PORTLAND – As Mark Rogers left the mound midway through the fifth inning of Monday night’s Class A state championship game at Hadlock Field, it was the most serene moment of an otherwise historic evening for Maine high school baseball.
A throng of more than 7,000 – larger even than any crowd that has seen the Portland Sea Dogs play here – stood up as one and applauded politely, even though the heralded senior righthander from Mount Ararat of Topsham was leaving with his team trailing.
“That’s just how the fans have been all year,” said Rogers. “It’s just the respect they have not only for myself, but for our team. I was very thankful for that, and it meant a lot. It’s something I won’t forget, that’s for sure.”
Deering High of Portland not only won’t forget the spectacle of playing in front of a crowd they might not have imagined possible, but the state’s best team also bested its best pitcher, as the Rams defeated the Eagles 6-1 to win their fifth state title in the last six years.
Deering (20-0) didn’t exactly rough up Rogers, who threw 92 pitches and allowed five runs – two earned – on four hits while striking out eight and walking two in 4 1/3 innings.
“We wanted to get guys running and put pressure on other ways besides just line-drive base hits,” said Deering coach Mike D’Andrea. “Mark pitched out there today, too. He was throwing changeups, he was throwing breaking balls. He was moving the ball around, he was competing, he was working ahead. It’s not an easy task to hit that stuff.”
But with their own star, James Madison University-bound righthander Ryan Reid on target, the Rams were able to defeat Rogers and Mount Ararat for the second straight year in the state final.
Reid pitched a five-hitter with nine strikeouts and one walk, losing his shutout in the sixth on a leadoff double by Rogers and an RBI single by Andy Cantrell.
“We knew Ryan’s a good pitcher and runs were going to be tough to come by,” said Rogers, “but we never thought we were out of the game until the game was over.”
Neil Esposito, one of two seniors in the Deering lineup, was Mount Ararat’s chief antagonist, laying down a sacrifice bunt in the second inning that led to the Rams’ first run and following that with a pair of singles and three RBIs.
Not bad for someone who was a reserve until midseason when starting third baseman Andrew Dvilinsky suffered a broken leg.
“I knew Neil would step it up today because he was due,” said Reid. “He has no fear up there.”
This event had a professional aura about it, from the confines of Hadlock Field – with its own high left-field wall reminiscent of Fenway Park – to the smell of hot sausage wafting in the air and vendors in the stands.
Hundreds, even thousands of fans were lined up outside Hadlock Field an hour before the remaining 4,000 tickets that were available Monday went on sale 90 minutes before game time.
The star attraction was the soon-to-be professional pitcher, and based on recent estimates Rogers – the No. 5 pick in the first round of last Monday’s amateur baseball draft by the Milwaukee Brewers – is in line for a bonus of around $2 million when he signs his first pro contract.
Negotiations are expected to begin as early as Tuesday, as the Brewers were waiting for Rogers’ high school season to end before initiating talks.
Whether Rogers would actually pitch against Deering was unclear early Monday; in fact, published reports out of southern Maine said he would not get the call.
But Rogers said he learned Monday morning that he would get one more high school start – with a state title on the line.
“We decided Monday morning after a lot of pressure and a lot of things had been written about how after last year he still needed to prove himself,” said Craig Rogers, the Mount Ararat coach and Mark’s father.
“I thought he proved himself last summer. I thought he proved himself all season long. And to say that you need to go out and prove yourself in a state championship game, I think that’s a bunch of baloney.
“I don’t think Mark has sidestepped any opportunity to prove himself,” Craig Rogers added. “I think he proved himself in every game he pitched with 20 to 30 professional scouts watching. If that’s not proving yourself, I don’t know what the hell is.”
Both teams struggled on defense early, combining for six errors in the first four innings.
Deering was best able to capitalize, reaching Rogers for an unearned run in the second and two more runs in the third for a 3-0 lead. Josh Stowell reached on an error and Jeff Skillin walked to open the second, and Stowell scored when Rogers threw Esposito’s sacrifice bunt into right field.
“I kind of beat myself up a little bit when I threw that ball away on the bunt, and I walked a couple, but they’re a good team and they put the ball in play,” said Rogers. “You have to play perfect defense, and we didn’t have it today.”
In the third, Andrew Giobbi hit a leadoff single to right, the first hit off Rogers. Reid walked, but Rogers struck out the next two batters before going to a 2-2 count on Esposito. But with the Mount Ararat fans clapping rhythmically in anticipation of an inning-ending strikeout, Esposito stroked an opposite-field single to right to drive home Giobbi and Reid and give the Rams what in this pitching matchup would be a huge lead.
“We wanted to get on them early, get baserunners and get a lead,” Esposito said. “Once we get a lead, we knew we should be good with Ryan pitching.”
Mount Ararat (18-2), meanwhile, had its only two runners of the first three innings thrown out on the basepaths. Brent Williams reached on a one-out error in the second, but was caught in a rundown when Chris Doherty missed a bunt attempt.
Brandon Galarneau then had the hardest-hit ball of the game in the third, a one-out double that hit the center-field fence 400 feet away on the bounce. Reid promptly picked him off.
Deering chased Rogers in the fifth. Giobbi hit a leadoff single, and Stowell was hit by a pitch with one out. Skillin followed with an infield hit to drive home Giobbi and end Rogers’ day on the mound. Esposito and Mike D’Andrea – the coach’s son – followed with RBI hits off reliever Ethan Ogilby.
RAMS 6, EAGLES 1
Mount Ararat (18-2) Deering (20-0)
Player AB R H BI Player AB R H BI
Ouellette, cf 3 0 1 0 Burleson, cf 3 0
Rogers, p-ss 3 1 1 0 Flaherty, ss 4 0 0
Cantrell, lf 2 0 1 1 Giobbi, c 4 2 0
Strong, 1b 3 0 0 0 Reid, p 2 1 0 0
Williams, c 3 0 0 0 Stowell, 1b 3 1 0
Doherty, 3b 2 0 0 0 Dowd, pr 0 1 0
Bartlett, ph 0 0 0 0 Skillin, lf 3 0 1
Ogilby, 2b-p 2 0 0 0 Esposito, 3b 2 1 3
Novak, ph 1 0 0 0 Piacentini, rf 3 0 0
Galarneau, rf 2 0 2 0 D’Andrea, 2b 3 0
Carrier, ph 1 0 0 0
Bichrest, ss-2b 2 0 0 0
Chick, ph 1 0 0 0
Totals 25 1 5 1 Totals 27 6 7 4
Mount Ararat 000 001 0 ? 1
Deering 012 030 x ? 7
E?Bichrest, Doherty, Rogers; D’Andrea 2, Stowell; LOB?Mount Ararat 5, Deering 9; 2B?Galarneau, Rogers; DP?Deering; S?Cantrell; Esposito; SB?Giobbi 2, Burleson, Dowd
Mount Ararat IP H R ER BB SO
Rogers (L,9-1) 4 1/3 4 5 2 3 8
Ogilby 1 2/3 3 1 1 1 0
Deering IP H R ER BB SO
Reid (W,8-0) 7 5 1 1 1 9
HBP?Stowell by Rogers; PB?Williams; T?1:40; ATT? 7,000 (est.)