Thornton Academy’s Cody Bowker dives back to first after a pickoff attempt in a game at South Portland on May 20. Opening round playoff games for baseball and softball teams are scheduled for Tuesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

There’s always a degree of uncertainty entering a single-elimination tournament. One play, one pitch, can turn a game around and a higher-seeded team can go home.

This spring, however, that uncertainty has been multiplied tenfold. First, there was the pandemic that wiped out the 2020 high school season and cost this year’s returning players a year of experience. Then there are the regional pod schedules  that teams played this year because of COVID-19 safety guidelines.

“I don’t think seeds mean anything this year because our schedules are so different,” said Greely baseball coach Derek Soule, whose Rangers are seeded No. 2 in Class B South. “For all we know, one of these teams in another pod that we haven’t seen all year is ultimately the best team out there.”

Which is why every coach is stressing the importance of being prepared for every game.

“The team to beat is the team you’re playing that day,” Soule said. “You’ve got to go all out to win that game.”

A handful of play-in games are scheduled for Saturday. Opening round games for all surviving teams in baseball and softball will be played Tuesday. The opening round for lacrosse will be held midweek.

BASEBALL

In Class A South, Thornton Academy (12-3) earned the top seed by virtue of its two victories over No. 2 Scarborough (14-2), including a 3-1 decision in the season finale.

The Trojans have relied heavily on the pitching of Cody Bowker, but Coach Jason Lariviere said his young players – he doesn’t start any seniors – have gained valuable experience.

“The kids are finding out how difficult it is to score runs and they’re paying attention to little things that help you win,” he said. “The games are always so close. You’re a couple of plays away from winning or losing. That’s how the playoffs go. You might see a 9 or 10 seed get into the final four.”

Scarborough’s first-year head coach, Wes Ridlon, noted that in most classes, it’ll take at least five wins instead of four to win a state title. “It’s going to be a tough road for anyone,” he said. “If we stick to our brand of baseball – pitching, defense and timely hitting – we can make a run.”

Falmouth Coach Mike D’Andrea, who led Scarborough to the 2019 Class A crown, said no team can take a day off. Falmouth, which is seeded fifth in Class A South, drew a tough opening round game against 12th-seeded Biddeford, which lost 4-3 to Falmouth in the regular season.

“You can get beat by any team on any given day,” said D’Andrea. “One bad inning, one bad play.”

Yarmouth Coach Marc Halsted said Class B South also has a deep field, with any of the top nine teams capable of a run. Yarmouth is the No. 1 seed.

“It’s one pitch, one inning at a time,” he said. “I’ve got 12 seniors who want to finish their high school careers the right way. I have to keep them focused on the next thing in front of them.”

No. 3 Wells and No. 5 York, both 10-6, bear close watch because they played several Class A schools. And No. 4 Cape Elizabeth (9-7) beat both Yarmouth and Greely.

SOFTBALL

In Class A South, three-time defending state champ Scarborough is seeded third at 13-3. But Coach Tom Griffin has his eye on the sixth-seeded team. Windham (14-2) finished on a 12-game winning streak, including an 8-2 win against the Red Storm, and could face Scarborough in the quarterfinals.

“They may be best team in league, they have best record,” he said. “It’s crazy Windham has the sixth seed.”

Scarborough will probably be without its No. 1 pitcher, Jenn Giguere, who suffered an injury late in the season.

The unknowns in that region are top-seeded Marshwood (13-3) and fourth-seeded Sanford (12-4). They played in the York County pod and not against the Portland-area schools. Sanford drew No. 13 Portland (7-9) in the first round.

“We’re ready to take on whatever we need to do and continue playing the way we have been playing,” said Sanford’s first-year coach, Lindsay Tibbetts, whose team lost twice to Marshwood.

And don’t sleep on No. 2 Biddeford, which has slugged 21 home runs, led by sophomore Baylor Wilkinson with eight.

In Class B South, top-ranked Fryeburg Academy (11-3) may also be without its No. 1 pitcher, senior Emilia DeSanctis. She would be replaced by junior Camden Jones.

No. 2 Cape Elizabeth is undefeated at 16-0 and led by senior pitcher Anna Cornell (11-0, 0.25 ERA, 104 strikeouts and only seven walks). The Capers lost a scrimmage to Marshwood on Thursday, 6-5. “I think that was good for us,” said first-year coach Kristen Duross.

And tucked on the midcoast is third-ranked Morse (11-4), its highest seeding in Wil Laffely’s 16 years as head coach. “We’ve just got to go in with a positive mindset and play the way we’re capable of playing,” he said.

LACROSSE

The most intriguing aspect of the lacrosse tournament is the inclusion of Berwick Academy, a private day school, as the top seed in Class A South boys. The Bulldogs typically play a schedule of out-of-state prep school opponents. But COVID-19 guidelines restricted them to in-state play, so they are playing MPA teams for one season.

And what a season it has been for Berwick. Its only loss was to Scarborough, 6-5. The Bulldogs scrimmaged second-ranked Cape Elizabeth (12-0) and lost 9-5. “I would say Cape Elizabeth is the top team in the state,” said Berwick Coach Sam Harding.

He’s just pleased his players have had a chance to compete this spring. That they’ve done so well is a bonus.

“It’s fantastic,” said Harding. “Even in February, we had no idea what was going to come of the season. This has been a real treat and a joy, and it’s been nice connecting with some other coaches and sharing in the joy of it all.”

On the girls’ side, Kennebunk (12-0) is the top seed in Class A South, followed by Scarborough and Berwick Academy (both 9-3). In Class A North, Falmouth (9-3) and Windham (10-2) are the top two seeds. Falmouth won state titles in 2018 and 2019.

In Class B, Yarmouth is the top seed at 11-1, followed by Greely (9-3) and Messalonskee (11-0). Freeport (9-3) is the No. 1 seed in Class C.

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