New year, same old late inning heroics for Bulldogs

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Portland senior John Williams is congratulated by classmates Jack Nichols, left, and Zach Fortin after scoring the Bulldogs’ first run in Thursday’s 4-3 home win over Biddeford in the teams’ mutual season opener.

Chris Lambert photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Portland 4 Biddeford 3

B- 200 001 0- 3 5 0
P- 000 201 1- 4 8 5

Top 1st
Brady Crepeau doubled to left, Kerry Crepeau scored. Curit singled to left, Brady Crepeau scored.

Bottom 4th
Archambault tripled to center, Williams scored. Nichols singled to left, Archambault scored.

Top 6th
Lavigne scored on wild pitch.

Bottom 6th
Fusco singled to right, Archambault scored.

Bottom 7th
Knop singled to left, King scored. 

Repeat hitters:
B- Kerry Crepeau
P- Archambault             

Runs:
B- Brady Crepeau, Kerry Crepeau, Lavigne
P- Archambault 2, King, Williams

RBI:
B- Brady Crepeau, Curit
P- Archambault, Fusco, Knop, Nichols

Doubles:
B- Brady Crepeau
P- Joyce 

Triple:
P- Archambault 

Stolen bases:
B- Lavigne
P- Williams 2

Left on base:
B- 5
P- 6

Brady Crepeau, Vadnais (7) and Curit; Marzilli, Barnard (6) and King

B:
Brady Crepeau 6 IP 6 H 3 R 3 ER 1 BB 2 K 1 WP 1 HBP
Vadnais (L, 0-1) 0.2 IP 2 H 1 R 1 ER 1 WP

P:
Marzilli 5.1 IP 5 H 3 R 3 ER 1 BB 3 K
Barnard (W, 1-0) 1.2 IP 0 H 0 R 2 K 1 WP

Time: 1:43

PORTLAND—It isn’t about how you start, it’s how you finish.

And no one has a penchant for finishing strong quite like Portland’s baseball team.

Bulldogs junior shortstop Jake Knop, widely acclaimed as one of the top defensive players in the state, struggled mightily in the field during Thursday afternoon’s regular season opener against Biddeford at Hadlock Field, but Knop made three errors disappear in the blink of eye when he came to bat with the game on the line in the bottom of the seventh.

Portland, which erased deficits of 2-0 and 3-2, rediscovered the late-inning magic it patented a year ago, as junior pinch-hitter Thomas Joyce started the bottom of the seventh with a double and after he was replaced by sophomore catcher Cam King, who re-entered. King took third on a wild pitch and was still there with one out when Knop came to the plate with a chance to redeem himself.

And redeem himself he did.

On a full count, Knop ripped a single to left-center and with that, Portland won its season opener for the second year in a row, 4-3.

“I knew we’d come back,” Knop said. “We have that in us. We’ve been that kind of team since the beginning of last year. I had confidence.” 

Start of something special?

Portland stole headlines a year ago in coach Mike Rutherford’s return to the program, doing much better than expected. The Bulldogs won 12 regular season games, finished first in the Heal Points standings, then rode late inning magic to wins over Deering and Falmouth in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds respectively. The good times finally ended (barely) with a 2-1 loss to South Portland in the Western A Final.

While do-everything, reigning Spring Male Athlete of the Year Ryan Ruhlin leaves some big shoes to fill, virtually everyone else who contributed in 2015 has returned this spring, spawning the belief that not only can Portland take the final step and reach the state final, but that it can win the championship for the first time since 1998.

Biddeford went 6-10 in 2015, then proved to be a difficult out in the playoffs, upsetting Kennebunk in the preliminary round before giving South Portland a scare in the quarterfinals before losing, 4-3, in eight innings.

The Tigers beat the visiting Bulldogs, 6-3, in the teams’ lone meeting a year ago.

Thursday, on a nearly perfect day for an opener (66 degrees at first pitch), Portland snapped a two-game skid against Biddeford.

The Tigers got off to an auspicious start as senior shortstop Kerry Crepeau ripped a single to center on the second pitch and junior pitcher Brady Crepeau went the other way, lining a double just fair down the third base line. The ball eluded senior leftfielder Zach Fortin and Kerry Crepeau raced all the way home for a 1-0 lead.

