Cheverus continues surge with overdue win over Portland

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Cheverus junior Andrew DeGeorge celebrates after scoring the final run in the Stags’ 4-1 home win over Portland Tuesday.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Cheverus 4 Portland 1

P- 010 000 0- 1 3 3
C- 110 020 x- 4 5 2

Bottom 1st
St. John doubled to left, Watson scored.

Top 2nd
Sawyer scored on error.

Bottom 2nd
Lapoint scored on error.

Bottom 5th
St. John flew out to left, Dube scored. DeGeorge scored on error.

Repeat hitter:
P- Barnard

Runs:
P- Sawyer
C- DeGeorge, Dube, Lapoint, Watson

RBI:
P- Brown
C- St. John 2

Doubles:
P- Sawyer
C- Dube, St. John

Left on base:
P- 3
C-  7

Villani and King; Mullen and Watson

P:
Villani (L, 1-1) 6 IP 5 H 4 R 1 ER 3 BB 2 K 1 WP 

C:
Mullen (W, 3-1) 7 IP 3 H 1 R 1 ER 2 BB 4 K 

Time: 1:31

PORTLAND—It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but after a five-year wait, Cheverus’ baseball team was happy to vanquish rival Portland by any means necessary Tuesday afternoon at Kevin MacDonald Memorial Field.

And the Stags used every means necessary, riding a timely catcher’s interference call, taking advantage of three Bulldogs’ errors, producing a few timely hits and getting strong pitching from junior Jack Mullen to continue their recent hot stretch and earn some valuable Heal Points in the process.

After Mullen set Portland down in the top of the first, Cheverus grabbed the early lead in the bottom half, as senior catcher Griffin Watson singled and scored on a double from senior rightfielder Maxx St. John.

The Bulldogs, who have had trouble generating offense in recent games, tied the score in the top of the second, as junior rightfielder Ben Sawyer doubled and came home on an error.

In the bottom half, the Stags went back on top to stay, as after the inning stayed alive due to catcher’s interference, an error brought in junior leftfielder Nathaniel Lapoint.

Mullen held Portland at bay the rest of the way and in the bottom of the fifth, senior centerfielder Cam Dube doubled and he scored on a sacrifice fly from St. John. Junior first baseman Andrew DeGeorge then came home on an error as Cheverus stretched its lead to three runs.

That was more than enough for Mullen, who retired the final five hitters he faced, and the Stags went on to a 4-1 victory.

Mullen threw a three-hitter and Cheverus won its fifth game in a row, improved to 8-5 and in the process, dropped the Bulldogs, who lost their third in a row, to 9-4.

“It’s a great win, obviously our best of the year so far,” said Stags coach Mac McKew. “They were in second place, so there should be a lot of Heal Points. It was a pretty solid game.”

Reversing course

For much of the 2018 season, Portland appeared to be the best team in Class A South, while Cheverus was in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. Both of those perceptions have been challenged in recent days, as the Stags have caught fire and the Bulldogs have hit a rough patch.

Cheverus opened with a 5-2 home loss to Gorham in an error-prone affair. The Stags then got in the win column with a 10-0 (five-inning) victory at Sanford before losing to visiting Thornton Academy (4-2), at Falmouth (3-1) and at Windham (3-1). After downing visiting Westbrook (11-1, in six-innings) and host Bonny Eagle (6-3), Cheverus fell at home against South Portland (8-0). The Stags then downed visiting Kennebunk (10-6) and host Deering (14-0, in five-innings), before edging visiting Biddeford (2-1) and winning at Noble, 10-5.

The Bulldogs started with a 7-1 win at Noble, then rolled at preseason favorite Thornton Academy (8-1). After a 2-1 loss at Windham, Portland rallied for a thrilling 9-8 home win over Marshwood. After eking out a 7-4, eight-inning victory at Falmouth, the Bulldogs doubled up host Scarborough, 4-2, blanked host Biddeford (4-0) and downed visiting Sanford (8-2). Last Tuesday, Portland downed Deering, 11-1, in five-innings, to give longtime coach Mike Rutherford his 300th career victory and last Wednesday, the Bulldogs handled visiting Westbrook, 8-2. Friday, Portland’s seven-game win streak ended with a 6-3 home loss to Gorham and Saturday, the Bulldogs lost at home to South Portland, 4-1.

Portland had won four in a row in the series, including a 3-1 home decision last spring (see sidebar, below).

