Portland first baseman Joe Violette took a pickoff throw and tagged out a South Portland baserunner during the teams’ season-opening showdown Saturday. (Jason Veilleux photo)
Portland has to wait another day for 1,000th all-time victory
SOUTH PORTLAND — The Portland Bulldogs baseball team will have to wait at least one more day to chalk up the program’s 1,000th all-time win.
Portland has won more games than any other team in the Southern Maine Activities Association, but despite putting together a furious five-run rally in their last at-bat Saturday at Wainwright Farms, the Bulldogs fell to arch-rival South Portland and remain at 999 wins against only 502 losses all-time.
The Bulldogs’ normally potent bats were silenced by South Portland sophomore Andrew Richards, a crafty right-hander, who frustrated Portland for six complete innings without the benefit of a strikeout.
Portland senior righthander Brian Furey (0-1), one of the top pitchers in league, was touched for 10 hits, walked a pair and struck out four in a complete game effort. The Red Riots scored at least one run in each of the first four innings off Furey, building a 5-0 lead until the Bulldogs woke up in the top of the seventh and somehow tied the game.
But as quickly as the Bulldogs’ fortunes changed, they were erased, as South Portland returned to score a run in the bottom of the seventh for a 6-5 win on a perfect day for baseball.
After struggling to make solid contact for the first six innings against Richards, the Bulldogs staged a remarkable comeback in the top of the seventh inning to draw even at 5-5. Portland sent 10 men to the plate in the inning, stringing together six hits to even the score and chasing Richards in the process.
“(Richards) did a great job,” said Mike McCallum, the Bulldogs first-year head coach. “He kept us off-balance and we were probably a little too aggressive to start. We were a little more patient there in the seventh and it paid off. The positive is that we were able to come back and make a game of it. The negative is that we didn’t show up to play until the sixth inning. They outplayed us. They deserved to win. If we had won, we would have stolen one.”
After pitching six scoreless innings, Richards plunked Portland senior P.J Brogan to start the top of the seventh inning. Senior Ed Bogdanovich singled sharply through the hole at short and senior Joe Violette smoked a long double that got stuck underneath the fence for a ground rule double that temporarily cost the Bulldogs a run. Brogan scored easily on Violette’s double with Bogdanovich right on his heels (literally), but Bogdanovich was sent back to third on the ruling and the Bulldogs would have to settle for the one run to make it 5-1.
Violette’s double marked the end of the day for Richards, and on came sophomore Rob Jordan with Bulldogs on second and third and no outs. Jordan got Portland junior Adam Gould to ground out to short, but Bogdanovich scampered in the back door to make it 5-2 as Violette advanced to third with one out.
Portland’s next batter, newcomer Rudy DiMillo, followed with a towering double over the leftfielder’s head that easily plated Violette to pull Portland one-run closer at 5-3.
Now, with DiMillo replacing Violette at second base, senior Bobby Nelson pinch-hit, and after a tough at-bat, singled into centerfield to put runners on the corners for senior Peter Olafson, the Bulldogs’ catcher.
South Portland coach Tony DiBiase went deeper into his bullpen, summoning left-handed sophomore Jon Medici (1-0) to try and escape.
Medici forced Olafson to line softly to first for the second out, but Portland senior Craig LeBorgne followed with an RBI single that scored DiMillo to make it 5-4 and move Nelson to second, one base hit away from tying the game. Even better for Portland, Furey, perhaps their best hitter, was due at the plate – and due on the day – after being held hitless in his previous four at-bats.
With Nelson on second, two outs and two on, Furey grounded sharply through the hole at short into leftfield. On the hard hit grounder, Red Riots left fielder Mike Foley charged hard and made a strong throw that looked like it had Nelson dead to rights at the plate for the final out.
Instead, South Portland third basemen Jon DiBiase decided at the last second to cut the throw in favor of a speedy relay, but the ball glanced off the top of his glove and rolled slowly towards Red Riots’ senior catcher Mike Dicenso waiting in earnest at the plate to apply the tag for the final out. Dicenso scooted up the line to field the tipped relay, but Nelson avoided his lunging tag and scored to tie the game 5-5.
The drama was far from over in this one. Brogan, who led off the inning for Portland, dug his cleats in with LeBorgne on second and Furey on first and momentum behind his powerful bat. Brogan jumped on the first fastball he saw and ripped a rising liner to deep right-center that appeared destined for the gap. But out of nowhere, South Portland junior rightfielder Ryan Curit appeared and looked like me might have a chance to at least cut it off and perhaps keep Furey on third. Instead, Curit left his feet and made an incredible diving catch with his glove across his body and tumbled to the turf. When Curit raised his mitt and flashed white, Brogan couldn’t believe his eyes, but the Bulldogs had managed to pull even in their last at-bat of the game.
Portland’s euphoria would be short-lived, however, as South Portland came back in the bottom of the seventh and scored the game-winning run on a single by DiBiase. Furey struck out Curit to start the inning, but Foley hit a deep triple to wall in center, and DiBiase earned sweet redemption with a hard single by a drawn in third basemen to end the game, 6-5.
“Give Portland credit for that comeback,” said coach DiBiase. “They had six hits in that inning and I didn’t see any cheap ones. That was an impressive comeback. Curit saved the game for us with that catch. We could have come in and quit and folded but we didn’t. It was a good game for us, 90 percent of our guys are playing their first varsity game. But we have a strong program. There is talent here. It’s just a matter of getting experience, getting some at-bats. We just have to patient and let them play.”
Portland tried again for that elusive 1,000th victory Tuesday at Bonny Eagle (too late for this edition). The Bulldogs play at Kennebunk Thursday, then finally come home to Hadlock Field for their home opener Tuesday versus Noble.
Portland senior pitcher Brian Furey delivered a strike late in the game. Furey and his teammates rallied from five runs down in the top of the seventh to tie it, but South Portland responded with a run in the bottom half to beat the Bulldogs, 6-5. (Jason Veilleux photo)