BOX SCORE

South Portland 7 Falmouth 0

F- 000 000 0- 0 4 4
SP- 100 600 x- 7 7 2

Bottom 1st
Gilboy flew out to center, Poole scored.

Bottom 4th
Domingos singled to center, Gilboy and Hobbs scored. Carlisle reached on infield single, Domingos scored. Houle scored on error. Carlisle and Poole scored on error.

Multiple hits:
F- Gill

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Runs:
SP- Poole 2, Carlisle, Domingos, Gilboy, Hobbs, Houle

RBI:
SP- Domingos 2, Carlisle, Gilboy

Stolen bases:
F- Gay, Gill
SP- Carlisle, Houle, Poole

Left on base:
F- 5
SP- 4

Cowperthwaite, Tracy (4) and Hendry; Heffernan and Gilboy.

F:
Cowperthwaite (L, 3-2) 3.2 IP 7 H 7 R 4 ER 2 BB 7 K 1 WP 1 Balk
Tracy 2.1 IP 0 H 0 R 0 BB 2 K

SP:
Heffernan (W, 5-0) 7 IP 4 H 0 R 1 BB 6 K

Time: 1:34

SOUTH PORTLAND—You can’t make mistakes against a championship team.

Especially one led by a pitcher who has been impossible to score on so far this spring.

Tuesday afternoon at Wainwright Farms, host South Portland, the reigning state champion, welcomed surging Falmouth in a battle of two of the top three teams in the Class A South Heal Points standings and the difference was four Navigators’ errors and the continued brilliance of Red Riots’ junior ace Andrew Heffernan.

The Red Riots gave Heffernan the only run he’d need in the bottom of the first inning, when junior shortstop Johnny Poole drew a walk of Falmouth junior ace Eli Cowperthwaite, stole second, went to third on Heffernan’s infield single and scored on a sacrifice fly from junior catcher Richie Gilboy.

South Portland then broke it open in the fourth, as senior centerfielder Alex Domingos delivered the big hit, a two-run single. Senior rightfielder Kenny Carlisle drove in another run, then three Navigators’ errors allowed the Red Riots to tack on three more runs to lead, 7-0.

From there, it was all Heffernan, who hasn’t surrendered an earned run all season, and with some help from his defense, which turned a pair of double plays, Heffernan put the finishing touches on an emphatic and impressive 7-0 victory.

South Portland won its fourth game in a row, improved to 10-2 and dropped the Navigators to 12-2, snapping their seven-game streak in the process.

“Falmouth’s a good team over there,” Red Riots coach Mike Owens said. “We took advantage of a few mistakes and they didn’t play their cleanest game by any means, but good teams take advantage and I’m really happy with our kids.”

Pace and precision

Falmouth and South Portland, along with Thornton Academy, have established themselves as teams to beat in a very deep Class A South this spring and the Navigators and Red Riots both have their sights set on going all the way next month.

Falmouth started with a 12-2 (six-inning) home victory over Windham, then blanked host Portland (6-0), won at Massabesic (11-1), at home over Deering (8-1) and at Biddeford (2-0). The Navigators fell from the unbeaten ranks with an 8-1 home loss to Thornton Academy, then bounced back to defeat visiting Noble (9-0), host Cheverus (6-1), visiting Scarborough (4-2), host Marshwood (4-1), visiting Gorham (6-1) and Bonny Eagle (4-2, in eight-innings) and host Kennebunk (6-3).

South Portland, meanwhile, started by defeating visiting Bonny Eagle in eight-innings (1-0), then downed host Deering (9-0), visiting Cheverus (3-2), host Biddeford (12-5), visiting Portland (4-0) and host Gorham (11-0, in five-innings) before falling from the unbeaten ranks with a 4-3 setback at Noble, followed by a frustrating 6-4 home loss to Thornton Academy. The Red Riots bounced back to hold off host Kennebunk, 9-7, then blanked visiting Westbrook (5-0) and defeated visiting Marshwood by a 5-0 score as well.

Last year, en route to the title, host South Portland blanked Falmouth, 2-0.

Tuesday, on a sunny (58 degrees at first pitch) afternoon, the Navigators sought their first win over the Red Riots since a 4-2 upset in the 2018 Class A South quarterfinals, but instead, South Portland made it three straight in the series.

With surprising ease.

Heffernan began the game by fanning Cowperthwaite on three pitches. Senior shortstop Brady Coyne then hit the first pitch he saw and bounced out to second. Senior first baseman Patrick Gill followed with a single up the middle, but Heffernan fanned sophomore catcher Ethan Hendry for the third out.