Bulldogs senior starter Dan Marzilli appeared to settle down by battling back from a 3-1 count to fan senior first baseman Jason Vadnais, but junior catcher Joey Curit singled through the hole and Brady Crepeau beat Knop’s relay for the second run. Marzilli then picked off Curit (who was thrown out senior first baseman John Williams to junior second baseman Giovanni Ruotolo) and sophomore third baseman Colin Lavigne lined out to Knop to end the frame.

In the bottom half, Knop grounded out to third, Fortin was hit by a pitch and Williams grounded into a forceout. Williams then put on a show, stealing second and third on successive pitches, but junior centerfielder Nick Archambault grounded out to shortstop to end the rally.

Marzilli started strong in the top of the second, getting sophomore second baseman Logan Magnant to ground out to third, but after sophomore leftfielder Curtis Petit ripped a single to left-center (Fortin did a nice job cutting the ball off and preventing extra bases), junior rightfielder Nick Gallant laid down a bunt to Marzilli’s right and Marzilli’s throw sailed high, allowing the runners to move to second and third. Senior centerfielder Jeremy Lugiano tried to squeeze home Petit, but he missed the bunt and Petit was thrown out King to senior third baseman Jack Nichols to Williams. After Lugiano walked, Marzilli got out of the jam by picking him off.

In the bottom of the second, senior designated hitter Joey Fusco grounded out to the mound on the first pitch, but Nichols walked on a 3-2 pitch. Ruotolo lined out to center (Lugiano made a nice running catch to his left) and King struck out swinging.

In the top of the third, Marzilli had his most effective frame. Kerry Crepeau managed to reach on an error by Knop, but Brady Crepeau grounded into a second-to-short force, Vadnais did the same and Curit struck out swinging.

Portland could do nothing in the bottom half, as senior rightfielder George Chaison-Lapine popped out to second, Knop grounded out sharply to short and Fortin grounded out to third.

Lavigne started the fourth by reaching on a Knop error.

“I wasn’t coming through it,” said Knop, who made five errors all of 2015. “The ball was playing me, I wasn’t playing the ball.” 

Marzilli again escaped as after Magnant sacrificed Lavigne to second, Petit popped out to third and Gallant grounded out to Williams unassisted.

The Bulldogs finally got their bats going in the bottom half.

Williams led off with his team’s first hit, a single under the glove of Magnant. Archambault then crushed a triple over Lugiano to score Williams to cut the deficit in half. After Fusco grounded out to second with Archambault holding at third, Nichols grounded a hit to the right of Kerry Crepeau and the game was tied.  When Ruotolo blooped a single to right, it appeared Portland was on the verge of taking the lead, but after King grounded out slowly to third with the runners moving up, Chaison-Lapine struck out to end the frame.

Marzilli preserved the tie in the top of the fifth, bailing out his defense. Marzilli began the frame by striking out sophomore pinch-hitter Evan Paquette and after Kerry Crepeau reached on a Knop error and Brady Crepeau reached on a Ruotolo error, Vadnais grounded to Knop, who threw to Ruotolo for a force out and Nichols made a nice throw to nip Curit by a half-step to end the frame.

Brady Crepeau returned to form in the bottom half, getting Knop to ground out, Fortin to line to right and Williams to line to center.

Lavigne started trouble in the top of the sixth by lining the first pitch over Ruotolo’s head for a single. With Magnant at bat, Lavigne pulled off a delayed steal, then astutely raced to third when Magnant popped out foul to Williams.

That was it for Marzilli, who was replaced by senior Charles Barnard.

Barnard was greeted by Petit and after throwing a pitch wild to the backstop with Lavigne staying put, Barnard threw another pitch wide of King and this time, Lavigne came home with the go-ahead run. Barnard then fanned Petit looking and got freshman Carter Edgerton to ground out to Williams unassisted.

In the bottom half, Portland rediscovered its late-inning magic and tied the score.

Archambault led off with an infield single down the third base line and moved up on a wild pitch. Fusco then lined a single to right-center and just like that, the game was tied, 3-3.

“I think the guys know they’ll get a big inning,” said Rutherford. “Archambault beat out that ball to first. Joey had two rough at-bats and came up with a big hit.” 

The Bulldogs weren’t able to go on top, however, as Nichols grounded to Magnant at second, who tagged out senior pinch-runner Nick Stasium for one out and threw to first to complete the double play. Ruotolo then grounded out to third.

