Spring sports season was triumphant, therapeutic- Southern edition

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Let’s face it.

A full sports season was just what the doctor ordered.

And the 2021 spring campaign delivered in every way.

After being deprived of a season in 2020 due to COVID, spring athletes and coaches were primed to make up for lost time and they certainly did so from start to finish.

For the first time since the winter campaign of 2019-20, we had a full regular season and postseason and plenty of memories were made.

On the diamond, South Portland wasn’t expected to win the Class A state title, but thanks to a postseason surge, that’s exactly what the Red Riots did. Scarborough, the reigning champion, was upset in its first game by Portland. Cape Elizabeth, meanwhile, got to the Class B South quarterfinals before losing a 10-inning marathon to York.

Softball also produced a champion, a perfect champion for that matter, and this time, it wasn’t Scarborough, but the best Cape Elizabeth team in program history, which won Class B for the second time. Scarborough’s three-year reign in Class A ended in shocking fashion with a loss to Falmouth in the Round of 16. South Portland lost in the same round, dropping a weather-delayed, nine-inning, nearly four-hour decision to Thornton Academy.

Boys’ lacrosse saw Cape Elizabeth stake its claim as not just the Class A champion or best team in the state, but arguably the most dominant in program or state annals. Scarborough enjoyed a season of resurgence which saw it get to the Class A South semifinals before losing at Berwick Academy. South Portland won a preliminary round game over Massabesic, then was also eliminated by Berwick Academy, in the quarterfinals.

On the girls’ side, there were no titles this year, but Scarborough had a season to remember, improving from one win in 2019 to 11 this spring. The Red Storm made it all the way to the Class A South Final before losing to eventual champion Kennebunk. South Portland was ousted in the preliminary round by Bonny Eagle. Cape Elizabeth, the two-time reigning Class B champion, won at Cony in the state preliminary round, then lost to Yarmouth in the quarterfinals.

The outdoor track state meet produced plenty of highlights, including Scarborough’s boys capturing their fourth Class A crown since 2016. The Red Storm won four individual events, but they weren’t alone when it came to first-place finishers from the area.

Tennis saw Cape Elizabeth’s girls get to the Class B state final before dropping a 3-2 decision to Waterville. Scarborough dropped a narrow decision to eventual regional champion Falmouth in the Class A South semifinals. South Portland was ousted in the preliminary round by Cheverus.

Cape Elizabeth’s boys lost in the Class B South quarterfinals to Greely. Scarborough’s boys fell in the Class A South quarterfinals to Thornton Academy. South Portland was eliminated in the preliminary round by Windham.

We’re already enjoying summer, but let’s take another look back and pay tribute to some of the best moments of the spring.

Team state champions

Cape Elizabeth Capers softball, Class B
Cape Elizabeth Capers boys’ lacrosse, Class A
Scarborough Red Storm boys’ outdoor track, Class A
South Portland Red Riots baseball, Class A

Regional champions

Cape Elizabeth Capers girls’ tennis, Class B South

Individual state champions

Track
Hadley Mahoney, Cape Elizabeth, Class B girls’ mile
Hadley Mahoney, Cape Elizabeth, Class B girls’ two-mile
Zach Barry, Scarborough, Class A boys’ 800
Nicholas Connolly, Scarborough, Class A boys’ shot put
Jayden Flaker, Scarborough, Class A boys’ 110 hurdles
Jayden Flaker, Scarborough, Class A boys’ 300 hurdles
Elaina Panagakos, Scarborough, Class A girls’ shot put
Geneva Holmes, South Portland, Class A girls’ discus

Michael’s top five stories/moments

5) Scarborough track wins again

Scarborough’s Jayden Flaker won both the 110 and 300 hurdles at last month’s Class A state meet, helping the Red Storm win the team championship. Ben McCanna / Portland Press Herald

It turns out that about the only thing that can keep Scarborough’s boys’ outdoor track team from winning the Class A state title is a pandemic. After missing out on a chance to win the title in 2020 due to the season being canceled, the Red Storm returned to their familiar perch this spring, tallying 82 points to beat runner-up Edward Little (64.5) and the rest of the field. Scarborough won four individual events at states, as Jayden Flaker took the 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles, Nicholas Connolly won the shot put and Zach Barry was first in the 800.

4) Scarborough girls enjoy bounce-back campaign

Scarborough’s Sawyer McFadden celebrates the Red Storm’s semifinal round playoff win over Massabesic.  Brianna Soukup / Portland Press Herald

Scarborough’s girls’ lacrosse team didn’t wind up bringing home a championship, but the Red Storm were undoubtedly the feel-good story of the spring. Coach Emily Field vowed her team was better than its 1-11 record in 2019 showed and that it would show great improvement this season and she was spot-on. Scarborough unleashed a potent offense and a steady defense with standout senior goalie Kathleen Murphy holding down the fort as a last resort. The Red Storm won their first four games, went 9-3 in the regular season, then downed both Gorham and Massabesic to reach the regional final. There, Scarborough met its match in an unbeatable Kennebunk squad, but the Red Storm are back where they belong near the top of the heap and they figure to remain there for the foreseeable future.

