Falmouth survives valiant Portland in extra inning, instant classic

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Falmouth’s baseball team mobs senior Max Fortier after he crosses the plate with the winning run in Saturday’s, epic 4-3, nine-inning marathon victory over Portland in a Class A South semifinal. The Yachtsmen advanced to meet Cheverus in the regional final Wednesday.

Chris Lambert photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Class A South quarterfinal

Falmouth 4 Portland 3 (9 innings)

P- 000 021 000- 3 4 2
F- 101 100 001- 4 7 1

Bottom 1st
Ga. Aube homered to left, Aube left.

Bottom 3rd
Coyne homered to left, Coyne scored.

Bottom 4th
Blum singled to center, Fortier scored.

Top 5th
Knop homered to center, Dom Tocci and Knop scored.

Top 6th
Donnie Tocci scored on error.

Bottom 9th
Cady hit by pitch, Fortier scored.

Repeat hitters:
P- Knop
F- Coyne, Fortier

Runs:
P- Knop, Dom Tocci, Donnie Tocci
F- Fortier 2, Ga. Aube, Coyne 

RBI:
P- Knop 2
F- Ga. Aube, Blum, Cady, Coyne

Doubles:
P- Donnie Tocci
F- Fortier

Home runs:
P- Knop
F- Ga. Aube, Coyne

Stolen bases:
P- Donnie Tocci
F- Fortier

Left on base:
P- 7
F- 7

Donnie Tocci and King; Re. Armitage, Guarino (5) and Ga. Aube

P:
Donnie Tocci (L, 4-4) 8.1 IP 7 H 4 R 4 ER 2 BB 2 K 2 HBP 

F:
Re. Armitage 4.2 IP 1 H 2 R 2 ER 7 BB 10 K 1 HBP
Guarino (W, 8-1) 4.1 IP 3 H 1 R 1 ER 0 BB 2 K 1 Balk

Time: 2:23

FALMOUTH—The third time was a charm.

Oh my, was it ever a charm.

And an epic.

Make that an instant classic.

Saturday afternoon at Croker Field, in the teams’ third playoff meeting in as many years, Falmouth’s top-ranked baseball team welcomed new rival Portland for a Class A South semifinal that many expected to be a routine victory for the Yachtsmen.

But those pundits didn’t take into account the unquantifiable heart of the Bulldogs.

Who simply refused to lose.

And as a result, the game went on and on and on.

A 2-hour, 23-minute thriller that had a little of everything, began with a bang and ended with a plunk and in-between, Falmouth and Portland both came up big time and again at the plate, in the field and on the mound.

After Yachtsmen senior starter Reece Armitage, who completely flummoxed the Bulldogs in last year’s semifinal round, worked around two walks and struck out the side in the top of the first inning, Falmouth junior catcher Garret Aube led off the bottom half and crushed a home run off Bulldogs sophomore pitcher Donnie Tocci.

Portland came within inches of taking the lead in the top of the third, but couldn’t do so, as senior leftfielder Nick Archambault’s bid for a home run was caught at the fence in left-center by Yachtsmen junior leftfielder Marcus Cady (remember that name).

In the bottom half, Falmouth senior second baseman Colin Coyne hit a home run to left and in the fourth, after a one-out double from senior centerfielder Max Fortier, senior third baseman Will Blum singled him home with two down for a seemingly safe 3-0 advantage.

But the Bulldogs are nothing if not resilient and full of pride and with their season on the line, one of the squad’s heart-and-souls, senior Manhattan College-bound shortstop Jake Knop sent an Armitage offering over the fence in dead center to cut the deficit to 3-2.

After Armitage walked Archambault, his day on the mound came to an end as Yachtsmen coach Kevin Winship was able to turn to the most imposing hurler to walk out of a bullpen, senior Cam Guarino, Maine’s Gatorade Player of the Year, who escaped without further damage.

Portland did draw even in the sixth, as Tocci doubled and scored on an error.

Guarino, who will pitch for the University of New Haven next year, held the Bulldogs in check from there and despite opportunities in the bottom of the sixth, seventh and eighth, Falmouth couldn’t produce the winning run.

Then after turning their second double play of the game in the top of the ninth, the Yachtsmen finally brought an end to the festivities in the bottom half.

