By Eric Carson
PORTLAND—Senior Mick DiStasio toed the rubber and spun a jewel at just the right time for the sixth-ranked Cheverus baseball team, limiting the Portland Bulldogs to just four hits and two runs over seven complete innings, helping the Stags forget a tough loss their last time out with a 7-2 victory on a dark and cold Tuesday night at Hadlock Field.
DiStasio threw his fastball for strikes when he needed to, but for the most part flustered the Bulldogs’ bats with a wicked curve he’ll throw at any point in the count. The right-hander hurled a season-high 115 pitches, allowing single runs in the bottom of the second and seventh innings, earning a much-needed win for a Cheverus team still feeling the sting of a 3-2 loss to Sanford on Saturday.
“This team has been like Jekyll-and-Hyde this season,” said Cheverus coach Mac McKew. “We lost to Sanford, but we took care of business today. Portland is a good team. We got the big hits we needed to break it open and (Mick) is a horse out there. This is huge for us. We were a team that was mentally going in the wrong direction. But this is a good group. Cheverus has good thing going right now.”
DiStasio was helped by two great plays by his backstop, junior Jake Watson, who hustled down the line to back up an errant throw and threw out Portland senior Brian Furey trying to take an extra base on the play for the second out of the Bulldogs’ fifth. Watson also rose from his crouch to cut down the speedy Craig Leborgne trying to steal second base to end the bottom of the sixth.
“Backing up the throw at first is just a normal play for us,” said Watson. “I need to hustle down there for that one time it happens. This was a huge win for us after losing to Sanford. We had energy and intensity and came out and beat a pretty good Portland team.
“DiStasio was great tonight. He has a great fastball and two different curve balls he throws for strikes. It’s a nice combination.”
The Cheverus offense deserves a little ink, too, all they did was pound out 12 hits and score seven times to beat Furey, the Portland ace.
DiStasio doubled off the Hadlock Monster in the top of the first inning and came around to score on an RBI single by sophomore Nic Lops.
But the first star of the Cheverus offense was junior James McKew, a free-swinging lefty, who singled home a pair of runs in the Stags’ three-run top of the seventh to turn a 4-1 lead into a commanding 7-1 advantage. McKew banged out three hits on the day, adding a pair of doubles to his total, lining one to the gap in right-center in the top of the second inning, and hustling in for two on a bloop shot to the same alley in the sixth.
Furey, after earning the finest distinction Portland High has to offer earlier in the day: senior class valedictorian, hung tough as always, but did not receive much help from the Bulldogs’ defense. The right-handed veteran went the distance, surrendering 12 hits and seven runs, five of them earned, but some late-inning defensive lapses on the part of the Bulldogs made him work overtime in tough situations.
Furey walked three, hit a pair, struck out five and picked off two base runners at first base with a quick move and hard, accurate throws to first base.
“(Cheverus) pitched well tonight, said Portland coach Mike McCullum, second to only Anthony D’Alfonso for RBI in a season at the University of Southern Maine with 71 in 1999, his senior season. “But we let the game slip away from us. We stopped playing defense. We got down by a few runs and forgot about defense. When we get behind we seem to let up a little bit. From Day One, I’ve said that this is a good baseball team and I still believe that. We just need to put it all together in the same game. When we pitch well, we don’t score. When we score, we don’t pitch. We need to play an entire game.”
After all, Portland entered the game on a severe high note after outlasting a very good Thornton Academy team to earn a 3-2 win on Saturday at Hadlock. But the Bulldogs ran into DiStasio on a night when he had his good stuff and were never able to get anything going on offense.
With the sticks, Furey had one of the Bulldogs’ four hits on the night, doubling down the line in leftfield to score junior Adam Gould, who drew a walk with one out in the bottom of the seventh, one of four DiStasio issued in the game.
Portland managed its other run in the bottom of the second inning on an error, a walk, and an RBI single by Gould that dropped over the shortstop’s head and right in front of the charging rightfielder to tie the game at 1-1.
The Bulldogs were also limited, missing two big hitters on offense with seniors P.J. Brogan and Joe Violette both out of the starting lineup with leg injuries. Brogan is expected to return to the lineup in time for Thursday night’s game against South Portland, though local weather experts – not Forecaster sports writers – are predicting rain.
The game remained deadlocked at 1-1 until Cheverus added a single run in the fifth to take a 2-1 lead. Junior second basemen Joe Falconieri battled Furey full and then singled up the middle to start the inning. Senior Eliot Pickering squared to bunt but was hit with a pitch on the forehead to earn a free pass, and a DiStasio chopper that was misplayed by Portland led to a run.
With no outs and Pickering on first and Falconieri on second, DiStasio bounced to first, the Bulldogs forced Pickering at second base but the return throw to try and double-off DiStasio bounced away and allowed Falconieri to race home for a 2-1 lead.
Cheverus (8-5) returned in the sixth and padded the lead with a pair of runs, when junior Kyle Randall earned a walk, went to third on McKew’s double, and scored for a 3-1 lead on a pinch-hit, RBI single by sophomore Peter Potthoff. McKew went to third and scored on an RBI sacrifice fly by Falconieri for a 4-1 Cheverus lead after the top of the sixth inning.
The Stags put the game out of reach in the seventh when Pickering and DiStasio led off with singles and scored on McKew’s two-out, two-run single.
In the bottom of the seventh, Gould walked, Violette pinch-hit and walked, and Furey doubled home Violette after Gould was forced at third on a grounder by the previous batter, senior Campbell Rico. Senior Ed Bogdanovich flew to short for the second out, and Brogan suffered a similar fate to end the game at 7-2 in favor of the visiting Stags.
The loss drops Portland to 7-6 on the season with three games left. The Bulldogs return to Hadlock Field for a big game with South Portland on Thursday at 7 p.m. They finish the season with two road games, one against a tough Westbrook team on the road Saturday at 1 p.m., and end the season at Sanford Monday at 4 p.m.
Cheverus is home on Thursday against Thornton Academy at 4 p.m., travels to Noble on Saturday, then finishes at home against Westbrook Tuesday 4 p.m.