Story by: Mike Lowe (Portland Press Herald)
SCARBOROUGH — The 2019 high school spring season ended on a sunny June 19 afternoon with Scarborough High winning the Class A baseball and softball state championships.
The softball title was almost a given, seeing as it was also the Red Storm’s 60th consecutive victory. The baseball title? Well, Scarborough was ranked third heading into the tournament, defeated favored South Portland 3-2 in 11 innings in the regional final, then beat Oxford Hills 3-2 in eight innings in the state game.
But the Red Storm didn’t get to defend either title in 2020 after the spring season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
And now? Baseball and softball are back. And technically Scarborough is still the defending champ in both sports. But the coaches of both teams – softball veteran Tom Griffin and first-year baseball coach Wes Ridlon – want nothing to do with that talk.
“I tell the kids it’s going to come up and they should just try to ignore it,” said Griffin, during a practice for pitchers and catchers in the gym on Tuesday. “What they did is not going to have anything to do with what you do as a team. Use it as motivation but we can’t get caught up in all that. We just have to focus on what we’re capable of doing this year and have a lot of fun.”
Ridlon, who brought his pitchers and catchers outside on the school’s turf field to loosen up with some long toss, said Griffin is absolutely right.
“It’s a whole different team,” said Ridlon, who replaced Mike D’Andrea (now at Falmouth). “I’m excited for this group to kind of write its own history. There are a few players coming back but they’re there to lead them and show this young core we have how to play Scarborough baseball. And hopefully compete for a state championship.
“But we’re a year-and-a-half removed from that experience. It’s just great to be back.”
Of course, the players might feel otherwise. Senior Peter O’Brien and junior T.J. Liponis played on the baseball state championship team, O’Brien as the DH, Liponis the shortstop. They know the target will still be on their backs.
“I don’t know how the other teams will look at it,” said Liponis, “but we see this as a chance to defend out title.”
Players and coaches alike lamented last year’s lost opportunity. But not just on the field.
“We lost a lot of development of the kids, we lost a lot of memories, we lost a lot of the social opportunities,” said Griffin. “There’s so much those kids lost. It wasn’t just sports. These girls are just as competitive as boys. They love the game as much but there’s something more beyond that that’s the reason they play. It’s the camaraderie, the friendships, the team dinners. It’s the little things that they missed.”
Senior catcher Sylvia Foley and senior pitcher/outfielder Jenna Giguere said they missed a chance to develop, not only as players but as team leaders.
“I think I was ready to play coming in as a junior,” said Giguere. “By not being able to play, my confidence went down because I couldn’t practice with anyone.”
And it sets up a completely unknown season. “We don’t know what the (other) teams will look like,” said Foley. “So it’s going to be a surprise as we venture out the first couple of weeks.”
But, Foley added, she’s excited to see what this team can do. “It’s two years in the making,” she said.
In baseball, O’Brien and Liponis are two of the four core players returning for Ridlon. He expects them to lead the way, to show the younger players what is expected of them.
We’ve got 15 guys here,” he said, pointing to his group. “And 80 percent of them I’ve never seen before. The freshmen and sophomores. So that’s a little exciting.”
O’Brien and Liponis both played summer baseball last year and said that took some of the sting out of missing their high school season.
“I think it was mostly motivation for me, keeping us ready for the season,” he said. “Just preparing us for this.”
But, said Foley, there really is nothing like playing for your school. She and Giguere played for the River Rats summer program.
“I guess it helped prepare us for where we are now,” she said. “But nothing can beat school sports and the community aspect of that.”
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