Bulldog Magic highlights playoff week

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(Ed. Note: For the complete Deering-Cheverus, Portland-Deering and Portland-Falmouth baseball and Cheverus-Portland, Portland-Mt. Ararat, Waynflete-Cape Elizabeth and Waynflete-Falmouth girls’ lacrosse game stories, with photos and box scores, see theforecaster.net)

The long and storied history of Portland High School athletics has never seen a stretch like the one that played out last Wednesday through Saturday.

And that’s no hyperbole.

In a week filled with playoff thrills, the Bulldogs stole headlines on the diamond and lacrosse field and hope to conclude improbable title runs this week.

With tennis’ championships bestowed Saturday (see story), here’s a glimpse at what’s occurred and what’s left in baseball, softball, lacrosse and outdoor track.


City rivals Deering and Cheverus kicked off the baseball postseason last Tuesday in the preliminary round with the winner earning a chance to play at top-ranked Portland in the quarterfinals.

The ninth-ranked Rams kept their fine season going with a surprisingly decisive win over the eighth-seeded Stags, who came into the game on a four-game losing streak.

Deering, which lost the regular season matchup at Cheverus, 10-5, jumped to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning on an RBI single from Pat Viola and an RBI groundout from Orey Dutton.

After starting pitcher Sam Luebbert worked around three errors in the first two innings, the Rams stretched their lead to 6-0 in the fourth, as Spencer Todd and Ian Westphal were both hit by pitches with the bases loaded and Nick Bevilacqua added a two-run single.

The Stags loaded the bases with no outs in their half of the fourth, but only managed to score one run as a double play short-circuited the rally. Deering added a run in the fifth, as Todd’s RBI single made it 7-1.

The Stags again had a great chance to answer in the bottom half after loading the bases with no out, but once again, a double play limited Cheverus to a single run.

In the sixth, the Rams effectively ended the competitive phase of the contest as Viola hit a two-run single. In the seventh, junior centerfielder Dominick Bernard added a two-run single and Viola drove in one more run and Luebbert slammed the door from there, thanks to another double play, as Deering prevailed, 12-2.

“This means everything,” said Luebbert. “It’s fulfillment. We’ve accomplished a lot this year.”

“We got beaten up by them earlier in the season and came back with a vengeance today,” said Viola.

“The boys came to play and played well,” added Rams’ first-year coach Josh Stowell. “We capitalized on our momentum.”

Cheverus finished the season 9-8.

“Our effort wasn’t there at the beginning,” said Cheverus coach Mac McKew. “I was hopeful, but we dug a hole early that we couldn’t get out of.

“We didn’t know what to expect coming into the season. We could have been 4-12, so nine wins is good. We return a lot.”

Deering then went to Portland, which closed the regular season on a four-game win streak (including a 12-4 home win over the Rams) to improbably earn the top seed.

The Bulldogs then showed they deserved it.

In the first Portland-Deering playoff matchup since 2009, the Rams scored an unearned run in the second inning and tacked on two more in the third when Viola was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and Kevin Goldberg scored on a fielder’s choice, giving left-hander Colby Dame a seemingly safe 3-0 lead.

But Portland is never out of a game and after centerfielder Nick Archambault made a highlight reel diving catch and Ryan Ruhlin replaced starter Charles Barnard and kept his team in the game, the Bulldogs erupted in their favorite inning, the bottom of the fifth.

Zach Fortin started the comeback with a one-out single. Then, Portland’s least likely offensive weapon, designated hitter Dom DiMillo, who barely played in the regular season, came through with a single of his own. Jake Knop brought home the first run with an RBI single. A passed ball scored the second and a gorgeous squeeze bunt from Dom Tocci brought home Knop to tie the score. After John Williams reached on an error, Ruhlin ripped a single to center and after a misplay in the outfield, Williams stretched for third. The throw from the outfield got away and lo and behold, Williams came all the way around to score the go-ahead run.

“We’re a comeback team,” Williams said. “We’ve done it all year. Usually in the fifth inning. I was looking to be really aggressive.”

Ruhlin wasn’t about to relinquish the lead, setting the Rams down in order in the sixth and seventh innings, and Portland held on for a memorable 4-3 triumph.

“We come from behind quite a bit,” said Ruhlin, who earned the win. “We have a professionalism about it. We’re confident.”