With Tocci still on the mound, Fortier singled and stole second base and after junior first baseman Griffin Aube was walked intentionally and Blum grounded into a force play, which moved Fortier up to third, freshman designated hitter Ike Kiely was hit with a pitch to load the bases.

That brought up Cady and the second pitch he saw hit him in the shoulder, allowing Fortier to come with the winning run, producing a somewhat anticlimactic ending to a game for the ages, but giving Falmouth an exhilarating 4-3 decision nonetheless.

Guarino got the win in relief with a terrific 4.1 inning effort and the Yachtsmen improved to 17-1, ended the Bulldogs’ better-than-anyone-anticipated season at 13-5 and advanced to meet No. 2 Cheverus (17-1) in what should be a fantastic Class A South Final Wednesday at 3 p.m., at St. Joseph’s College in Standish.

“I have all the respect in the world for Portland,” said Cady. “They’re a great team. I knew it would be a great game. We just had to stay positive.”

To the brink and beyond

Falmouth’s brilliance on the mound has set it apart this spring. Not only do the Yachtsmen feature Guarino, but Reece Armitage can be dominant as well and there are other arms in reserve, including Fortier, who earned a playoff win Thursday.

The Yachtsmen won their first 15 games this season before losing, 10-2, to visiting Greely in the finale (see sidebar, below, for links to previous game stories), a setback that might have been a blessing in disguise in the long run.

“The Greely game we lost we came out flat and the kids recognized that,” said Winship. “That was a real wakeup call for them.”

Falmouth garnered the top seed in the region for the second year in a row and Thursday, handled visiting eighth-seed Scarborough, 9-2, in the quarterfinals.

Portland has surpassed everyone’s expectations this spring, winning 12 regular season games and as the No. 4 seed, eliminated fifth-ranked South Portland, 14-4, in six-innings, Thursday in its quarterfinal.

The teams don’t play in the regular season, although that will change next year when Falmouth joins the Southwestern Maine Activities Association. 

The Bulldogs and Yachtsmen had met in each of the previous two semifinals, however, with Portland prevailing, 4-0, in 2015 and Falmouth winning, 5-0, last season.

This time around, it appeared that the Yachtsmen would win with relative ease again, but the Bulldogs weren’t about to go along with that script and as a result, the large throng on hand in 74-degree weather got to witness a postseason thriller.

Reece Armitage showed early that he had stuff that was tough to hit, but that he couldn’t always effectively locate it.

Armitage started the game by getting Portland sophomore centerfielder Ben Stasium to chase a high fastball for strike three. Senior second baseman Dom Tocci then walked on a full count pitch, but Armitage got Knop to chase a high pitch for strike three. Archambault drew a two-out walk, but Armitage got senior first baseman Tom Joyce to look at strike three to retire the side.

Two pitches into the bottom of the frame, Falmouth had the lead.

Garret Aube crushed a Tocci offering to deep left-center and while Archambault got back to the fence, he could do nothing about it and watched it sail away for a 1-0 Yachtsmen advantage.

Coyne then ripped a single to center, but Tocci settled down, getting senior shortstop Robbie Armitage to fly deep to center, Reece Armitage to fly out to left and Fortier to hit a fly ball to center.

Armitage’s up-and-down control was evident again in the top of the second, as he hit Donnie Tocci with a pitch leading off, then fanned junior third baseman Will Snyder, sophomore catcher Cam King and senior rightfielder Gio Ruotolo in succession.

Griffin Aube walked leading off the bottom half, but Tocci got Blum to hit a grounder to Dom Tocci at second, who threw to Knop at the bag for one out and Knop threw on to Joyce at first for a double play. Kiely then flew out to center to end the inning.

In the top of the third, Portland bid for the lead and came within inches of taking it.

After Stasium popped out to second leading off on a full count pitch, Armitage went full to Dom Tocci as well and walked him. Knop then walked on four pitches, bringing up Archambault, who crushed the ball deep to left-center. Cady ran over and got back to the fence where he reached up, lunged and got the ball to stay in his glove for a very loud second out. Joyce then struck out on a full count pitch to allow the hosts to stay in the lead.

Falmouth doubled that lead in the bottom half.

