A little over a year ago when The Forecaster chose the top 10 baseball teams from our coverage area over a 20-year span, it was a time to celebrate the past, as the present was discouraging (the 2020 spring sports season had been canceled) and the future was unknown.

Thankfully, that future came into focus in a positive manner and led to a nearly normal 2021 campaign, which produced a local champion.

The South Portland Red Riots didn’t just enjoy a spirited run to the Class A title, they also ended a nearly seven-decade drought in the process.

So do those Red Riots make the cut?

The answer is yes, but who gets kicked off in the process?

That would be another South Portland squad, which fell just short of the pinnacle.

To refresh your memory, the original list read like this:

Honorable mentions (in chronological order):
2012 Falmouth Yachtsmen (Class B champions)
2014 Greely Rangers (Class B champions)
2015 South Portland Red Riots (Class A runners-up)
2019 Scarborough Red Storm (Class A champions)

Super-six
6) 2011 Cheverus Stags (Class A champions)
5) 2007 Greely Rangers (Class B champions)
4) 2006 Portland Bulldogs (Class A runners-up)
3) 2009 Deering Rams (Class A champions)
2) 2008 Deering Rams (Class A champions)
1) 2004 Deering Rams (Class A champions)

Ben McCanna / Portland Press Herald

The 2021 Red Riots of South Portland went just 11-5 in the regular season, going 4-4 in the second half of the schedule and only earned the No. 6 seed for the Class A South tournament, but when it mattered most, they dazzled.

South Portland held off Sanford, 6-5, in a Round of 16 game, out-slugged Bonny Eagle, 11-6, in the quarterfinals, squeaked past Cheverus, 2-1, in the semifinals, then blanked top-ranked Thornton Academy, 3-0, in the regional final before edging Bangor in a memorable state final, 3-2, on a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the seventh, to wind up 16-5 and atop the heap for the first time since 1952.

What the Red Riots did so well was come up huge in the biggest moments, as the team’s few veterans were bolstered by a sophomore class that was ready for the challenge.

On the mound, sophomores Nolan Hobbs and Andrew Heffernan and senior Bradley McMains all produced tremendous outings and key innings in the playoffs. Senior Noah Dreifus was a rock behind the plate. The infield, featuring Richard Gilboy (whose walk brought home the title-winning run), Connor Dobson, Jon Poole and Heffernan (who played third base when he didn’t pitch) was solid across the board. The outfield featured McMains in center when he wasn’t pitching, Finn O’Connell in right and Ryan Thurber or Frank Tierney in left.

This championship was a team effort, and the team and the community celebrated it in style.

“It feels amazing,” McMains said. “Unbelievable, honestly. We believed in ourselves. We believe we’re better than everyone else. These young kids are legit. They’re really good players.”

“We’re resilient,” O’Connell said. “We went out there with a lot of confidence.”

“These kids work so hard and they make coming to practice fun,” added South Portland coach Mike Owens. “We saw something special in these guys early, but I didn’t know if we’d put it together and if we had the top-end pitching. We made every play we could on defense and got just enough offensively. I feel like we’ve been so close so many times. It feels good to finally kick that door open. This is so special for our community that has supported us all the way through. I’m almost speechless.”

So there you have it. A new entry to the list.

A list which now reads like this:

Honorable mentions (in chronological order):

2012 Falmouth Yachtsmen (Class B champions)
Falmouth won its first 12 games, wound up 17-3 and rode the pitching of Thomas Fortier, Nick Spencer, Addison Foltmer and Connor Murphy and some clutch postseason hitting from Ryan Conley to the title. The Yachtsmen were no-hit by Cape Elizabeth in the regional final, but won anyway, on a passed ball, then blanked Foxcroft Academy, 2-0, in the state game.

2014 Greely Rangers (Class B champions)
The Rangers rode the potent bats of Michael McDevitt, Pat O’Shea and Bailey Train and didn’t allow a single run in a postseason of dominance. Greely (18-2) capped its title run with a 1-0 victory over Caribou, as Connor Russell threw a five-hitter and Reid Howland drove in the winning run with a pinch-hit single in the seventh inning.