“We throw strikes and play good defense and get timely hitting,” Bulldogs coach Mike Rutherford added. “They made some mistakes, but we’re the number one seed. We’re not babies anymore. We’re a good team.”

Deering was left stunned, as it finished 11-7.

“It’s tough to stop that momentum when it turns,” Stowell said. “Next time we’ll put a bow on it for them. It was mental lapses. We had it, but in a Portland-Deering game, anything can happen.

“I’m proud of the guys. I enjoyed the heck out of this season. My hopes were coming in to go .500 and make the playoffs and we did that and more. We exceeded my goal, but we left a few games on the table that we could have gotten.”

Portland went on to meet No. 4 Falmouth in Saturday’s semifinals. The teams had no history, but produced some with a pitcher’s duel on a sizzling afternoon.

Yachtsmen sophomore lefthander Reece Armitage held the Bulldogs in check, while Portland junior southpaw Dan Marzilli and later Ruhlin stymied several Falmouth chances.

But as the game got late, the feeling was that the Bulldogs would, as they have all spring, find a way to prevail and that’s exactly what happened in the sixth inning.

Portland loaded the bases with one out behind singles from Knop and Williams and an intentional walk to Ruhlin. Archambault then grounded to short for a fielder’s choice, allowing Knop to score the game’s first run. With two outs, junior third baseman Jack Nichols came up with the afternoon’s biggest hit, a two-run single to right, and Fortin drove in an insurance run to make it 4-0.

Ruhlin put yet another punctuation mark on his sensational season by working around three hits in the seventh, thanks in large part to yet another terrific defensive play from Knop, and the Bulldogs went on to a 4-0 victory.

“We couldn’t do it in the fifth inning this time, but waiting until the sixth inning made it even more dramatic,” said Bulldogs coach Mike Rutherford. “The guys just believe.”

Portland advanced to meet No. 3 South Portland (14-4) in Wednesday afternoon’s Western A Final at St. Joseph’s College in Standish. The Bulldogs lost, 4-0, at the Red Riots May 21 when South Portland senior ace Henry Curran took a no-hitter to the seventh and settled for a one-hitter.

Portland has won six of eight previous playoff meetings, including an 8-0 triumph in the 2013 preliminary round.

“We wanted to get to the game where everyone’s watching,” Rutherford said. “You’ll always face a great pitcher. No one will give it to us, but it will be fun.”

If Portland reaches the state game for the first time since 2006, it will meet either Bangor (16-2) or Brewer (14-4) Saturday at 2 p.m. in Augusta. The Bulldogs last won a Class A championship in 1998.

Girls’ lacrosse

Portland’s baseball success was only half the story last week. While that program has enjoyed an abundance of triumph over the years, the Bulldogs girls’ lacrosse program had never even won a quarterfinal round game until last week.

Portland, despite not being able to play a single game on its home field (the Bulldogs played at Deering this year while Fitzpatrick Stadium’s turf was being replaced) entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in Eastern A after a 7-5 regular season and met sixth-ranked Cheverus at Deering last Wednesday in a game that went on and on and on.

The Stags rallied for a 10-9 win in the regular season encounter and followed a similar script in this one, but the ending was a little different, once it finally came

The Bulldogs led 7-6 at halftime and went on top, 10-7, when standout Merritt Ryan scored unassisted with 15:57 to play, but Cheverus erupted for four goals in 67 seconds and took an 11-10 advantage when MaryKate Walsh scored with 12:32 remaining.

Back roared Portland to tie the score on Lauren McIntyre’s first varsity goal and with 7:47 to go, McIntyre set up Ella Coose and the Bulldogs were on the verge of victory, but with 3:12 left, Walsh scored unassisted to make it 12-12 and the game would go to overtime.

In the first three-minute non-sudden victory OT, Callie Sturgeon and Ryan scored for Portland, but in the second OT, Anne Veroneau and Abby Biegel answered for the Stags to tie the score again, 14-14.

A fluky goal off a pass from Isabel Stehli seemingly gave the Bulldogs the win with 44 seconds remaining, but with just 13.3 seconds on the clock, Veroneau set up Allie Scott for a goal and once more, improbably, Cheverus had rallied to make it 15-15 and it was on to a third, sudden victory overtime session.

After a scoreless third OT, it was on to a fourth where at last, Portland got the job done.

After Walsh missed on a good look to win it for Cheverus, the Bulldogs transitioned, the ball came to Coose and Coose wouldn’t be denied, finishing with 1:04 to play in the fourth overtime and Portland had outlasted the Stags in a game for the ages, 16-15.

