren’t in the right positions and weren’t ready for situations. Some of that’s on me. We haven’t been through that enough.”

Thornton Academy’s attack was paced by Balzano’s three hits. Hall and Searle-Belanger both had a pair.

Lambert earned the win, giving up one earned run on eight hits in 6.1 innings. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out eight. Searle-Belanger closed it out by giving up an unearned run on two hits in two-thirds of a frame.

Deering got three hits from Latini and two apiece from Viola and Westphal, but couldn’t’ parlay the hits into runs.

Dame fell to 0-1 after surrendering six runs (two earned) on five hits in five innings. He walked five, struck out two and threw a wild pitch. Sinclair surrendered three earned runs on four hits in his two innings of relief. He walked one and fanned three.

Bouncing back

Thornton Academy will seek a 2-0 start Tuesday when it welcomes Cheverus in its home opener.

Deering looks to get in the win column Tuesday when it hosts Windham. The Rams also welcome Biddeford and play at Bonny Eagle next week.

“We lost game one last year as well,” Stowell said. “Hopefully we’ll get back on track.”

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

Deering junior pitcher Colby Dame delivers a strike early in the game.

Deering junior Riley Bartell watches the ball after making contact.

Deering senior Luciano Minervino misses the tag on Thornton Academy junior Chase Wescott, who leaps over the catcher, but Minervino was able to record the out.

Deering junior shortstop James Sinclair makes a throw across the diamond.

Deering senior Ian Westphal takes a lead off second base.

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