2019 Scarborough Red Storm (Class A champions)
The Red Storm were just 8-4 at one juncture before winning their final four regular season games and all four playoff contests to remind everyone that with Mike D’Andrea as coach, any team is a potential champion. Scarborough (16-4) won its first crown at any level since taking Class B back in 1986, outlasting South Portland in 11 innings in a palpitating regional final before edging Oxford Hills, 3-2, in eight innings in the state game, as Nick Thompson’s home run was the difference.

2021 South Portland Red Riots (Class A champions)

Super-six

6) 2011 Cheverus Stags (Class A champions)
Cheverus won 14 of 16 regular season games, earned the top seed for the Western A playoffs and dazzled when it mattered most behind the pitching of Louie DiStasio, Joey Royer and Harry Ridge. In the state final, the Stags (18-2) rolled over Lewiston, 9-1, as Peter Potthoff entered his name into program lore with two doubles, a home run and five RBI.

5) 2007 Greely Rangers (Class B champions)

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After several near-misses and painful playoff exits, Greely rode a miracle comeback victory to the pinnacle. The Rangers went 14-2 in the regular season and were ranked second in Western B, but in the semifinals, they trailed Mountain Valley, 6-1, heading to the bottom of the seventh. But Greely somehow rose off the deck and won it, 7-6, on Nate Martin’s walk-off single. After downing Poland in the regional final, the Rangers blanked Winslow, 4-0, behind Caleb Jordan’s gem, to finish 18-2 and clinch the hardware.

4) 2006 Portland Bulldogs (Class A runners-up)
The only team in our countdown to fail to win it all, the Bulldogs were nearly perfect and were absolutely dominant in the regular season, going 15-0, outscoring the opposition 114 runs to 15. Portland rode great pitching from Joe Fessenden and Ian Boyle to a regional title, but in the state game versus Bangor, the Bulldogs’ quest for perfection and a championship fell a run short, 4-3, as they wound up 18-1, a painfully imperfect mark that New England Patriots fans know all too well.

3) 2009 Deering Rams (Class A champions)
Deering’s third consecutive championship also proved to be the program’s most recent. Despite Mike Coutts replacing Mike D’Andrea as coach, the Rams didn’t miss a beat, as Regan Flaherty, Jack Heary, Matt Powers, Taylor Candage, Marc Ouimet and John Young capped their triumphant careers with another piece of hardware. For the regular season, Deering tallied a whopping 166 runs. The Rams added 33 more while rolling through the regional field. Then, in the state game, the Rams got pushed to the brink by Cony, but prevailed, 2-1, as Flaherty earned the win, Powers the save and Candage and Heary each drove in a run. Deering finished a perfect 20-0.

2) 2008 Deering Rams (Class A champions)
This Deering championship came in the most dramatic fashion possible. The Rams enjoyed easy wins over South Portland in Biddeford in their first playoff games, then had to hold off Westbrook, 3-2, in the regional final, behind strong pitching from Flaherty and Candage and a home run from Heary. The state game versus Brewer proved to be one for the ages. Deering led 2-0 early, but was on the brink of defeat, down, 5-3, in the bottom of the seventh, before scoring twice to tie it. After a long rain delay, Brewer went back up by two, but in the bottom of the eighth, Candage crushed the biggest home run of his life to tie it and pinch-runner Travis Wade raced home from second Brad Shafran’s infield hit to give the Rams a 20-0 season and a scintillating crown.

1) 2004 Deering Rams (Class A champions)

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Deering had won Class A the year before and was favored to repeat. The Rams would do so and so much more. After a perfect regular season which saw it outscore the opposition 170 runs to 30, Deering won the Telegram League title, then ousted Bonny Eagle, Biddeford and Portland in the Western A playoffs. That set up the most highly anticipated state final in Maine history, a showdown with Mt. Ararat and its ace Mark Rogers, who had just been selected fifth in the Major League Baseball draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. The demand to see the contest forced it to be moved from Gorham High to Hadlock Field and in front of a capacity crowd, the Rams won the championship, 6-1, capping a 24-0 campaign. Ryan Reid out-dueled Rogers, throwing a five-hitter with seven strikeouts, and Neil Esposito was the unlikely offensive hero with two hits and three RBI. If that wasn’t impressive enough, later that summer, the Deering-populated Nova Seafood American Legion team won the World Series.

The gold standard.

Then, now and likely forever.

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

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