The Red Riots then struck in the bottom half against Cowperthwaite.

Poole fell behind 0-2 in the count leading off, but worked it full, then took ball four to get things started. Poole then stole second and went to third when Heffernan beat out an infield hit to deep short. That brought up Gilboy, who hit the ball hard to center and while senior centerfielder Miles Gay caught it for the out, Poole scored easily on the sacrifice fly for a 1-0 lead. Heffernan then went to second on a balk and took third on a passed ball, but Cowperthwaite caught junior first baseman Nolan Hobbs looking at strike three, then fired strike three past senior third baseman Ryan Thurber.

Heffernan made quick work of the Navigators in the second, catching senior rightfielder Bennett Smith looking at strike three, retiring senior designated hitter Dom Tracy on a grounder to first, which took a crazy hop which Hobbs handled skillfully, then catching junior third baseman Mitchell Ham staring at strike three.

“Getting an early run is huge,” said Heffernan. “I feel more confident and comfortable on the mound and I trust my stuff. It’s nice to have the lead.”

Cowperthwaite then settled in in the bottom half, striking out the side, catching Domingos looking, firing strike three past senior second baseman Jack Houle and catching Carlisle looking at strike three as well.

Falmouth would put the tying run on in the top of the third, but couldn’t capitalize.

Sophomore second baseman Brennan Rumpf struck out swinging leading off, but Gay reached on a throwing error by Houle. Cowperthwaite struck out swinging, but with Coyne at the plate, Gay stole second. Coyne then hit a sharp grounder up the middle, but it ricocheted off Heffernan and took a fortuitous hop to Houle, who threw out Coyne to escape the threat.

In the bottom half, senior leftfielder Nate Rende led off with a single to left, then was forced out at second when Poole’s liner went off Rumpf’s glove and with Rende having to hold initially, he was thrown out easily. Heffernan then hit a sharp grounder up the middle, which Coyne gloved, stepped on second, then threw to first for the inning-ending double play.

Gill led off the fourth by reaching on an error on a grounder to third, as Thurber’s throw sailed high, but Hendry flew out foul to Rende in left, who made a nice running grab, and Smith grounded into a third-to-second force out before Tracy chased the first pitch he saw and popped out to Thurber at third, keeping the score, 1-0.

But it wouldn’t stay that way for long.

Gilboy began the uprising in the bottom of the fourth with an infield single up the middle. Hobbs then singled up the middle on the first pitch he saw, putting runners at first and second. Thurber struck out while trying to get a bunt down, but after a wild pitch moved the runners up, Domingos came through, lining a 2-1 pitch to center to score both Gilboy and Hobbs for a 3-0 lead and he took second on the throw home.

“We’ve worked all year on having runners on base and we know that we can’t leave them and that you have to take advantage,” Domingos said. “I knew I had to step up and make it happen when I needed to.”

“I thought we had some good at-bats against Eli, who’s an excellent pitcher,” Owens said. “He was up a little early, then settled down and we took advantage. We made him work. Even when he retired guys, it was deep in counts. We have guys toward the bottom of the lineup we have confidence in. They run well too. Alex has had some solid hits for us all year. The seniors, even if they haven’t been in these situations before, they expect good things to happen.”

Domingos moved to third on a bloop single to right off the bat of Houle, who immediately stole second. Carlisle then reached on an infield single to short, scoring Domingos and putting runners at first and second. Houle took third when Hendry threw wildly on a pickoff attempt and Carlisle stole second. After Rende chased strike three for the second out, Poole walked to load the bases and end Cowperthwaite’s day.

Tracy came on in relief to attempt to limit the damage, but he threw wildly on a pickoff attempt, scoring Houle. Heffernan then grounded to third, but Ham threw wildly for an error and Carlisle and Poole both came home. Gilboy, who started the inning, ended it with a ground out to second, but a six-spot had given South Portland a commanding 7-0 advantage.

“Errors hurt us, but give (South Portland) credit,” said Falmouth coach Mike D’Andrea. “They strung some hits together in that inning too. We’d been playing good baseball and clean baseball, so we were due for an inning like that and unfortunately, it came in this game.”

Heffernan surrendered a leadoff single to right off the bat of Ham leading off the fifth, but he got Rumpf to ground into a pitcher-to-shortstop force out, Gay to ground into a pitcher-to-second force out and Cowperthwaite to ground out to third for the third out.

In the bottom half, Tracy struck out Hobbs and got Thurber to bounce out to second, but Domingos reached when his grounder wide of first resulted in a throwing error. Houle then lined out to left to send the game to the sixth.

