SOUTH PORTLAND — When the season began, South Portland baseball coach Mike Owens didn’t realize just how special his sophomore class could be.

Now he knows, and so does everybody else.

Saturday afternoon, the sixth-seeded Red Riots continued their stirring run through the Class A South playoffs as they edged No. 7 Cheverus, 2-1, in the semifinals behind a gutsy effort from sophomore pitcher Nolan Hobbs and a go-ahead RBI single from senior captain Noah Dreifus.

South Portland (14-5) will face top-ranked Thornton Academy (16-3) in the regional final at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at St. Joseph’s College.

“I thought we’d get better as the year went on because we were so young, but I don’t think I actually realized how good these sophomores are and how good Nolan is,” said Owens. “We’ve gotten better every day and they’re so coachable.”

Hobbs struggled early, giving up a leadoff triple to Jackson Header and a walk, and when Brian Connolly hit a one-out RBI single, it appeared the Stags were on the verge of a big inning. Instead, Hobbs registered consecutive strikeouts to limit the damage.

Cheverus stranded two more in the second and one in the third, but pitcher Nick Giancotti was overpowering the Red Riots as he protected the 1-0 lead.

Then, in the bottom of the fourth, Connor Dobson led off with his second hit, a single. After moving to second on a wild pitch, Dobson scored when Richard Gilboy hit a single up the middle.

Gilboy took second on a wild pitch and third on a passed ball. Giancotti was on the verge of escaping when he struck out Johnny Poole and Ryan Thurber, but Dreifus grounded a single up the middle to give South Portland a 2-1 lead.

“(Giancotti’s) a great pitcher and he competed the whole game, but (Connor Dobson), who had two hits, came up to me and said to me, ‘Hands to the ball’ and that’s all I did,” Dreifus said. “I was just trying to hit it hard anywhere. I saw it go through, and rounding first base was a great feeling.”

Hobbs then got his slider working and gave up just two more hits before striking out the side in the seventh to close it out.

“I wanted to go the distance so badly,” said Hobbs, who allowed six hits and struck out nine. “I knew as I got going, I had it in me. I was so pumped on the final strike.”

Giancotti struck out nine for Cheverus, which finished 13-6.

“This type of game, you have to take advantage of situations,” said Stags Coach Tony DiBiase. “We had chances early, then (Hobbs) got a lot better as the game went on. Nick pitched great, too. Normally when you give up two runs, you’re fine, but not this game.”

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