SOUTH PORTLAND—If Henry Curran was this dominant on Opening Day, it’s frightening to think what he’ll do to the opposition in June.
South Portland’s senior lefthanded ace was almost unhittable on a windy Friday afternoon at Wainwright Farms against Thornton Academy, fanning the first five hitters he faced.
While Curran did get in a spot of trouble in the second inning, he got out of the jam and was never seriously threatened again.
While Curran was striking out Golden Trojan after Golden Trojan, the Red Riots’ offense was taking advantage of its limited opportunities as four RBI from junior catcher Nick Troiano proved to be more than enough and South Portland posted a 7-0 victory.
Curran allowed just one hit and struck out a dozen in six innings and the Red Riots picked up where last year’s team left off and hinted at a special season to come.
“It was a good start,” said South Portland coach Mike Owens. “Obviously, we didn’t go out and light the bats on fire, but we expected that. Our goals were to be clean defensively and take advantage of any mistakes they made and I thought we did a good job. It’s always good to get an early lead, especially when Henry’s on the mound, and make teams come from behind.”
Last spring, South Portland went 14-2 in the regular season, survived a scare from Cheverus in the Western A quarterfinals, then lost to Marshwood in the semifinals, 3-1, in 11 innings. The Red Riots lost some key players to graduation, but entered the 2015 campaign capable of beating anyone.
Thornton Academy went 8-7-1 last spring, then lost to Cheverus in the preliminary round, 9-7.
South Portland had success last year against the Golden Trojans, winning the opener, 6-3, in Saco, then capturing a second meeting at home, 7-3. Thornton Academy last beat the Red Riots during the 2013 season, 13-8, in Saco. The Golden Trojans’ last victory in South Portland came May 7, 2012 (6-0).
Friday, on a chilly and breezy afternoon, Thornton Academy quickly learned it was going up against an overpowering hurler.
The top of the first inning consisted of 14 pitches and lasted a mere four minutes.
Curran set the tone by getting his opposite number, junior Ben Lambert, to swing at strike three. Curran then got senior third baseman Mitchell Jacques and sophomore first baseman Evan Balzano to both look at strike three.
Curran then sparked a two-run uprising in the bottom half which produced the only runs he would need.
Curran grounded to third, but Jacques’ throw was off target. Curran then stole second. After senior third baseman Matt Beecher looked at strike three, sophomore centerfielder Sam Troiano hit a seemingly harmless fly ball to center, which junior Josh LePauloue got to but couldn’t handle and the ball ricocheted off his glove, putting runners at second and third. Nick Troiano followed and produced the game’s first hit, a single to center, which brought home Curran and Sam Troiano for a 2-0 lead.
“I was just looking for something to hit,” Nick Troiano said. “The wind’s always in your face here, but I was just trying to place it. A lead made it easier on the team.”
Senior first baseman Anthony Degifico flew to left and Nick Troiano was caught stealing, but South Portland had the all important jump.
“The early lead for me especially is good to get because I know I just have to shut them down,” Curran said. “Even without a lead, I’m confident on the mound.”
When Curran struck out junior rightfielder Devan Ruel and senior shortstop Conor Purvis swinging to start the second, it appeared the Golden Trojans were never going to touch him, but he walked LePauloue, gave up a soft single to center on an off-speed pitch to sophomore catcher Brandon Hall and walked junior designated hitter Justin Campbell-Cloutier to load the bases. Thornton Academy’s best scoring chance was then squandered when Curran got freshman second baseman Brogan Searle-Belanger to fly out to Sam Troiano in center.
The game then settled into a pattern of pitchers setting the tone.
In the bottom of the second, Lambert got shortstop Drew Ambramson to look at strike three, senior rightfielder Jacob Brown to ground back to the mound and senior designated hitter Brad Sowerby to look at strike three.
Curran returned to form in the third, inducing a lineout to right off the bat of Lambert, getting Jacques to look at strike three, then getting Balzano to ground out to second.
In the bottom half. South Portland second baseman Henry Solomon drew a walk leading off, but Curran hit into a force play and after stealing second, tried to swipe third as well, but Hall threw him out. Beecher then flew out to left.
Curran struck out the side again in the fourth, catching Ruel looking at strike three and after walking Purvis, getting LaPauloue to swing at strike three and Hall to watch strike three.
In the bottom of the fourth, Sam Troiano grounded back to the mound, Nick Troiano grounded out to shortstop and after Degifico drew a walk, Abramson grounded out to second.
Curran had no trouble in the fifth, as he got Campbell-Cloutier to ground out to second, Searle-Belanger to pop out foul to the catcher and Lambert to chase strike three.
The Red Riots then blew the game open in the bottom half, thanks to more help from the Golden Trojans.
Brown led off by beating out a ground ball to the hole between shortstop and third base, but Sowerby grounded into a second-to-shortstop-to-first double play. Solomon followed with a single under Purvis’ glove and Curran’s fly ball to center was dropped, putting runners at the corners.
South Portland then stole a run, as Curran swiped second and when Hall threw through to second base, Solomon raced home to make it 3-0.
