Gorham edges Portland in chilly softball opener

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Gorham senior Grace McGouldrick prepares her delivery during Thursday’s season-opener at Portland. McGouldrick earned the win with a four-hitter and scored the go-ahead run in a 2-1 Rams’ victory.

Derek Davis / Portland Press Herald photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Gorham 2 Portland 1

G-100 001 0- 2 6 2
P- 100 000 0- 1 4 1

Top 1st
McGouldrick tripled to left-center, Biamby scored.

Bottom 1st
Harmon scored on throwing error.

Top 6th
McGouldrick scored on passed ball.

Repeat hitters:
G- McGouldrick 3, Biamby 
P- Brown

Runs:
G- Biamby, McGouldrick
P- Harmon

RBI:
G- McGouldrick

Doubles:
G- McGoldrick 2

Triple:
G- McGouldrick

Left on base:
G-5
P- 4

McGouldrick and Shields; Brown and Legere

G:
McGouldrick (W, 1-0) 7 IP 4 H 1 R 0 ER 1 BB 11 K 

P:
Brown (L, 0-1) 7 IP 6 H 2 R 2 ER 1 BB 14 K  

Time: 1:40

PORTLAND—There wasn’t much separating the Gorham and Portland softball teams in Thursday afternoon’s drizzly regular season opener at Payson Park.

But with the game hanging in the balance, Rams senior standout Grace McGouldrick willed her team to victory.

With her powerful bat, potent right arm and speedy legs.

McGouldrick, who will play for the University of Maine next year, gave Gorham an early lead, when she hit a one-out triple in the top of the first inning to score centerfielder Tatyanna Biamby.

The Bulldogs pulled even in the bottom half, as junior rightfielder Casey Harmon scored on an error, but McGouldrick and Portland senior ace Jess Brown settled down and took over from there.

After the Bulldogs were denied the lead in the bottom of the third, when Rams rightfielder Michelle Rowe threw out a runner at the plate, the visitors went back on top in the top of the sixth, as McGouldrick led off with a double down the leftfield line, took third on an error, then scored on a passed ball.

McGouldrick wasn’t about to relinquish the lead, retiring the final 12 batters she faced, and Gorham enjoyed a 2-1 victory.

The Rams gained some early confidence, and in the process, reminded Portland that its success from last spring didn’t carry over.

“Our goal was to start on a good note and we did that,” said McGouldrick. “We lost to Portland last year, so coming here today and beating them on their field on Opening Day shows how much we’ve worked and how much we’ve grown.” 

High hopes

Portland enjoyed its best season in 13 years last spring, reaching the regional final before falling to Scarborough. While the graduation of middle infielders and top hitters Morgan Boyle and Taylor Crosby hurt, the Bulldogs remain a top threat thanks to their two-headed pitching attack of Brown and senior Sydney Gilbert (who was sidelined Thursday with a foot injury).

Gorham went 10-8 last season, also losing to Scarborough in the playoffs (in the quarterfinal round). The Rams, behind the talented arm and bat of McGouldrick, hope to be in contention this season.

Last spring, Portland rolled to a 9-1 home win over Gorham, thanks in part to two RBI apiece from Gilbert and then-sophomore Grace Stacey. Brown earned the victory with a five-hitter and eight strikeouts.

Thursday, on a typical-for-April chilly (42 degrees) and windy (eight miles per hour) afternoon, the Rams spoiled the Bulldogs’ season-opening party.

Brown, who hustled back to Maine on a flight this morning to join her teammates after it became clear rain wouldn’t postpone the contest for a second time, surrendered a leadoff single to Biamby, who went on to second base when Portland junior leftfielder Amanda Moffo didn’t field the ball cleanly. Shortstop Emily Murray tried to bunt Biamby over, but popped out to Stacey at third. That brought up McGouldrick, who homered in last year’s contest. She didn’t go yard this time, but her triple into the gap in left-center easily scored Biamby for the game’s first run.

“I just focus on watching the ball,” said McGouldrick. “When I’m up to the plate, I talk to myself and say positive things to myself. I try to keep it simple. Against the best pitchers, that’s the thing to do.”

“We knew coming in that we were facing one of the best pitchers in the state,” Gorham coach Renee Whipkey said. “For the girls to come out and attack the way they did, really helped.” 

Brown avoided further damage by getting third baseman Kiana Tracey to pop out to Stacey in foul ground and fanning first baseman Shay Harris.

The Bulldogs took advantage of some shaky Gorham defense in the bottom half to tie the score.

After senior centerfielder Kit Rosmus struck out, Harmon hung tough, worked the count full, then grounded to third and reached safely and moved all the way to second base when Tracey threw the ball away. Sophomore catcher Laini Legere walked and Brown lined a single to right to load the bases. McGouldrick then got Stacey to strike out swinging, but when catcher Emma Shields threw to third to try and double up Harmon, the ball got away and Harmon came home with the run. Sophomore first baseman Callie Watson had a chance to put Portland ahead, but she struck out to keep the contest deadlocked, 1-1.

Brown found her form in the top of the second, striking out Shields on a 3-2 pitch, getting leftfielder Lydia Drew to fly out to center, then fanning Rowe.

McGouldrick had no trouble with the bottom part of the Bulldogs’ order in the bottom of the frame, striking out Moffo and sophomore shortstop Alexis Fiore swinging before including a ground ball to third off the bat of freshman second baseman Mackenzie Bryant.