After Cady flew out to center and Donnie Tocci struck out Garret Aube swinging, Coyne got all of an inside pitch and sent a drive down the leftfield line. The ball stayed fair by several feet and sailed over the fence to make it 2-0. Snyder then made a fabulous backhanded diving stab on a Robbie Armitage line drive for the third out.

When Reece Armitage got Donnie Tocci to strike out looking, Snyder to fan swinging and King to ground out to short in the top of the fourth, it appeared he had settled down and was prepared to stymie the Bulldogs the rest of the way.

The Yachtsmen got even better news in the bottom half, as they tacked on another run.

After Reece Armitage grounded out to Joyce at first unassisted, Fortier sliced a double the other way, down the leftfield line. Griffin Aube flew out deep to left to give Tocci a chance to get out of the inning, but Blum came up with the clutch RBI single to center for a 3-0 lead. Kiely bounced out to short to end it.

Portland finally broke through in the top of the fifth and chased Armitage in the process.

Ruotolo got the trouble started by drawing a walk, but he strayed too far from first on a pitch to Stasium and Garret Aube threw to Robbie Armitage, who fired to Griffin Aube, who got the ball to Reece Armitage to apply the tag for the first out. Stasium then struck out, but Dom Tocci kept the inning alive by walking and Knop got a fastball from Armitage and sent it screaming the other way, well over the head of Fortier and over the fence in dead center to get the Bulldogs right back in the game.

Archambault drew a walk and represented the tying run and Winship came out to make the pitching change.

“Reece had that ankle injury early in the season and he hasn’t had the work we wanted him to get this year,” Winship said. “He’s still in preseason form, but he did a good job. He just left that ball up a little bit and Jake’s a great player, a Division I player. You make a mistake and he’ll make you pay.”

Guarino, who hadn’t pitched since the Greely loss in the regular season finale, had an inauspicious beginning, as he fell on the mound for a balk, allowing Archambault to move up into scoring position, but he regained his poise and caught Joyce looking at strike three to keep it a 3-2 ballgame.

In the bottom half, Tocci got Cady to pop out to second, Garret Aube to bounce out to second and Coyne to ground out to short on a full count pitch.

The Bulldogs completed their comeback in the sixth and had a chance to go on top as well.

Donnie Tocci led off by slicing the ball to centerfield where Fortier over-ran it and Tocci settled for a double. Snyder followed with a ground ball to second and Tocci moved up to third. That brought up King, who hit a ground ball to Blum, but with Tocci breaking for the plate, Tocci couldn’t handle it for an error and the run scored to make it 3-3 with King being safe at first.

Ruotolo followed with a sacrifice bunt to put the go-ahead run at second, but senior pinch-hitter Dylan Wike hit the ball right at Robbie Armitage on the ground and the shortstop threw to first to retire the side.

Falmouth looked to go back on top in the bottom half, as after Robbie Armitage grounded out to short, Reece Armitage singled to left-center and when Tocci tried to pick him off, his throw got away and Armitage raced all the way to third base. Tocci composed himself, however, and got Fortier to look at strike three and Griffin Aube to fly deep to center, where Stasium momentarily slipped before making the catch to send the game to the seventh.

The Bulldogs had three of their best, most veteran hitters up in the top of the seventh, but couldn’t take the lead.

After Dom Tocci grounded out to third, Knop hit the ball up the middle and it bounced off Guarino for an infield single. Archambault came up looking to do damage, but he grounded the ball right back to Guarino, Guarino threw a strike to Robbie Armitage at second for one out and Armitage threw on to Griffin Aube at first to complete the inning-ending double play.

The Yachtsmen came within inches of ending the game in the bottom half, but again Snyder’s glove came up huge.

Blum got on to start the frame when Dom Tocci couldn’t handle his ground ball. With Kiely up bunting, Portland had two infielders charge and Kiely bunted the ball right to Dom Tocci by the mound and Tocci threw to Knop for a force out. Cady then got a sacrifice down, moving Kiely to second. That brought up Garret Aube, who hoped to end the game the way he started it, with a big hit, but despite making solid contact, he hit a rope right at Snyder and the game would go to extra innings.

Guarino remained effective in the top of the eighth, getting Joyce to ground out to second, fanning Donnie Tocci and retiring Snyder on a deep fly ball to center.