The Red Riots weren’t done, as Beecher drew a walk and Sam Troiano beat out an infield hit to load the bases. After a passed ball scored Curran, Nick Troiano then came through again, slapping a single to left and Beecher and Sam Troiano came home to push the lead to 6-0.
“When we need the hits, (Nick) gets them,” Curran said.
“That’s why he’s in the spot he’s in,” Owens said, of Troiano. “He seems to get better with guys in scoring position.”
That was it for Lambert, who was replaced by Purvis, but South Portland wasn’t done scoring.
After Degifico popped up to third, only to see the ball drop in to put runners at the corners, Degifico stole second and Nick Troiano came home on the throw for a 7-0 advantage. Abramson then lined out to end the frame.
Curran’s final inning was fittingly dominant, as he got Jacques to ground out to second, then struck out Balzano and Ruel swinging.
In the bottom of the sixth, Brown lined out to center, senior Hayden Owen grounded out to first and after Solomon drew a walk, pinch-hitter Griffin Henderson struck out.
Curran was pulled in favor of junior Griffin Kelley entering the seventh. Kelley then closed it out, although he did give up a pair of hits.
Purvis led off by grounding out to second and LePauloue grounded out to third. Hall kept hope alive with a single to center and Campbell-Cloutier had a single to right, but Searle-Belanger grounded back to the mound and after 97 crisp minutes, the ballgame was over with the Red Riots prevailing, 7-0.
Curran was exceptional, allowing just one hit and walking three while striking out a dozen over 96 pitches in six innings.
“I had a rough few innings early,” Curran said. “I had trouble getting into a rhythm. I’ve got a lot more to show. I was just missing high, but I settled down. I can still improve a lot. This is the best game to throw (off-speed pitches). I know I have to improve for another day when I’ll need it in a more stressful situation. Eventually they’ll catch on to the fastball.”
“(Henry) was good today,” Nick Troiano said. “He was all around the plate. He hit his corners and located everything. It was a good outing all around. He threw mainly fastballs and located curveballs when he needed it. They had trouble keeping up with his fastballs. I don’t think anyone can hit him this year as long as he hits his corners and stays healthy. We can’t hit him in practice.”
“I don’t think he was his best with his off-speed stuff, but he did enough with his fastball to keep them off-balance,” Owens added. “He was overpowering at times. He did a good job using his fastball to his advantage. He got a little quick in the second and overthrew a little. We tried to get a little cute.”
Kelley closed out the game by allowing two hits, but nothing else, in his one inning.
“I wanted to finish it out, but Griffin did a good job shutting it down,” Curran said.
South Portland didn’t produce a lot of offense, but managed seven runs. Nick Troiano was the Red Riots’ lone repeat hitter. Curran and Sam Troiano both scored twice, while Beecher, Solomon and Nick Troiano all touched home once. Nick Troiano drove in four runs. Curran had three of South Portland’s six steals.
“We’re very fast,” Curran said. “We like to be aggressive on the basepaths and move the runners.”
“We have a lot of guys who can run,” Owens said. “We ran into some outs too, but I think more often than not, we’ll make the other team throw us out.”
For Thornton Academy, Lambert was the hard-luck loser, giving up seven unearned runs on five hits and three walks in 4.2 innings. He struck out three and threw a wild pitch. Purvis gave up one hit and one walk and struck out one in 1.1 innings of relief. Hall was the Golden Trojans’ lone repeat hitter.
South Portland goes to Saco for a rematch May 16, but both teams have plenty of tests first.
Thornton Academy plays at rival Biddeford Tuesday, than has ts home opener Thursday versus Sanford.
The Red Riots return to action Tuesday at Sanford. After playing at Westbrook Thursday, they return home May 2 to face Noble.
A strong opening effort is in the books, but there’s still work to do.
“After today, I think the season will be fun,” Curran said. “It’s a great group of guys.”
“We’re still trying to figure it out,” Owens said. “We have veteran guys, but we also have young guys who are new starters. We have a long way to go. We’ll keep working on the little things and get better.”
South Portland senior ace Henry Curran delivers a strike during the Red Riots’ 7-0 win over Thornton Academy in Friday’s season opener. Curran allowed just one hit and struck out 12 in six dominant innings.
TA- 000 000 0- 0 3 3
SP- 200 050 X- 7 6 0
N. Troiano singled to center, Curran and S. Troiano scored.
Solomon stole home. Curran scored on passed ball. N. Troiano singled to left, Beecher and S. Troiano scored. N. Troiano stole home.
SP- N. Troiano
SP- Curran, S. Troiano 2, Beecher, Solomon, N. Troiano
SP- N. Troiano 4
SP- Curran 3, Degifico, Solomon, N. Troiano
Lambert, Purvis (5) and Hall; Curran, Kelley (7) and N. Troiano
Lambert (L, 0-1) 4.2 IP 5 H 7 R 0 ER 3 BB 3 K 1 WP
Purvis 1.1 IP 1 H 0 R 1 BB 1 K
Curran (W, 1-0) 6 IP 1 H 0 ER 3 BB 12 K
Kelley 1 IP 2 H 0 R 0 BB 0 K