“It’s amazing,” said an exhausted and exuberant Coose following the win. “It’s indescribable. We always wanted to beat Cheverus and get past this first cursed playoff game.”

“I felt so relieved (when Ella scored),” said Ryan, who had six goals. “It was fun, crazy. We had a goal to get past the first round of playoffs. It feels so good to do that.”

“I just felt for the girls,” Portland coach Cameron McManus added. “They got no break at all. You feel for the seniors, knowing it could be the end of their high school career. I have probably 10 times as much gray hair as I did before. I’m just glad we came out with the win.”

The Stags (5-8) got six goals from Walsh, but for the second year in a row saw their season end in multiple overtimes.

“We never gave up and I’m so proud,” said Cheverus’ first-year coach Jennifer Wescott. “We were the underdog. It came down to the last shot. If you’re going to go out, then go out like that.”

Graduation will hit the program hard, but plenty of talent lies in reserve. Cheverus should be right back in the title hunt in 2016.

“Not to be already moving on, but I’m really excited for next year,” said Wescott. “We’ll be back. This isn’t the last of us.”

Portland went to Bowdoin College in Brunswick for its first ever semifinal Friday against second-ranked Mt. Ararat, a team the Bulldogs didn’t play this year.

While this one was slightly shorter in duration, it was just as dramatic and rewarding.

Both teams, especially Portland, shot themselves in the foot in the first half, turning the ball over time after time, but the Bulldogs’ few settled offensive possessions resulted in a pair of goals from Ryan and another from Coose, to forge a 3-3 deadlock at the break.

Mt. Ararat appeared to seize control when it erupted for four goals in a 3 minute, 8 second span as the Eagles went on top, 8-4, but Stehli roared to life, scoring three quick goals of her own to give the Bulldogs life.

“At the end of the first half, 3-3 was a pretty low score for a girls’ game,” Stehli said. “That was weird. We regrouped at halftime and figured out what we needed to do.”

After Mt. Ararat went back up by two, 9-7, Ellis Linsmith, who was terrific all over the field all day, scored with 5:22 remaining to again make it a one-goal game.

The Bulldogs hit the post twice and the crossbar once in the second half and it looked as if they were doomed to a gutwrenching loss, but Ryan made sure they played on as she tied the game with 21.3 seconds remaining and it was on to overtime again.

In the first three-minute non-sudden victory OT, Ryan scored on a free position to put Portland ahead for the first time since the first half. Then, the Bulldogs had to hold on for dear life and after Ryan pounced on a loose ball in the waning seconds, Portland was able to run out the clock and celebrate its exhausting and dramatic 10-9 triumph.

Ryan scored five times, giving her 99 goals for her stellar career, Stehli added three and senior goalie Liz Victor played the game of her life, making eight huge saves.

“I’m just so happy,” Victor said. “We just want it so badly. We wanted it against Cheverus and we wanted it against Mt. Ararat.”

“Before Merritt scored, tears were coming down my face, but then she scored and we were back in it,” Linsmith said. “I felt comfortable going to overtime. I think we used it to our advantage.”

“The four overtimes against Cheverus prepared us for this,” Ryan said. “We were like, ‘Overtime, this is no big deal.’ We had adrenaline and we were able to keep going.”

“The girls dug deep,” added McManus. “After playing for two hours just two days ago, I don’t know how they did it.”

Portland didn’t face Messalonskee this season. The Bulldogs lost to the Eagles in the 2012 quarterfinals (9-7, in overtime).

“We’re peaking in the postseason and as a coach, that’s ideal,” McManus said. “We’re finding our groove. We’ll stick with what’s working for us.”

One more upset would allow Portland to finally play at Fitzpatrick Stadium in the Class A Final Saturday against either Marshwood (11-3) or Scarborough (10-4).

McAuley’s first playoff trip in a decade ended quickly. The eighth-ranked Lions fell at No. 1 Messalonskee, 14-4, in last week’s Eastern A quarterfinals to finish 5-8.

In Western B, Waynflete, ranked fourth, opened the playoffs with a 6-4 home victory over No. 5 Cape Elizabeth in last week’s quarterfinals, avenging last year’s stunning semifinal ouster. Beata Vest scored three goals, Nina Moore added two, goalie Charlotte Majercik made five saves and Helen Gray-Bauer sparked a strong defensive effort.

