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PORTLAND—Cheverus’ softball team has had everything go its way this spring and that trend continued Monday afternoon when crosstown rival Portland paid a visit.
The Stags scored only one earned run, but the Bulldogs gave them plenty of help as they remained undefeated on the season.
Cheverus scored eight unearned runs, got another strong pitching performance from senior Brittany Bell and even got a big-time contribution from its defense as it improved to 7-0, dropping improved Portland to 3-6 in the process.
“Portland’s come a long way,” Bell said. “They put up a good fight. We really had to buckle down and focus and stay intense today.”
Entering Tuesday’s game, the city rivals had split 10 prior meetings (see sidebar, below) and the programs haven’t often been on equal footing.
Portland won the first five encounters, including a 22-5 romp in the first one back in 2004 en route to its most recent state championship.
Cheverus has taken the last five, including a 9-7 victory at Payson Park a year ago, as the Bulldogs have largely struggled in recent seasons.
This season, while the Stags have been unbeatable, Portland has shown signs of rounding back into contention.
After falling at Thornton Academy (10-1), at home to Noble (6-0) and at Sanford (4-0) to start the year, the Bulldogs won three in a row: 6-5 over visiting Massabesic and 12-5 and 8-5 in a doubleheader sweep at Deering. After a 15-4 home loss to McAuley, Portland just fell short against visiting Marshwood Friday, 5-4.
Cheverus opened with a 12-1 win at Deering, then downed visiting McAuley, 7-2. Wins followed over visiting Marshwood (10-1), at McAuley (6-3) and Windham (5-3) and at home over Westbrook (7-6, after blowing a 6-1 seventh inning lead).
“We all took our foot off the gas against Westbrook, the coach and the players,” Cheverus coach Maureen Curran said. “We’re a Jesuit school and we talk about teachable moments and that was a great teachable moment. It was a valuable win.”
Monday, Portland had ample opportunities to stay close, but ultimately shot itself in the foot as the Stags capitalized, beating the Bulldogs for the sixth consecutive time.
Bell ran into immediate trouble in the top of the first inning, when freshman centerfielder Morgan Heathcoat looped a shot that landed just inside the rightfield line for a double. Sophomore first baseman Cierra Burnham then hit a ball to almost the exact same spot. Heathcoat had to wait to see if the ball was caught, then moved to third and Burnham took second on the throw. Junior designated player Anna Evans plated the game’s first run with a ground ball to first, but the Bulldogs couldn’t add on, as Bell struck out sophomore catcher Gianna Gaudet swinging and got sophomore third baseman Lauren McIntyre to ground out to third to end the inning.
Cheverus answered back in its half, as junior third baseman Casey Simpson singled to center and promptly stole second base. Sophomore second baseman Sophia Giancotti sacrificed Simpson to third and senior first baseman Libby DesRuisseaux drove her in with a ground out to short. Portland sophomore pitcher Isabelle Dimillo then ended the frame by getting Bell to pop out to short.
Bell started the top of the second by inducing Dimillo to ground back to the mound and sophomore rightfielder Maddie Kennie to bounce out to short. Senior second baseman Cassandra Kennie kept the frame alive with a ground single to right and stole second, but Bell fanned freshman leftfielder Taylor Crosby to keep the score 1-1.
After senior rightfielder Katie Randall flew out to center to start the bottom of the inning, junior centerfielder Josie Bradshaw came to the plate and the game took a scary turn.
Bradshaw ripped a shot up the middle which deflected off Dimillo’s head. The ball went into the outfield and Bradshaw wound up with a double, then all eyes turned to the pitcher.
Amazingly, Dimillo didn’t appear that seriously hurt, as she remained standing and was escorted off the field by Cheverus’ athletic trainer, Katie McCarthy.
Both teams needed a few minutes to regroup, as Portland warmed up a new pitcher.
“They’re high school girls and they get shaken about things like that,” Curran said. “They were very concerned. With Portland and Cheverus, you have kids who went to middle school together and they were worried about their friend. We had to refocus our efforts and play our game.”
“I had to assure (the girls) that (Isabelle) seemed OK,” said Portland coach Kelly Libby. “The ball glanced a little bit off her and that helped her. It didn’t hit her squarely. She got to the bench and iced up and was talking. She had a little bit of a headache, so we had her go for observation.”
In a further sign that she was OK, Dimillo later wanted to know if Channel 13 sports director Dave Eid had gotten the play on video, which he had.
Maddie Kennie came in to relieve Dimillo and got junior catcher Margaret Rigney to ground out to second and Gaudet picked off Bradshaw to end the inning.
Bell retired Heathcoat on a liner to left to start the top of the third, but Burnham beat out an infield single. Bell fanned Evans and after Burnham stole second, Bell struck out Gaudet.
The Stags then took the lead in the bottom half.
Senior leftfielder Emma Engelman let off with a single to right-center and after junior shortstop Olivia Mull walked, Simpson singled down the leftfield line to load the bases. Kennie appeared primed to escape the jam after getting Giancotti to line to right (Engelman didn’t tag up) and DesRuisseaux to fly out to shallow left. When Bell ripped a ground ball toward short, it appeared as if the Bulldogs would avoid damage, but moving to her right, senior Brianna Holdren couldn’t come up with the ball and Engelman and Mull both scored to make it 3-1.