Tuesday, however, on a 60 degree day with a steady drizzle falling throughout, Cheverus managed to beat the Bulldogs for the first time since a 7-6 (nine-inning) home triumph May 21, 2013.

Mullen began inauspiciously, walking Portland junior centerfielder Ben Stasium on five pitches, but he fanned junior shortstop Billy Barnard and with senior catcher Cam King at the plate, Watson gunned down Stasium trying to steal second base. King reached on an error by DeGeorge at first base, who came off the bag on a throw, but senior third baseman Will Snyder flew out to right on the first pitch to retire the side.

Watson then got things started in the bottom half, singling up the middle. Dube sacrificed Watson to second and after junior shortstop Justin Ray popped out to short, St. John went the other way and doubled deep down the leftfield line for the game’s first run. DeGeorge popped out to short to end the frame.

The Bulldogs answered in the top of the second, as Sawyer led off with a double down the third base line, moved to third on a ground out to first by sophomore first baseman Griffin Buckley, then after junior leftfielder Jacob Loranger walked on a 3-2 pitch, sophomore designated hitter Max Brown hit a grounder to second that could have been a double play, or at least one out, but junior Tanner Laflamme couldn’t come up with the ball and on the error, Sawyer scored and Portland had runners at first and second. After senior second baseman Jack Kilbride reached on a bunt fielder’s choice to loaded the bases, Mullen avoided further damage by getting Stasium to hit the ball back to the mound to start a pitcher-to-catcher-to-first base double play to keep the game tied.

It didn’t remain deadlocked for long.

Villani got junior designated hitter Andrew Young to ground out to third and sophomore third baseman Chris Cimino to look at strike three on a full count pitch, but Lapoint singled to right-center, then moved up to second when Sawyer couldn’t come up with the ball. Laflamme appeared to end the inning with a harmless ground out back to the mound, but catcher’s interference was called, allowing Laflamme to reach. A wild pitch moved the runners up and after Watson was intentionally walked, Dube grounded to third and Snyder couldn’t come up with the ball for an error, allowing Lapoint to come home for a 2-1 lead.

“The catcher’s interference was huge and Snyder makes that play 99 out of 100 times,” lamented Rutherford.

Ray struck out looking, but the damage was done and Cheverus was ahead for good.

Barnard singled to right to start the top of the third, but the Stags turned another double play, as King grounded to Laflamme, who threw to Ray for the force at second and after a nice pivot, Ray threw on to first. Snyder then chased strike three for the third out.

Villani had his easiest inning in the bottom of the third, getting St. John to fly to left, DeGeorge to pop to short and Young to ground out to third.

Portland went quickly in the top of the fourth, as Sawyer looked at strike three, Buckley flew out to center and Loranger grounded out to third.

Cimino led off the bottom half by drawing a walk, but Lapoint grounded into a short-to-second force out, Laflamme grounded into a second-to-short force out and Watson hit the ball deep to center, but Stasium ran it down for the third out.

Mullen set the Bulldogs down in order in the top of the fifth, getting Brown to line out to center, Kilbride to line to second and Stasium to bounce out to second.

The Stags then opened it up in the bottom half.

Dube got things started by lining a double down the leftfield line.

“I put a good swing on that and it felt nice,” Dube said. “We had some quality at-bats as a team today.”

“One thing about Cam, even when he doesn’t hit, he has productive at-bats,” McKew said. “He gets the runners over.”

Dube moved up when Ray grounded out to second and scored as St. John lined out to left with Loranger making a nice diving catch and his throw home almost got the runner, but Dube just got in before King’s tag for a 3-1 lead.

DeGeorge followed with a single to left and Young drew a walk. Cimino was next and hit a sharp ground ball to first that got past the glove of Buckley for an error, allowing DeGeorge to come around with another run. Lapoint checked his swing and bounced back to the mound to end the inning, but Cheverus held a 4-1 advantage.

Barnard tried to spark a rally with a leadoff single in the top of the sixth, but Mullen quickly picked him off. King then flew out deep to center and Snyder grounded out to short.

In the bottom half, Villani got Laflamme to pop to first on a 3-2 pitch, Watson to ground out to short and Dube to fly out to center.

Mullen then slammed the door in the seventh.

Sawyer led off by grounding back to the mound. Buckley chased strike three and Loranger ended matters by grounding out to second on a 3-2 pitch, giving Cheverus a 4-1 victory in a tidy 91 minutes.

“It’s a big win,” Mullen said. “Portland is one of our biggest rivals and they were worth a lot of Heal Points, so it’s great to beat them.” 

