Bulldog Magic lives! Portland rallies past Marshwood in prelim thriller

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In a tie game in the bottom of the eighth inning of Monday’s Class A South preliminary round softball playoff game against Marshwood, Portland senior catcher Gianna Gaudet lines a ball which would deflect off the pitcher for an infield single…

Gaudet’s hit plated junior Taylor Crosby with the run that gave Portland a 3-2 victory, its first postseason win in a decade, setting off a wild celebration.

Chris Lambert photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

PORTLAND—Portland’s fairy tale season of resurgence refuses to end.

And Monday afternoon at Payson Park, the Bulldogs penned their most improbable and inspirational chapter yet.

Hosting Marshwood in a Class A South preliminary round softball showdown, Portland faced the daunting task of going up against a pitcher, Hawks senior Emily Robida, who held them to one hit just three weeks ago, but the Bulldogs were up to the task, producing nine hits this time around.

And it nearly wasn’t good enough.

Portland found itself two outs from elimination in the bottom of the seventh inning, but rallied to tie, then made sure it survived and advanced by scoring again in the eighth.

The Bulldogs announced their bats meant business when junior shortstop Morgan Boyle singled on the first pitch of the bottom of the first inning, but she was stranded.

With Portland sophomore ace Jess Brown frustrating the Hawks through three innings, the Bulldogs broke through in the bottom of the third, when sophomore centerfielder Kitara Rosmus singled in junior designated player Annie Twombly, but Robida’s sensational defense prevented the hosts from pulling away.

Marshwood drew even in the fifth when freshman catcher Emersyn Colbath-Stevens stole her way around the bases and in the sixth, the Hawks went ahead when junior leftfielder Maddy Eastman’s sacrifice fly scored sophomore third baseman Elora Montgomery.

Marshwood clung to a 2-1 lead entering the bottom of the seventh, where Portland refused to go home.

Twombly led off with a single and after Boyle hit into a force out, Boyle moved to third on successive wild pitches. One batter later, Brown’s ground ball to third led to a play at the plate, but Boyle slid home safely to tie the game. The Bulldogs had a golden opportunity to win it in regulation, but stranded a runner at third base and the game went to an eighth inning.

After Brown set the Hawks down in order in the top of the eighth, Portland won it in the bottom half.

Junior second baseman Taylor Crosby, who struck out twice previously, led off and crushed a triple to center. That brought up senior catcher Gianna Gaudet, who hit a liner at Robida and this time, the Bulldogs got the fortuitous bounce and Crosby raced home to win it, 3-2, setting off a celebration a long, long time in the making.

Portland got two hits apiece from Boyle and Twombly and a three-hit, 12-strikeout gem from Brown as it won its first playoff game in 10 years, improved to 10-7, ended Marshwood’s season at 8-9 and advanced to face top-ranked, undefeated Scarborough (16-0), the defending regional champion, Thursday at 6 p.m., in the Class A South quarterfinals.

“Holy moly!” said Bulldogs coach Robbie Ferrante. “I thought we had it a couple times, then I thought we let it slip away. We haven’t done things easily, but we don’t quit. The kids just have a lot of confidence. They’re playing loose, which I like. They just go and play.”

Not finished yet

Portland has been the feel-good story of the softball season, recording many first-times-in-a-long-time along the way.

The Bulldogs beat longtime nemeses Biddeford and South Portland for the first time in over a decade, clinched a winning record for the first time since 2005 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Portland’s 9-7 record also gave it the No. 8 seed in Class A South and a home playoff game for the first time since June 9, 2005 (a 5-1 upset loss to Windham).

Marshwood was 8-8 in the regular season and wound up ninth in Class A South, but on May 16, the Hawks came to Payson Park and blanked the Bulldogs, 5-0, behind Robida’s one-hitter and a 14-hit offensive onslaught.

Prior to Monday, the teams had no playoff history.

They sure made some on a gorgeous 74-degree afternoon with a 10-mile-per-hour wind blowing in from the Back Cove.

Brown, who has emerged as one of the league’s best pitchers this spring due to her ability to be equal parts strikeout artist and Houdini escape artist, started the game by catching Hawks junior centerfielder Meaghan Sandler looking at strike three. Eastman then reached on a bunt single, but when she tried to steal second, Gaudet’s rope to Crosby at second caught her for the second out. Senior shortstop Kaylah Abdul then lined out to sophomore rightfielder Mabel Pence to retire the side.

Portland was ready this time for Robida, thanks to some special work leading up to the game, as it practiced hitting against former Cheverus and St. Joseph’s College standout Theresa Hendrix.

When Boyle led off the bottom of the first with a ringing single to left-center, it was clear the Bulldogs wouldn’t be passive bystanders at the plate.

“Today, we were ready to go after practicing against Theresa,” Brown said.

“The kids have put in extra swings,” Ferrante said. “We brought in Theresa to throw to us for a couple days and I think that helped.”