“I thought it was going to be an out, but I got lucky,” Bell said. “My main thought was getting it on the ground. They were good with the pop-ups. I couldn’t put it in the air.”
After Gaudet’s pickoff throw was wild, moving the runners to second and third, Randall walked to reload the bases, but Kennie got Bradshaw to pop to short to end the inning.
Portland had a chance to cut into the deficit in the fourth, but Cheverus’ defense saved the day.
After McIntyre grounded out to first, junior Olivia Gilbert ripped a shot to center. Bradshaw dove for the ball, but couldn’t catch it and it rolled past her all the way to the fence. As Bradshaw ran the ball down, Gilbert reached third with a triple, then was waved home, but Bradshaw threw to Mull, who fired to Rigney, who applied the tag for out number two.
“It’s fun knowing you have a defense behind you,” Bell said. “We had some nice plays. That relay solidified we have defense and we come to play. That was awesome. The look on Liv’s face was priceless. I couldn’t help but smile.”
“I really think the momentum changed with that relay to home,” Curran said. “I applaud Josie for making a gutsy, diving play. I like kids to push their limits. She had to go get the ball. For Liv Mull to make that throw and for Margaret to hold on in that situation, that turned the momentum.”
Maddie Kennie then grounded out and the Bulldogs’ comeback hopes were essentially dashed.
The Stags opened it up in the bottom of the fourth and this time, the rally started with two outs. After Rigney grounded out to third and Engelman hit a ground ball up the first base line that appeared foul, only to kick off the grass directly to Burnham who made the out, Mull got the trouble started with a single down the leftfield line. Mull stole second and after Simpson and Giancotti both walked, DesRuisseaux hit a pop-up to the right side. Burnham appeared to have a bead on the ball, but she ran into Cassandra Kennie and dropped it, allowing Mull and Simpson to score. After an intentional walk to Bell reloaded the bags, Randall ripped a single to right and Giancotti and DesRuisseaux came home. Bradshaw flew out to center, but the damage was done and Cheverus had a 7-1 advantage.
Bell got Cassandra Kennie to line out to first to start the fifth. Crosby then beat out a bunt single and Heathcoat singled to center. Rigney then tried to pick off Heathcoat to no avail. On the play, Kennie took off for third and DesRuisseaux’s throw was wild, allowing Kennie to score and Heathcoat to move to third. She’d be stranded, however, as Bell fanned Burnham and Evans.
After Rigney grounded out to short and Engelman popped out to first to start the bottom of the inning, Mull singled to center. Simpson was next and she grounded to second, but Mull, cutting in front of Cassandra Kennie, was called for runner’s interference to end the frame.
In the top of the sixth, Gaudet struck out swinging, McIntyre singled to center and after Gilbert bunted into an out, Maddie Kennie struck out swinging.
Cheverus tacked on two more unearned runs in its half.
Giancotti singled to center leading off, then stole second. She moved to third on a single to center from DesRuisseaux and DesRuisseaux moved up on the throw.
“We had to adjust and watch the new pitcher and figure it out, but things settle down,” said DesRuisseaux. “It’s so nice to have our lineup. Last year, we weren’t as solid. This year, every single person who goes up, I just know they can get a hit.”
After Bell was again walked intentionally, Randall popped out, but Bradshaw reached on an error, with Giancotti crossing the plate. Rigney then ripped a shot to center, which was nicely caught, but DesRuisseaux tagged and scored to make it 9-2. Engelman ended the inning with a ground ball to third.
Bell’s first 1-2-3 inning came in the seventh, as she got Cassandra Kennie to ground back to the mound, Crosby to line to center and Heathcoat to pop to Giancotti at second to end it.
“Once we got the lead, we got the momentum rolling and stayed intense,” Bell said.
“The game was a little weird, but the score is what matters in the end,” said DesRuisseaux. “Team chemistry has been a big factor. The team’s getting along great and we’re having fun and that’s helped us win.”
Bell improved to 7-0 after giving up two runs (just one earned) on eight hits in seven innings. Bell struck out eight and didn’t walk a batter.
“Brittany is amazing,” DesRuisseaux said. “She’s like our MVP. She’s so good, she’s so calm, she’s such a good captain. She keeps the team together. It’s awesome.”
“Brittany has a lot more confidence with Margaret behind the plate,” Curran said. “They’re a really strong battery. They work really well together. (Brittany) trusts her defense and for good reason. The defense has made good plays to support her.”
Offensively, Mull and Simpson both had two hits. DesRuisseaux, Giancotti, Mull and Simpson all scored two runs, with Engelman scoring the other. Randall had two RBI and DesRuisseaux and Rigney each drove in one. Bradshaw had the Stags’ lone extra base hit, a double. Giancotti, Mull and Simpson stole bases.
For Portland, Burnham and Heathcoat both had two hits, Crosby and Heathcoat scored and Evans had an RBI. Heathcoat (double) and Gilbert (triple) had extra base hits. Burnham, Crosby and Cassandra Kennie stole bases.
