Baseball: Portland rolls past Windham, on to wood-bat finals

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WINDHAM—Portland (aka Bruno’s, after their sponsor) slipped past Windham (Bird’s Eye Painting) 5-2 in a semifinal on Thursday, July 27. Ben Sawyer and Cam King both had great days at the plate for Bruno’s: each boy went 3-2 and tallied two RBIs; meanwhile, Cam McCartney and Bryce Afthim turned in Bird’s Eye’s top performances, matching one another at 4-2 and one RBI apiece.

Technically, the game was an upset for Bruno’s, as Bird’s Eye was ranked first. “We were seeded fourth,” said Bruno’s head coach Mike Rutherford. “It was weird seedings; we played 20 games once in the regular season, we played each team once in a countable game, just to do the seedings. I think we played four times, and I think we were actually 3-1 against them, but we lost the game that counted.”

“All the games we’ve played with them, all summer, have been pretty competitive,” said Bird’s Eye head coach Brody Artes. “It’s just one of those things that, whoever came out with the most hits today was probably going to come out with the win, and they did.”

Bruno’s and Bird’s Eye are members of the Regency Realty Summer Baseball League, established this year to keep high school players busy building their skills in the off-season. The win advanced Bruno’s to the Championship, held Sunday at Hadlock Field, and closed out an impressive Windham run at 12-5-3.

“It’s great to see,” Rutherford said of the play in the league. “These are [Artes’s] next year’s varsity kids, these are my next year’s varsity kids. So it’s good to see what’s going to happen next year. Like, today I pitched Charlie Graffius; he’s battling to pitch next year for me. He needed the summer; he’s like 6-1 – he’s really showed he can pitch. So it’s like a 21-game try-out.”

Bruno’s kicked off Thursday’s victory with a first-inning battery of hits and runs. Donnie Tocci, Sawyer and Will Snyder scored in rapid succession on singles by Ben Stasium, Saywer and Snyder and a triple by Cam King. 

“Jumping out 3-0 is obviously great, especially in a wooden-bat league, where there’s not going to a lot of runs to begin with,” said Rutherford. “We took advantage of our hits…And we played really good defense. So getting a lead, and just making them hit it, and making plays – they got more hits than we did, but they scattered them around.”

“The first four innings, they got the leadoff guy on in singles, and we just played really good defense,” Rutherford said. “Maybe we had one error, but I don’t remember it. They hit ground balls, fly balls, we caught – we threw a guy out at the plate from left field. Our pitcher threw strikes. Name of the game: Get a lead, and hang on.”

“They just jumped on [Windham starting pitcher Kobe Lauzier] early,” said Artes. “They had a couple quality hits that first inning…We asked Kobe, right from the get-go, to just go out there, throw strikes, pitch to contact, and let the defense do the work – and he did that. He threw strikes, just left a couple of them up, and they’re a good-hitting team, so they capitalized real quick and got three runs for themselves.”

“We hit early in the innings,” Artes said. “I think we had four or five different leadoff hits in the first four or five innings. One of our struggles was continuing any sort of spurt that we got on, to score a run. It usually was followed by a ground ball that, they had a force-out at second, so now we’ve got one out with a runner at first, as opposed to no outs with runners at first and second. Stuff like that. Portland’s very, very good defensively; they thrive in those situations.”

Bruno’s would add one in the fifth – Tocci scored again, on Sawyer’s second hit – and yet another in the sixth, when King crossed home on a Jack Kilbride ground-out to third. Up 5-0 with little time remaining, the team looked settled in to win.

They were – though Bird’s Eye wouldn’t go quietly, and struck a couple blows in the bottom of the seventh to vaguely threaten a comeback. Derek Foss reached first when his bloop into the infield coaxed a fielding error out of Portland. Foss then reached second when Dylan Raynor walked, and home when McCartney singled. Raynor scored when Afthim grounded out to short.

Afthim’s out was, alas, Windham’s second. Evan Millett followed Afthim to the plate and made good contact – but not good enough contact to extend the game; the ball flew directly to Bruno’s centerfielder Robbie Shields and the game came to a close.

Graffius, as mentioned, started on the mound for Bruno’s, and takes the win. Kobe Lauzier soaks up the loss for Bird’s Eye. Stasium finished 1-3, Snyder 1-2 and Sonnie Villani 1-2 for Bruno’s, while Caleb McCartney finished 2-3, Mason Rosborough 1-2 and Brady Afthim 1-2 for Bird’s Eye.

Rutherford articulated part of the reason, perhaps, for the Bird’s Eye’s struggles in the bout: “It’s a league where it all depends; I have all my guys, and, you know, [Tanner Bernier] was supposed to be here, that would’ve been a different game.” Bernier is among Windham’s top veterans.

Rutherford took a moment to pat Graffius and a handful of his other players on the back. “Charlie…he threw strikes; I think he walked two guys. Billy Barnard, shortstop, he played fantastic; Donnie Tocci in rightfield made a couple plays; Jacob Loranger, throwing a guy out at the plate; Cam King had two or three hits. They all played well. There was no one that stood out. And I got all 20 kids in. We usually have 12 kids a game; today we have 20, and all 20 kids got up.”

Artes was happy with the way the summer went. “Definitely. Next year’s varsity team is going to have six, seven kids on it who have a lot of varsity experience. We’re really counting on the fact that that experience is going to carry us. Our bats have definitely come alive: Second half of the spring, high school season, into the summer, we’ve hit the ball way better than we did in the previous season and a half.”

Adam Birt can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME

Portlander Charlie Graffius pitched through the majority of his team’s semifinals win over Windham.

Bruno’s second baseman Henry Westphal chases down a Windham runner caught in a pickle.

Windhamite Caleb McCartney ducks back to first as Bruno’s baseman Grady Black does what he can to get out of the way.

Portland catcher Cam King lays a tag on Windham runner Bryce Afthim, trying for home.