Barnard made quick work of the Tigers in the seventh, fanning Lugiano looking, getting Kerry Crepeau to ground out to second and Brady Crepeau to line to center.

That set the stage for a dramatic ending.

Joyce, the son of longtime minor league hitting instructor Ken Joyce, who has three World Series rings thanks to his work with the San Francisco Giants organization, pinch-hit leading off and blasted a shot to right-center that fell for a double.

“Tommy has good blood,” Rutherford said. “His Dad has been a minor league hitting instructor the past 20 years. He’s improved all spring. That will be his spot, coming up in the sixth and seventh innings. He’s not there to walk.”

King re-entered to run and moved to third on a wild pitch. Senior pinch-hitter Joe Clayton then appeared to win it with a line out to center, but after it was caught, King had an inclination to come home, but instead held at third.

That brought up Knop, who put his rough day behind him by lining a 3-2 pitch into the gap in left-center and that was that. King came home with the decisive run and after 103 back-and-forth minutes, Portland had a 4-3 victory and a 1-0 start.

“I had a bad game to start, so I was just trying to do something,” Knop said. “I got up there and swung. I never faced that kid before. I was looking fastball, for something I could drive. I wouldn’t say I washed the errors away. I’m still angry about that. Biddeford came to play. They made plays we didn’t and that’s what kept them in the game.”

“I think Jake is the best infielder in the state, but it was Opening Day and he had jitters,” Rutherford said. “His errors didn’t hurt us. I trust him. I think he made three errors all of last year. He doesn’t let it bother him and he shook it off and got the big hit at the end. Last year, we won nine one-run games. That’s what we’re used to.

“We made five errors, but we made key plays when we had to. We’re a veteran team and we’ve done it before. We know how to win those games. The kids believe until the last out, we have a chance to win. Give Biddeford credit, they scrap. In my 18 years, I think I have a losing record against them. There’s something about them. They put the ball in play. They’re well coached and they think they can win. Biddeford deserved to win the game. They had many more chances to score. We just made plays and Charlie came in and threw great. It’s always good to steal a game.” 

Portland’s offense was paced by Archambault, who had two hits,  two runs scored and a run batted in. King and Williams also crossed the plate. Fusco, Knop and Nichols also had RBI. Williams stole a pair of bases. The Bulldogs stranded six runners.

Marzilli overcame a tough start and got a no decision after giving up three earned runs on six hits with a walk and three strikeouts in 5.1 innings.

“(Dan) did a great job,” Knop said. “If I was pitching and my field guys were making errors like I was, I’d be angry, but he did a good job.”

“The first two innings, Danny was either 1-0 or 2-0 on every batter,” Rutherford said. “He has to get ahead of hitters to throw his curveball. Biddeford had some good swings the first two innings. Give Danny credit, he settled down and had a couple pickoffs.” 

Barnard got the victory after pitching 1.2 shutout innings with a pair of strikeouts and a wild pitch.

“That was Ryan Ruhlin’s job last year and Barnard did that same exact job (today),” said Knop. “You can’t ask for more.”

Biddeford got multiple hits from Kerry Crepeau, who also scored a run, as did Lavigne and Brady Crepeau, who also had an RBI, along with Curit. Lavigne stole a base. The Tigers left five runners on base.

Brady Crepeau got a no decision after allowing three earned runs on six hits in six innings. He walked a batter, threw a wild pitch, hit a batter and fanned two. Vadnais took the loss, allowing a run on two hits in two-thirds of an inning. He threw a wild pitch.

Getting busy

The schedule really heats up next week. 

Biddeford is back in action Tuesday when it plays its home opener versus Bonny Eagle. 

Portland, meanwhile, welcomes Westbrook Tuesday and Gorham Thursday, then plays at Marshwood Saturday, April 30.

Last year, we had nothing to lose and we played our hearts out,” Knop said. “This year, we have an X on our chest. We can’t feel the pressure. We didn’t play our best today. Hopefully we’ll do better next game.” 

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

Portland senior starting pitcher Dan Marzilli shows his form. Marzilli didn’t get a decision.

Portland senior third baseman Jack Nichols drifts back to catch a pop-up.

Portland senior John Williams makes contact for his team’s first hit.

Portland junior Jake Knop records a force out.

Portland junior second baseman Giovanni Ruotolo tags out Biddeford junior Joey Curit.

Portland senior Zach Fortin slides safely into second. 

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