“Portland’s a good team,” Dube said. “We had some good at-bats and Mullen pitched well.”

“We had some quality at-bats,” McKew added. “We preach doing the little things. We say to the guys, ‘We can make outs, just make good outs.’ We did good fundamental things.” 

Mullen improved to 3-1 by allowing just one run on three hits in seven innings. He walked two and struck out four. 

“Later in the game, my fastball and curveball started working,” Mullen said. “I struggled early, but I locked down and got the win.”

“We have the best pitching in the league, in my opinion,” Dube said. “They throw strikes and we play well defensively.”

“We were a little shaky to start, but Mullen settled in nicely,” McKew added. “He and (senior Conner) MacDonald and Ray are a solid staff.” 

DeGeorge, Dube, Lapoint and Watson all scored runs. St. John drove in two runs. The other two scored on errors.

The Stags stranded seven runners.

Villani took the loss for Portland, dropping to 1-1, after surrendering four runs (just one earned) on five hits in six innings. He walked three, threw a wild pitch and fanned two.

“Jackson pitched a great game,” Rutherford said. “He gave up three unearned runs and had just (a couple) walks, when he had been averaging seven. That’s fantastic.”

Barnard was the game’s lone multiple hitter. Sawyer scored the Bulldogs’ run and Brown had an RBI.

Portland left three runners on.

The Bulldogs were without the services of senior Vinnie Pasquali, junior Donnie Tocci and sophomore Sam Knop, who didn’t play for undisclosed reasons.

“Obviously, we were a little short-handed today, but the kids out there can play,” Rutherford said. “In the past five days, we’ve had six hits against Gorham, two against South Portland and three against Cheverus. You can’t win a game with three hits. We’re in a slump. All nine guys are slumping. We have a good hitting team, we’re just not hitting. It doesn’t matter how much batting practice you take, we’re slumping, but that will change. We did it last year and the year before and we came out of it.”

Time to think playoffs

Portland (second behind South Portland in the Class A South Heal Points standings at press time) makes the trip to Massabesic Thursday, then comes home to face Kennebunk Monday and Bonny Eagle Tuesday to wrap up.

“We hope to finish on a three-game win streak, go in 12-4 and get ready for the state tournament,” Rutherford said. “It’s all about how we finish. It’s a great group. They’ve made some mistakes, but they’ve owned up to it and we’ll be better for it when we get everyone back.” 

Cheverus (now fifth in Class A South) has three games left, including a showdown at Scarborough Thursday. After hosting Marshwood Saturday, the Stags close at Massabesic Tuesday of next week.

“We have to keep playing well defensively, pitching well and hopefully the bats keep going,” Dube said. “We’re picking it up and it’s looking good.”

“We have to keep doing what we’re doing and be the team we’re supposed to be,” Mullen said. “We know we can compete against anyone and beat anyone.”

“We have a good Scarborough team on Thursday,” McKew added. “We look forward to that one. We know who the other two teams are we have to play, but we’ll focus on that one. Anybody can win the league this year. Anyone. We just want to get in.”

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

Cheverus junior Jack Mullen throws a strike. Mullen went the distance to earn the victory.

Portland junior Jackson Villani goes into his delivery. Villani allowed just one earned run, but took the loss.

Cheverus junior shortstop Justin Ray forces Portland junior Billy Barnard before throwing to first to complete a double play.

Cheverus sophomore Chris Cimino makes contact and watches the ball.

Cheverus senior Cam Dube slides into home just ahead of the tag of Portland senior catcher Cam King.

Cheverus junior Jack Mullen is congratulated after the victory.

Recent Cheverus-Portland results

2017
@ Portland 3 Cheverus 1

2016
Portland 8 @ Cheverus 1

2015
@ Portland 7 Cheverus 6

2014
@ Portland 9 Cheverus 8 

2013
@ Cheverus 7 Portland 6 (9)

2012
@ Cheverus 3 Portland 2

2011
Cheverus 8 Portland 0 (played in OOB)

2010
Cheverus 12 @ Portland 0

2009
Cheverus 7 @ Portland 2

2008
Portland 4 @ Cheverus 0

2007
Cheverus 4 @ Portland 3

2006
Portland 7 @ Cheverus 4

2005
@ Portland 11 Cheverus 2
Portland 13 @ Cheverus 5

2004
Portland 24 @ Cheverus 1
@ Portland 11 Cheverus 1

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