There, Heffernan got Coyne to line to right on the first pitch, but Gill singled to left. Heffernan then got Hendry to line out to Houle and Houle quickly threw to Hobbs to complete the inning-ending double play.

In the bottom of the sixth, Tracy fanned senior pinch-hitter Finn O’Connell and got Rende to line out to Ham, who made a terrific diving catch along the line. Poole was hit by a pitch, but Tracy retired Heffernan on a grounder to short.

Smith tried to spark a rally by singling down the leftfield line on an 0-2 pitch to start the seventh, then Tracy drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch, but Heffernan bore down, got Ham to fly to left, then ended the game by getting Rumpf to hit a little pop-up back to him and he threw to first to retire Smith for the double play, bringing the curtain down on a 7-0 victory in 1 hour, 34 minutes.

“We just play the game the right way,” said Heffernan. “We can score runs in little ways. We didn’t scorch the ball, but we found little ways to win and we played as a team and battled.”

Heffernan didn’t just improve to 5-0 on the season, with a four-hit shutout, one walk and six strikeouts, he has now pitched 36 innings this spring and has yet to surrender an earned run. He’s only allowed 13 hits and four walks and of his 42 strikeouts to date, 15 have been looking. Opposing hitters are batting an anemic .106 against him.

“I want a shutout every game,” Heffernan said. “Zeroes never get old for me. I was mainly throwing my slider and fastball and mixing in my cutter. I didn’t have to go to my fourth and fifth pitch that much. I love working with tempo.”

“When ‘Heff’ is on the mound, I’m confident,’ said Domingos. “I’m in center and I didn’t get a ball hit to me today. Batters don’t know what’s coming when he’s pitching. It’s like trying to hit a wiffle ball. I always know he’ll do his job.”

“You feel good when you get to (lead) 3-0 with Andrew pitching because he’s just so good,” Owens added. “We know we just have to play defense because he’s not going to walk anybody. He’s going to throw strike after strike. It’s not just strikes, he throws five pitches for strikes and commands both sides of the plate. He has a little bit of everything. He’s tough to go against because you have to be ready in the box at all times. It’s hard to get him out of a rhythm.”

Even Falmouth had to tip its cap to Heffernan.

“It’s not just pace, he’s pounding the zone,” D’Andrea said. “He walked one guy today in the last inning. Other than that, he wasn’t even close to walking anybody. I give him a lot of credit. He was out there pitching today and was very focused and locked in.”

South Portland had seven hits from seven different players. Poole scored twice, while Carlisle, Domingos, Gilboy, Hobbs and Houle all touched home plate once. Domingos had two RBI, while Carlisle and Gilboy also drove in runs.

The Red Riots left four runners on.

Falmouth got a pair of hits from Gill, but stranded five runners.

Cowperthwaite fell to 3-2 after giving up seven runs (four earned) on seven hits and two walks in 3.2 innings. He struck out seven.

Tracy pitched 2.1 scoreless innings of relief, walking none and striking out a pair.

“(South Portland’s) a good team,” said D’Andrea. “They’re the defending state champs and they played like it today. They came out hungry and played hard and the score is indicative of that. Today was pretty similar to TA. We just had one inning where the game got out of hand.”

Holding steady

Both teams now look to finish strong and wind up as high as possible in the standings.

Falmouth (third in Class A South at press time) welcomes Sanford Saturday and closes at Westbrook Tuesday of next week.

“This game was a big game, but Heal Points-wise, if we win out, I think we’ll still be third,” said D’Andrea. “We’ll hit delete and move on. If we win out, we’ll finish 14-2 and that would be a very solid season. We might see both (TA and South Portland) again and to be named regional champ or state champ, we know we’ll have to go through teams like that. We know what’s ahead.”

South Portland (second behind Thornton Academy in Class A South at press time) is at Windham Thursday, hosts Massabesic Friday, plays a makeup game at Sanford Monday, then closes at Scarborough Tuesday of next week.

“I’d love to win (states) again,” said Heffernan. “We have to keep grinding and keep focus because it’s one-game elimination. We have to be ready to go.”

“We’re only going up, so we want to finish positive,” said Domingos. “We think we can beat any team in the league. We just have to come out and play.”

“I don’t think we can jump Thornton unless something weird happens, but it doesn’t really matter because if we stay in the 2 spot, we’ll play here all the way through until the regional final,” Owens added. “We want to play our playoff games at home. I think the kids are confident. We hope to put it all together here the next couple weeks.”

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

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