“There was a lot of conversation about last year, but today was about focusing on the here and now,” Vest said.

“We talked about the feeling of having a season ended on your home turf,” Gray-Bauer said. “It was an awful feeling and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

“It was a solid effort from start to finish,” added Waynflete coach Cathie Connors. “I’m really proud.”

Saturday, the Flyers went to Falmouth, where they had never lost, to face the top-ranked Yachtsmen, who they had never lost to in the postseason, but Waynflete fell behind 7-0 at halftime and despite a strong second half, lost, 8-2, to finish 9-5.

“Falmouth is an incredible team,” said Connors. “I knew if we didn’t score before they did that it would be hard for us to come back. We took a deep breath at halftime and came out strong. That showed our character.”

This was one of the youngest teams in Flyers’ history and as the season progressed, they became quite a force.

“Looking at our growth this season, it was incredible,” Connors said. “Next year, we’ll hopefully have the same growth and have even more success in the playoffs.”


McAuley was the lone city softball team to make the playoffs. The 11th-ranked Lions went to No. 6 Noble for the preliminary round last Tuesday and dropped an agonizing 2-1 nine-inning decision to finish 7-10.

Boys’ lacrosse

Cheverus’ boys’ lacrosse team won its final five regular season games to earn the No. 4 seed in Eastern A. Last Wednesday in the quarterfinals, the Stags downed No. 5 Windham, 15-7, as Thomas Lawson had four goals and Nick Schleh added three. Saturday, Cheverus’ run ended with an 18-8 loss at top-ranked, undefeated Brunswick in the semifinals. James Kane had three goals, but the Stags finished the year 8-6.

Deering, ranked seventh in Eastern A, lost to No. 2 Messalonskee, 17-7, in its quarterfinal and wound up 4-9.

Portland, seeded sixth, almost sprung an upset at No. 3 Lewiston in its Eastern A quarterfinal, taking a 7-5 lead in the fourth quarter, but the Blue Devils rallied to tie and won in overtime, 8-7, to end the Bulldogs season at 6-7. D.J. Cooper scored four times and Andrew Hoekstra made 16 saves.

“(Lewiston) played strong the whole way through and played strong through the overtime and ended up finishing up on top,” said Portland coach Mike DiFusco.

In Western B, Waynflete, the No. 3 seed, downed No. 6 Fryeburg Academy, 17-6, in the quarterfinals. Ford Malter had six goals, while Harry Baker-Connick and Hank Duvall both scored three times. Waynflete was no match for No. 2 Falmouth in the semis, losing, 18-3, to finish 10-4.

Outdoor track

Several city athletes competed in the outdoor track and field New England championships held Saturday at Thornton Academy in Saco.

Cheverus’ Nick White was runner-up in the boys’ discus (162 feet, 4 inches). He also came in 13th in the shot put (49-7.75). Jake Dixon finished third in the 400 (49.06 seconds) and eighth in the 200 (22.19). Jacob Schott was 16th in the high jump (6 feet). James Hannigan placed 21st in the 800 (2 minutes, 5.26 seconds). Deering’s Jacob Coon was 13th in the high jump (6-feet). Iid Sheikh-Yusef placed 17th in the two-mile (9:52.25). Paulo DeMarco was 19th in the 300 hurdles (41.35).

In the girls’ competition, Cheverus’ Emily Turner was 11th in the 400 (59.53). Julia Pomerleau came in 14th in the high jump (5-0). Sarah Mount was 24th in the 300 hurdles (49.06). Katelyn Gendron came in 24th in the long jump (14-6.25). The Stags’ 4×400 relay team placed 17th (4:15.05).

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Sidebar Elements

Portland senior Ryan Ruhlin raises his arm in joy after scoring a run during the Bulldogs’ 4-0 win over Falmouth in Saturday’s Western A semifinals. Ruhlin earned the win in relief against the Yachtsmen and against rival Deering in last Thursday’s quarterfinals. Portland faces South Portland for the regional title Wednesday afternoon.

Two days after surviving rival Cheverus in four overtimes, Portland’s girls’ lacrosse team celebrates an improbable 10-9, come-from-behind overtime victory over Mt. Ararat in the Eastern A semifinals Friday. The Bulldogs meet Messalonskee in their first-ever regional final Wednesday.

Deering’s Jacob Coon clears the bar in the high jump at Saturday’s New England outdoor track and field championship meet.

Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.