“It’s certainly not the ending we’d hoped for, but looking at the entire season, holy smokes I am so proud of my girls,” Field said. “I’d confidently say we accomplished just about everything we set out to do this year. To come from a 2-10 no playoff season, to a 1-11 no playoff season, to no season, and now to finish 11-4 with two of the four losses by only one goal, and runners-up in the Class A South Final. I mean, that’s pretty incredible.”

3) Cape boys crush just about everyone 

Cape Elizabeth’s Caden Lee and his teammates had a lot to celebrate this spring, culminating with a stunningly one-sided 19-6 victory over Falmouth in the Class A state final. Brianna Soukup / Portland Press Herald

Words like juggernaut and team for the ages don’t do the 2021 Cape Elizabeth boys’ lacrosse squad justice. The Capers didn’t just win their first Class A title and the 21st overall in the history of the state’s most storied program, they did it by absolutely crushing the opposition, especially teams that thought they might be able to give Cape Elizabeth a game. The Capers out-scored the opposition 199 goals to 47 during the regular season and beat eventual Class B champion Yarmouth by 15 and 14 goals respectively, won by 15 goals at two-time reigning Class A champion Thornton Academy, handled rival Falmouth by nine and closed with an 11-goal romp at Scarborough. Cape Elizabeth had no trouble with Noble or Gorham in its first two playoff games, winning by a composite 40-3 margin, but in the Class A South Final, the Capers would be tested for the first and only time, by Berwick Academy, before holding on for an 11-9 victory. Then, in the state final versus Falmouth, Cape Elizabeth broke it open with four goals in a 47-second span late in the first period, took a stunningly commanding 15-1 halftime lead, then went on to a 19-6 victory. The only remaining question is where this squad ranks all-time.

“Statistically, this is probably the number one group we’ve ever had,” longtime Capers coach Ben Raymond said. “As lacrosse players, they’re pretty darn close. We had some other great teams that would probably argue.”

2) Cape softball simply perfect

Cape Elizabeth’s Julia Torre hoists the state championship trophy after the Capers completed a perfect season by beating Winslow in the Class B state final. Michael G. Seamans / Morning Sentinel

Speaking of all-time powerhouses, Cape Elizabeth’s softball team was equally dominant this spring, the Capers first under coach Kristen Duross, who has yet to experience a loss with the program. Cape Elizabeth out-scored its 16 regular season foes by a jaw-dropping 221 runs to 13. Not only did the Capers punish the softball like no one else, the pitching staff, led by senior ace Anna Cornell, threw 10 shutouts. After beating Freeport and Poland by a combined 35-2 margin in the first two playoff rounds, Cape Elizabeth got pushed to the brink by Medomak Valley in the Class B South semifinals (scoring a seventh inning run for a 1-0 victory) and Fryeburg Academy in the regional final (the Capers scored twice in the seventh to survive and advance, 5-4). The state final saw Cape Elizabeth return to its unstoppable ways, as the Capers scored 19 runs and beat Winslow, 19-6, in five-innings, for the second championship in program history.

“This team dominated on both sides of the field,” said Duross. “We had a deep team this year. One through nine could hit the ball hard and I could put anyone anywhere on defense and they would be able to make a big play. This team is the real deal and deserved nothing less than what they earned. They’re very, very talented.”

1) South Portland baseball parties like it’s 1952

South Portland’s baseball team celebrates after defeating Bangor for the program’s first Class A state title since 1952. Ben McCanna / Portland Press Herald

Next year finally came to South Portland. The Red Riots had come oh-so-close to winning an elusive title in recent seasons and could have ended its title drought in 2020 had COVID not wiped out the season. This year, many felt South Portland was too inexperienced to go all the way, but after an 11-5 regular season, the Red Riots put it all together when it mattered most. South Portland dispatched Sanford and Bonny Eagle to start the playoffs, then edged Cheverus in the semifinals and blanked top-ranked Thornton Academy in the Class A South Final. That set up a showdown with always-tough Bangor in the state final and sure enough, there was little separation between the teams. The game would go to the bottom of the seventh inning, tied, 2-2. The Red Riots loaded the bases and Richard Gilboy entered his name into program lore, not with a booming hit, but by taking ball four on a 3-2 pitch, bringing home Frank Tierney with the run that gave South Portland its first crown since 1952.

“The last pitch, I saw it going a little outside,” Gilboy said. “I thought it might get called a strike, but I saw it drop down and I knew it was over.”

“I feel like we’ve been so close so many times,” Red Riots coach Mike Owens said. “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. They’re all special, but when you can get that first one and it’s been so long, it’s extra special.”

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

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