Gorham threatened in the third, but Brown escaped.

After second baseman Molly Murray struck out leading off, Biamby beat out a ground ball to short for an infield single. Brown got Emily Murray to look at strike three, but McGouldrick doubled down the leftfield line to put two runners in scoring position. They’d be stranded, as Tracey chased strike three.

Portland then looked for the lead in the bottom half, but would be frustrated.

McGouldrick got Rosmus to ground out to third and caught Harmon looking at strike three to start the frame, but Legere singled to center and after Brown singled to center, Legere was replaced by junior pinch-runner Olivia Ives. Stacey then singled to right, but Rowe, who has played on key role on Gorham’s successful girls’ basketball teams in recent seasons, came up throwing and Ives was no match for her arm, as she was out at home to end the threat.

“That was so big when (Michelle) made that throw,” McGouldrick said. “She’s done that so many times. I was ready for her to do that again. That saved us. That was huge.”

“Michelle has an arm and she’s made that play before and she has the championship mentality,” Whipkey said. “She did what she had to do out there.”

“We took a shot there and she made a nice throw,” said Portland coach Robbie Ferrante. “I knew the pitching matchup would be tough and we wouldn’t get too many chances.”

Brown set Gorham down in order in the fourth, striking out Harris, getting Shields to pop out to first and fanning Drew.

In the bottom half, Watson grounded back to the mound on the first pitch, Moffo bounced back to McGouldrick as well and Fiore grounded out to second.

Rowe led off the top of the fifth with a walk on a full count pitch, but Brown stranded her at first by striking out Molly Murray looking and Biamby and Emily Murray swinging.

McGouldrick remained strong in the bottom half, getting Bryant to pop back to the mound, Rosmus to ground out to third and Harmon to chase strike three.

The Rams then went on top to stay in the top of the sixth.

McGouldrick went the other way again, dropping the ball down the leftfield line. A sure double turned into an extra base when Moffo couldn’t come up with the ball and McGouldrick raced into third. Brown got Tracey to strike out (with Legere holding on to a foul tip), but with Harris at the plate, the ball got away from Legere and McGouldrick came home with the go-ahead run.

“I was ready to jump on a pitch that got away,” McGouldrick said. “We were trying to bunt, so I was supposed to go home anyway. It worked out.”

“We knew we had to capitalize on anything given to us against a good team,” Whipkey said.

Brown got Harris to fly out to center and Shields to pop to first, but the damage was done.

Portland hoped to answer in the bottom half with the heart of its order due up, but McGouldrick remained dominant, getting Legere to bounce out to third, fanning Brown swinging and getting Stacey to look at strike three on a full count pitch.

“I knew no runs could score,” McGouldrick said. “I just tried to breathe and focus. They had their 3-4-5 hitters up and that was scary. I stayed calm and focused.”

Brown gave up a bunt single to Drew start the top of the seventh, but kept the deficit at one run by striking out Rowe swinging and Molly Murray looking and getting Biamby to ground out to second, where Bryant made a nice stab before throwing out the runner.

In the bottom half, McGouldrick got Watson to pop out to third, where Tracey made a nice over-the-shoulder grab, then ended it by striking out Ives and Fiore.

“We’ve been thinking about this since we started,” McGouldrick said. “It’s gotten rescheduled a couple time, so it’s been tough mentally.”

“We have a tough start to our schedule, so to come out here and get a win feels really good,” Whipkey said. “Hopefully it gives the girls confidence.” 

McGouldrick finished with a four-hitter, walking one and fanning 11, as she earned her first victory of the spring.

“I had a lot of control over my pitches,” McGouldrick said. “I hit my spots. The more I did that, it went pretty smooth.” 

She also paced the offense with two doubles, a triple, a run scored and an RBI. 

“(Grace is) such a leader for our team, offensively and defensively,” Whipkey said. “It’s wonderful to see her get off to such a great start.  Coming into the season, Grace’s focus is at another level. She’s a leader for this team and she looked great in the preseason.”

Biamby also had a pair of hits.

Brown was the hard-luck loser, giving up two runs on six hits. She struck out 14 and walked just one. Brown also had two of Portland’s four hits.

“It was a well played game,” Ferrante said. “We’re a different team this year with a different lineup. They just had a little bit more.”

More tough games

Gorham plays its home opener Saturday against a highly-touted Noble squad. The Rams then visit Scarborough.

“This does so much for us,” said McGouldrick. “This will give our team more confidence when we play Noble and Scarborough, who are so good.”

“Getting this ‘W’ right away certainly means a lot to us,” said Whipkey. “Nothing will be easy in this conference. We’ll have to be ready every time out.”

Portland is at the Maine Girls’ Academy/Falmouth co-op squad Saturday (game time has been moved up to 11 a.m.) as it hopes to get in the win column, then welcomes Marshwood Monday.

“I think we’ll eventually be fine,” Ferrante said. “Everybody is coming for us. That’s fine. I guess we created it. Now, we’re into it. Now it’s just time to play.”

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

Portland senior ace Jess Brown throws a strike. Brown was the hard-luck loser despite striking out 14 batters.

Gorham third baseman Kiana Tracey lunges to catch a pop fly in the final inning.

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