Portland wasn’t able to score Boyle, even though she moved up to second on a passed ball. Sophomore leftfielder Sydney Gilbert struck out trying to bunt with two strikes and after Brown drew a walk, Rosmus struck out and senior first baseman Isabelle DiMillo also went down swinging.

Brown was sharp in the second as well, getting Robida to pop back to the mound, Colbath-Stevens to pop out to Boyle, who made a catch falling backwards, and sophomore rightfielder Molly Glidden to chase strike three.

In the bottom half, Robida got Crosby to ground out to first, Gaudet to line out to Abdul at short (who made a terrific diving catch to her right) and freshman third baseman Grace Stacey to chase strike three to end it.

In the the top of the third, sophomore first baseman Kayla Eastman led off with a single to center on the first pitch, but after junior second baseman Jenn Gray sacrificed Eastman to second, Brown struck out Montgomery and Sandler to keep the game scoreless.

It didn’t stay that way long.

In the bottom half, Portland had a chance to produce a big inning, but had to settle for one run, thanks to Robida’s glove, not her arm.

Twombly led off with a single to right-center and Boyle laced a single to left, putting runners at first and second. Gilbert then bunted and beat it out to load the bases with none out. Brown followed with a shot up the middle, but Robida snared the line drive for one out, then doubled off Gilbert with a throw to first. The Bulldogs did break the tie when Rosmus’ ground ball up the middle deflected off Abdul’s glove, allowing Twombly to cross the plate. Rosmus stole second to again put two runners in scoring position and when DiMillo hit a rocket that appeared ticketed to center, it looked like the Bulldogs were going to put up a crooked number, but Robida calmly snared the ball with her glove and that ended the frame.

“(Robida’s) a great athlete and she made a great play,” Ferrante said. “Then another great play.”

Brown kept momentum on Portland’s side by making quick work of Marshwood in the fourth, striking out Maddy Eastman and Abdul and getting Robida to fly to right, where Pence made a nice running catch to retire the side.

Crosby struck out leading off the bottom of the frame, but Gaudet walked on a full count. Robida then kept the score 1-0 by getting Stacey to pop out foul to Colbath-Stevens behind the plate and Twombly to pop out to the mound.

In the fifth, the Hawks, thanks to some daring baserunning, drew even.

Leading off, Colbath-Stevens was hit by a pitch. She then stole second and third base in succession, but Brown appeared primed to escape when she struck out Glidden swinging, then did the same to Kayla Eastman. The problem was, on strike three to Eastman, the ball went in the dirt and Gaudet had to throw to first for the out. She did, but on the play, Colbath-Stevens raced home and beat the throw to tie it, 1-1. Gray fanned to end the frame.

In the bottom half. Boyle was denied a hit by a nice stab and throw from Montgomery at third, Gilbert popped out to the mound and after Brown walked on a 3-2 pitch, Rosmus popped out to second to send the game to the sixth.

There, Marshwood went ahead.

Montgomery led off with the Hawks’ best contact of the game, a drive to left-center that got beyond both Gilbert and Rosmus. Montgomery stretched for third and Portland had a chance to throw her out, but the throw to Stacey was low and Montgomery was safe with a triple.

Again, Brown tried to work out of it, catching Sandler looking at strike three, but Maddy Eastman came through with a fly ball to left and Montgomery came home on the sacrifice fly for a 2-1 lead. Brown got Abdul to pop out foul to first, but for the first time, the Bulldogs were behind.

DiMillo led off the bottom half with a single to right on a 1-2 pitch, but Portland couldn’t rally, as Crosby struck out, Gaudet grounded into a force out and Stacey’s deep fly to left-center was run down by Maddy Eastman to send the game to the seventh.

There, Brown kept her team’s hopes alive by getting Robida to pop to second, Colbath-Stevens to ground out to second and sophomore pinch-hitter Miranda Montgomery to fly out deep to right.

The Bulldogs then came to the plate with their season on the brink.

And they responded brilliantly.

Twombly, the No. 9 hitter, got the rally started with a single to right-center.

“My number nine hitter had a single and that lifted everybody,” Ferrante said.

Boyle grounded into a shortstop-to-second force out, but consecutive Robida wild pitches sent Boyle to third. After Gilbert walked on a full count pitch, Brown grounded the ball to Elora Montgomery. Boyle left for home on contact and slid in safely when Colbath-Stevens couldn’t come up with the low throw.

“I knew who we had up in the lineup and I knew we could get it done,” Brown said. “Our whole lineup can do it. We didn’t want to go down without a fight. I was basically trying to get the bat on the ball. That’s all that was needed and Morgan’s a good enough base runner to get in.”

On the play, Gilbert went to third and Portland had a golden opportunity to end it.

It didn’t happen as after senior courtesy runner Anna Freund stole second, Rosmus popped out to first and DiMillo hit a rocket, but it was right at Sandler to center and the game remained 2-2 heading to the eighth.