Maddie Kennie dropped to 1-3 after giving up eight unearned runs on five hits and five walks in 4.2 innings. Dimillo surrendered a run on two hits in her 1.1 innings.
“We competed well,” Libby said. “I’m being patient. We’ve come a long way in a couple years. We’re competitive. A couple years ago, when we were losing, 22-1, they didn’t understand why I was yelling at them about little things. It’s because those mistakes count. Maddie pitched well. The biggest problem we had was them making solid contact on 0-2 counts and scoring runs with two-out rallies. Overall, we’ve been competitive and have been closer than we’ve been in the past.”
Cheverus certainly respects the way the Bulldogs are developing.
“Portland’s really grown,” Curran said. “Kelly does a great job. He’s incredibly knowledgeable. He’s growing the program. They have a JV team again. There must be enthusiasm for the program.”
The season has passed its midway point for Portland, which is now 16th in the Western Class A Heal Points. The top 12 teams make the playoffs, which the Bulldogs have missed the past five years. If Portland wants to end that skid, it will have its opportunities. The Bulldogs host Windham Wednesday and play at Westbrook Friday. Home games with Biddeford, Gorham and defending champion Scarborough and trips to South Portland and Bonny Eagle also remain.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” said Libby. “Our pitching is still young. It takes a long time to build a program up. It’s the first time we’ve had a JV team in many years. We have kids who want to play. We’re excited about that. We’re taking it one game at a time. I don’t want them thinking too far ahead, just getting the next out. That’s how you get to the playoffs, one out at a time. We’ve got games coming up that we expect to be competitive. We’re looking forward to it.”
Cheverus hopes to stay perfect, but it won’t be easy as it goes to Biddeford Tuesday and South Portland Wednesday. The Stags host Gorham Friday. Home games versus Scarborough, Noble and Massabesic and trips to Bonny Eagle, Thornton Academy and Sanford also remain.
Cheverus not only is eyeing the playoffs, but hopes to have one of the top seeds. Most of all, the Stags look to stay consistent.
“I’m excited to play Biddeford,” said DesRuisseaux. “That will be a great game. We have to keep our heads in the game and practice and play hard. Like our sign says, we respect all and fear none. It’s been a great season so far.”
“We have a bunch of girls who have heart and want to play and I think that’s contributed to our wins,” Bell said. “We just have to keep doing what we’re doing. We’re a good softball team and if we keep playing Cheverus softball, we’ll continue to do well.”
“We’re learning to persevere,” added Curran. “The girls believe that we can beat anybody we face. We’ve got a tough stretch coming up here. It doesn’t get easier.”
Cheverus junior centerfielder Josie Bradshaw fields the ball.
Cheverus senior pitcher Brittany Bell throws a strike. Bell improved to 7-0 on the season.
Portland junior Maddie Kennie throws a pitch. Kennie was the hard luck loser, despite not giving up a single earned run.
Portland centerfielder Morgan Heathcoat dives in an attempt to make a catch.
Portland sophomore Lauren McIntyre lines a hit.
Portland junior Olivia Gilbert is tagged out at home by Cheverus junior catcher Margaret Rigney after trying to stretch a triple into a home run.
Cheverus senior Katie Randall makes contact.
Cheverus junior Olivia Mull steals second as Portland senior shortstop Brianna Holdren takes the throw.
Cheverus 9 @ Portland 7
@ Cheverus 13 Portland 1 (5)
Cheverus 17 @ Portland 4 (6)
@ Cheverus 14 Portland 3
Cheverus 12 @ Portland 0
Portland 3 @ Cheverus 2
@ Portland 5 Cheverus 4
Portland 7 @ Cheverus 3 (8)
@ Portland 7 Cheverus 1
Portland 22 @ Cheverus (5)
Cheverus senior Emma Engelman (15) is congratulated by classmate Katie Randall after scoring a run in Monday’s 9-2 home win over Portland.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
P- 100 010 0- 2 8 4
C- 102 402 x- 9 8 1
Evans grounded to first, Heathcoat scored.
DesRuisseaux grounded to short, Simpson scored.
Engleman and Mull scored on error.
Mull and Simpson scored on error. Randall singled to right, Giancotti and DesRuisseaux scored.
Crosby scored on error.
Giancotti scored on error. DesRuisseaux scored on Rigney sacrifice fly.
P- Burnham, Heathcoat 2
C- Mull, Simpson 2
P- Crosby, Heathcoat
C- DesRuisseaux, Giancotti, Mull, Simpson 2, Engelman
C- Randall 2, DesRuisseaux, Rigney
P- Burnham, Crosby, C. Kennie
C- Giancotti, Mull, Simpson
Dimillo, M. Kennie (2) and Gaudet; Bell and Rigney
Dimillo 1.1 IP 2 H 1 R 1 ER 0 BB 0 K
M. Kennie (L, 1-3) 4.2 IP 5 H 8 R 0 ER 5 BB 0 K
Bell (W, 7-0) 7 IP 8 H 2 R 1 ER 0 BB 8 K