Falmouth had its 2, 3 and 4 hitters up in the bottom half, but Tocci got Coyne to fly to left, Robbie Armitage to hit a mile-high pop fly to third and Reece Armitage to fly out to left, sending the game to a ninth inning.

King led off that frame by beating out an infield single to the hole, but after Ruotolo sacrificed him to second, Stasium lined out to Coyne at second and with King off the bag, Coyne had an easy throw to Robbie Armitage for the double play to end it.

And that would be Portland’s final plate appearance of the season, as in the bottom half, the Yachtsmen finally put it away. 

By any means necessary.

Fortier led off with another hit the other way, a single to left, and after nearly being picked off, he stole second base. Griffin Aube was walked intentionally to set up a force play at two bases and sure enough, Blum grounded the ball to Knop. Knop threw to Dom Tocci for an out at second base, but Tocci’s relay was too late to first. 

With runners at the corners, Rutherford took the unorthodox approach of bringing in a fifth infielder and playing with just two outfielders, but Falmouth wouldn’t make contact again.

Not with its bats at least.

Kiely came to the plate looking to play the hero and instead, he took a pitch square in the back to load the bases.

Up came Cady and on the second pitch he saw, at 3:28 p.m., he was hit in the shoulder and Fortier came in to touch home and unleash a wild celebration.

Falmouth 4 Portland 3.

“I noticed they brought an extra infielder in,” Cady said. “With one out, my job was to put the ball in the outfield. The pitch hit me in the shoulder. I wasn’t thinking much. I walked down to first like any other hit by pitch, but I turned around and everyone was running out. I wasn’t expecting that.”

“What a great high school baseball game,” Winship said. “This one had everything. The thing about Portland, and we know them so well, they do not quit. You have Tocci, Tocci, Knop, Archambault, they don’t give up. ‘Rudy’ does such a great job with those guys.” 

The Yachtsmen, who once won a regional championship game when they were no-hit, weren’t concerned in the least with how the winning run scored.

“Getting a walkoff on a hit by pitch was funny, but we won, so we’ll take it,” Guarino said. “I was actually expecting more runs. They’re a very good hitting team.”

“We didn’t draw (the winning run) up like that and my heart goes out to Donnie,” Winship said. “He’s such a good kid. He battled and battled. For him to lose that way, I wouldn’t wish that on anybody, but a win’s a win and we’ll take it. This shows we have the mental toughness to win the tight games.”

Falmouth was led offensively by two hits apiece from Coyne and Fortier.

Fortier scored twice, including the decisive run. Garret Aube and Coyne also touched home plate.

Garret Aube, Blum, Cady and Coyne had RBI.

The Yachtsmen had three extra base hits, as Garret Aube and Coyne homered and Fortier had a double.

Fortier also stole a base.

Falmouth left seven runners on.

Reece Armitage gave up two earned runs on just one hit in his 4.2 innings. He struck out 10, but walked seven and hit a batter.

Guarino improved to 8-1 with his first relief victory of the season. Guarino allowed one run on three hits in 4.1 innings. He struck out two, didn’t walk a batter and had a balk.

“It’s definitely a different approach,” Guarino said. “I didn’t have to throw really hard, just get outs. I was a little flustered at first (from falling), but I recovered. I had to be perfect every batter, every pitch, every inning.”

“To have Cam come out of the bullpen, that’s a luxury,” said Winship. “He came in and I thought he did a fantastic job.”

The Unforgettables

Portland got a pair of hits from Knop, including the momentum-turning home run. Knop, Dom Tocci and Donnie Tocci scored the runs. Knop had two RBI.

Donnie Tocci stole a base.

The Bulldogs stranded seven runners.

“It was a great baseball game between two great teams and a good-natured game too,” Rutherford said. “They play Legion ball with us. They have awesome kids.

“We just stared down, I think, the best team in the state. We just saw the two best pitchers in the state. We got unlucky that Guarino didn’t pitch in the Thursday game and (Kevin) had him available in relief. We stared down Armitage and had a hit and two runs. We had a couple hits off Guarino. We battled. ‘Knopy’ came up big. He got us right back in it. Tocci came up with a big double and we tied the game. Nick just missed a three-run homer. It’s a game of inches. We had some chances, but they had chances too.”