In the top of the eighth, Brown set Marshwood down quickly, getting Kayla Eastman to ground out to Crosby at second, with Crosby making a nice stab on a tough hop, then fanning Gray looking and Elora Montgomery swinging to set the stage for the dramatic bottom of the inning.

Crosby, who struggled in her first three at-bats, hitting the ball way foul when she was able to make contact, saved her best swing for the biggest spot, crushing a drive over Sandler’s head in center. By the time the Hawks got the ball back to the infield, Crosby slid into third with a triple.

“(Robida) kept jamming me, so I took a couple steps off the plate, readjusted my feet and went from there,” Crosby said. “I wasn’t doing too hot at the beginning of the game, but I took a deep breath. Once I made contact, I knew it was going and I hustled. When I was standing at third with no outs, I knew we had a powerful hitter up, and I was on top of the world. It was the best feeling ever.”

“(Taylor) struck out twice and I said, ‘Listen, I’m going to give you a shot,'” Ferrante said. “She tattooed that one.”

After being frustrated so often during the game, the Bulldogs made sure they didn’t let this chance slip away.

Gaudet stepped to the plate and made solid contact, lining the ball up the middle. At first, it appeared Robida was going to catch the ball and start another double play, but the ball deflected off the pitcher and Crosby raced home.

“First, I had to see what was going on because I wasn’t going to get tagged out with no outs, but when I saw it get bobbled, I was gone,” Crosby said.

“Gianna, who has been up-and-down offensively, hit a hard one back to the mound and we were due a good bounce,” Ferrante said.

At 5:51 p.m., 10 years and 1 day after its last playoff victory (an 8-3 Western A preliminary round win behind Katie Hutchins at Kennebunk), Portland was able to celebrate its 3-2 triumph.

“We weren’t ready to let it end,” Crosby said. “We all knew what we had to do. We just knew, I don’t know what else to say. We all want it so much. Last year, we were coming together and getting together. This year, we have the missing pieces and we’re there.”

“It’s been a fairy tale season, but it’s all reality,” Brown said. “It’s so huge. It feels amazing.”

“It’s been a fun season and this is a big step,” Ferrante added. “Marshwood won’t quit. They came in with confidence because they handled us last time.”

Brown improved to 8-5 after a terrific performance. She allowed just two earned runs on three hits in eight innings, didn’t walk a batter, hit one and struck out 12.

“I felt great today,” Brown said. “Everything was working and it worked out well.”

“For a sophomore, (Jess is) very cool,” Ferrante said. “She can handle herself very well. She’s very mature.”

Offensively, the Bulldogs got two hits apiece from Boyle and Twombly, runs from Boyle, Crosby and Twombly and RBI from Brown, Gaudet and Rosmus. Freund, Gilbert and Rosmus had stolen bases.

Portland left 10 runners on base, but overcame.

Marshwood got runs from Colbath-Stevens and Elora Montgomery, an RBI from Maddy Eastman and three steals from Colbath-Stevens.

The Hawks stranded one runner.

Robida fell to 5-8 after giving up three earned runs on nine hits in seven-plus innings. She walked four, threw two wild pitches and fanned six.

The ultimate challenge

Portland’s fairy tale ride will need an even more improbable chapter if it is to continue Thursday at seemingly unbeatable Scarborough, which outscored the opposition, 251-11, this spring and handled the host Bulldogs, 14-2, May 10.

The teams split two previous playoffs meetings, as the Bulldogs won the 2004 Western A Final (3-1) and the Red Storm prevailed, 3-0, in the 2006 quarterfinals.

Portland will be a decided underdog, but don’t ever write this team off.

“We have to go in there like we did today, be ready to go, and not psyche ourselves out,” Brown said.

“Last time, it was close until the end,” Crosby said. “We have to play all seven innings and know what we can do. If we do, it’ll be an interesting game.”

“We took baby steps and now we’re taking big steps, but the next one is a mountain,” Ferrante added. “I told the girls to enjoy this, then it’s back to work tomorrow. I told the girls, ‘No one will give us a chance. If you don’t think you can win Thursday, don’t show up (for practice) tomorrow,’ but I think all 15 kids will show up.”

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

Portland sophomore pitcher Jess Brown delivers to the plate. Brown struck out 12 and allowed just three hits in earning the victory.

Marshwood senior ace Emily Robida throws a strike. Robida threw a one-hit shutout against Portland in the regular season, but Monday, the Bulldogs registered nine hits.

Portland junior second baseman Taylor Crosby lunges to make a catch.

Portland junior shortstop Morgan Boyle makes a catch on the run.

Portland junior second baseman Taylor Crosby tries in vain to tag Marshwood freshman Emersyn Colbath-Stevens on a steal of second. Colbath-Stevens wound up stealing her way around the bases for the Hawks’ first run.

Portland junior designated player Annie Twombly connects for one of her two hits.

Portland junior shortstop Morgan Boyle slides home with the tying run in the bottom of the seventh…

After Boyle scored to tie it, the Bulldogs celebrated extending the game.

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