STANDISH, Maine — Henry Curran was almost unhittable his first time through the Portland lineup Wednesday afternoon. He was indomitable on the second journeys and unflappable on the third.
The results are indisputable: South Portland is Class A West baseball champion for the first time in 24 years.
Curran survived a seventh-inning threat and hoisted the No. 3 Red Riots past the No. 1 Bulldogs, 2-1, at Mahaney Diamond.
First baseman Anthony Degifico snared a line drive by Portland’s Jake Knop to strand the potential tying and winning runs in scoring position to end the game.
“I like the pressure,” Curran said. “It was good stuff, but yeah, I was a little scared at the end there.”
South Portland (15-4) will face the Bangor-Brewer winner from Eastern Maine in Saturday’s state title game at Morton Field in Augusta. Game time is 3 p.m.
It is the Riots’ fifth regional title overall but only their second since 1952.
“This group is like none other,” South Portland coach Mike Owens said. “Every tight situation we’ve been in is when we’ve made our biggest plays. As a coach, they’re killing me, but they dig deep. They seem to get calmer, and everything seems to slow down.”
One of eight finalists for the John Winkin Award, symbolic of Maine’s outstanding senior baseball player, Curran fanned seven through the first three innings and eight overall.
Curran benefited from a double play in the fourth, freezing Portland’s George Chaison-Lapine at second after a two-out double. The final out of that inning started a streak of eight consecutive outs, and he carried a two-hit shutout into the seventh.
“He battled out of a lot of those in the first round, too,” Owens said of Curran. “He’s as good as it gets. In these situations to have the ability to rely on a guy like Henry, it’s unbelievable. He’s been great all year, and it was fun for him to finish it up today.”
Chiason-Lapine drew a one-out walk to fuel Portland’s last hurrah.
Jack Nichols followed with a seeing-eye single through the box. Zack Fortin then floated a fly ball to left that eluded Silas Zechman’s diving attempt and put Portland (14-5) on the board.
Joe Fusco’s groundout to Degifico moved the Bulldogs’ runners ahead 90 feet. Curran got ahead of Knop 0-2 before the hard-hit conclusion.
“At this point in the season, you know you’re playing against good teams,” Owens said. “We know they’ve got a run in them, and they got a run. Fortunately they hit the ball to Anthony, and we got out of it.”
Curran gave himself needed breathing room in the top of the seventh. He and Sam Troiano ripped back-to-back doubles off Portland reliever Ryan Ruhlin for the Riots’ second run.
“It gave us a little more confidence going into the last inning,” Curran said.
South Portland scratched out a run against Bulldogs’ left-handed starter Dan Marzilli in the first. Matt Beecher drew a one-out walk, then scored all the way from first when Portland’s late throw on Degifico’s infield single sailed away.
Portland put runners at second and third in the bottom of the first before Curran got Ruhlin swinging and Nick Archambault looking.
“The height on the bump is a little different, so I had to get used to that,” Curran said. “Once I got settled in, it went great.”
Troiano and Jacob Brown each had two of South Portland’s seven hits.