Donnie Tocci was the hard-luck loser, falling to 4-4 after giving up four earned runs on seven hits in 8.1 gritty innings. He walked two, hit two batters and fanned a pair.

“I can’t talk enough about a sophomore pitching the way he did,” said Rutherford. “In that situation, I had to go with him. He was tired, but I wasn’t going to take him out. It was his game. He probably wouldn’t have let me take him out anyway.”

Considering Portland wasn’t on anyone’s radar as a top contender back in March and even Rutherford simply hoped to post a winning record, it’s safe to say that the Bulldogs had a season to remember.

This program is as proud and accomplished as any, but the 2017 edition will live on in school lore.

“We’re a very good baseball team,” Rutherford said. “I don’t believe there’s a better defensive team than us. Our lineup is strong and Gio and Donnie can pitch with anybody. The chemistry these guys had was great. What’s great about them, is that they’re great, great kids. We didn’t come here to play well. We came here to win. You can see it on their faces. They’re disappointed because they thought they could win the game.”

Portland parts with several key seniors who were unique in their ability and leadership.

“The seniors are awesome,” Rutherford said. “I hate to see Knop, Archambault, Tocci and Joyce and Ruotolo leave. I had them for three years. We went number one in the Heals and to the Western Maine Finals, then semifinals and semifinals. They’ve been great. They really brought Portland High back. We had some years where we struggled to get in the playoffs, but they put us back on the map. They’re some tough, tough competitors, Portland High kids.”

The Bulldogs have the pieces in place to be a major factor again in 2018. 

“I told the younger guys, you want to be in these games and compete,” Rutherford said.

Two wins away

Falmouth will be the home team in the Class A South Final for the second year in a row Wednesday when it battles Cheverus. The teams have no history.

The Stags beat all comers this season with the exception of Portland, falling, 3-1, at Hadlock Field May 20.

Cheverus projects to pitch its lefty ace, Jared Brooks. The Yachtsmen have several options.

It should be a compelling contest, but will likely pale in comparison to what we saw Saturday.

“Going back to St. Joe’s will be fun,” Cady said. “We have some unfinished business. We want to go all the way.”

“I think it’s awesome to play at St. Joe’s again,” Guarino said. “It’s an honor. It will be fun.”

“The kids are excited to go out and play,” Winship added. “Our goal was to get into the playoffs, top four, and now we’ll go game by game. We have a tough road ahead of us. I’ve seen Cheverus play. They’re a really good team.”

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

Falmouth senior starting pitcher Reece Armitage throws a strike.

Portland sophomore pitcher Donnie Tocci delivers to the plate. Tocci went the distance, but was the hard-luck loser. 

Falmouth junior catcher Garret Aube crushes a home run leading off the bottom of the first inning.

Falmouth junior leftfielder Marcus Cady goes to the fence to rob Portland’s Nick Archambault of a third inning home run.

Falmouth senior Cam Guarino, Maine’s Gatorade Player of the Year, came on in relief and earned the victory.

Portland senior second baseman Dom Tocci catches a pop up.

Portland sophomore pitcher Donnie Tocci connects on a sixth inning double.

Falmouth senior Reece Armitage barely gets back to first base on a pickoff throw as Portland senior first baseman Tom Joyce takes the throw.

Falmouth senior shortstop Robbie Armitage forces Portland senior Jake Knop and prepares to throw to first to complete a double play in the top of the seventh inning.

Falmouth freshman designated hitter Ike Kiely gets hit by a pitch to load the bases in the bottom of the ninth inning.

The pitch that ended it. Falmouth junior Marcus Cady gets plunked with the bases loaded to bring home senior Max Foriter with the winning run. 

Falmouth’s postgame celebratory pig-pile tells you all you need to know about which team advanced.

Previous Portland stories

Season Preview

Portland 3 Scarborough 2

Portland 3 Cheverus 1

Portland 5 Deering 3

Portland 14 South Portland 4 (6)

Previous Falmouth stories

Season Preview

Falmouth 3 Gray-New Gloucester 0

Falmouth 2 Cape Elizabeth 0

Falmouth 4 Greely 0

Greely 10 Falmouth 2

Previous Falmouth-Portland playoff results

2016 Class A South semifinal
Falmouth 5 Portland 0

2015 Western A semifinal
Portland 4 Falmouth 0

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