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Portland Bulldogs Spring Sports Previews

Sports

Portland Bulldogs Spring Sports Previews

Portland's spring sports teams will make heads turn in the weeks to come. Baseball is viewed as one of the best teams in Western Class A. Softball hopes to continue its rise back toward contention. Boys' lacrosse begins a new era with plenty of promise. The girls' squad is coming off its best season to date and should be formidable again. Both track teams have talent to work with. Boys' tennis also welcomes a new coach and hopes to contend. The girls' squad could be the best in the region.

BASEBALL

Coach: Tony DiBiase (third year, 11-21)

2012 Record: 5-11 (no playoffs)

Top returning players: Caleb Fraser (Senior), Kyle Reichert (Senior), Tim Rovnak (Senior), Mike Scala (Senior), Nate Smart (Senior), Nick Volger (Senior), Nick DiPalma (Junior), Ryan Dixon (Junior), Evan Gallant (Junior), Travis Godbout (Junior)

Pivotal games: April 30 (H) TA, May 15 (H) SOUTH PORTLAND, May 16 (H) SCARBOROUGH, May 18 @ Westbrook, May 21 @ Cheverus, May 23 (H) DEERING

Coach's comment: “We have just about everyone back. I'm hopeful for a good season. We've had good summers, but it hasn't translated to the spring. I hope that changes. Last year, we pitched pretty well and we were second in the league in defense. Our biggest problem was our inability to score. We scored 52 runs all year. We've been working on our hitting. If we score, we'll be a top team. One thing we have this year is experience. It's a very even league. No superpower. It should be an interesting spring. We talk about playoffs as the goal and going on from there.”

The Forecaster's forecast: All signs point to Portland making a jump into the upper echelon of the league this spring. A young core has grown up and after a frustrating 2012 campaign (which featured three one-run losses and two more by two runs), feel they can compete with anyone. The news is very promising on the mound as virtually every player who pitched a year ago is back. Leading the way is Smart, who had a 4-3 record with a 2.61 earned run average and 48 strikeouts in 48.1 innings in 2012. He's joined by Fraser (a strikeout per inning last spring) and Dixon (3.30 ERA) and DiPalma. Fraser is also a top hitter. He led the team in RBI last season with 10. Sophomore Ryan Ruhlin will be behind the plate. The infield is seasoned and features Reichert (.313 average, a team-high 15 hits and second with nine RBI last season) at first, Gallant (only three errors on 39 chances in 2012) at second, Volger (.273, six steals last year) at shortstop and All-Defensive team member Scala (four errors on 32 chances) at third. The outfield features the likes of Godbout (an All-Rookie team pick last year), who was the Bulldogs' top hitter among regulars in 2012, batting .400 and driving in six runs, Rovnak (.289, 13 hits, a team-high seven steals) and junior Joey Apon. A little punch would help with the offensive woes. Portland didn't hit a single home run last spring. With this group a year older and stronger, that should change. The schedule is favorable as the top teams are stacked toward the end. A quick start would be huge for this group's confidence. Once Portland realizes it can enjoy success in the spring, look out. By June, presuming they qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2009, the Bulldogs might just be the team to beat.

SOFTBALL

Coach: Kelly Libby (second year, 1-15 overall record)

2012 Record: 1-15 (no postseason)

Top returning players: Sydney Levesque (Senior), Leanne Reichert (Senior), Amanda Gould (Junior)

Pivotal games: May 1 (H) DEERING, May 3 @ McAuley, May 10 (H) CHEVERUS

Coach's comment: “We have a stronger team. We have a lot of youth, but our numbers are up. We have several freshmen on the roster. We're still developing. We have a long way to go, but we're on the right track. We talk about fundamentals and about getting better. We'll go out and play the best we can.”

The Forecaster's forecast: After going winless in 2011, last year's Bulldogs managed to win a game as they began their climb back to contention. It will be a process, but this year's group is up to the task. Portland will turn to Gould and a freshman, Isabel DiMillo, to lead the way on the mound. Reichert, a second-team league all-star last season, will wrap up her stellar high school career by catching or playing shortstop and pacing the offense. Levesque (second base) also brings experience and a spark to the team. The Bulldogs will be able to compete with most teams on their schedule and should be able to surpass last year's win total and then some. By next season, Portland should be in even better position to contend.

BOYS' LACROSSE

Coach: Mike DiFusco (first year)

2012 Record: 6-7 (Lost, 7-6, in overtime, to Deering in Eastern Class A quarterfinals)

Top returning players: Liam Brochu (Senior), Joe Nielsen (Senior), Ben Allen (Junior), Mike Fuller (Junior), Anthony Green (Junior)

Pivotal games: April 19 (H) DEERING, April 27 @ Falmouth, May 1 (H) KENNEBUNK, May 4 @ Scarborough, May 11 (H) YARMOUTH, May 15 @ Cheverus

Coach's comment: “We're taking small steps and are moving forward. We only have three seniors, so I'm asking everyone to lead. I'm trying to get them to never be satisfied. I want them going hard every day in practice. The sky is the limit. Defense is our backbone. My goal is to get better every week. The ultimate goal is to become a team.”

The Forecaster's forecast: The extremely successful Eric Begonia Era has come to a close after 108 wins, three regional titles and the 2009 Class A state championship, but the Bulldogs appear to be in good hands with new coach DiFusco, who played for Cape Elizabeth and North Yarmouth Academy and later at Springfield College and Onondaga Junior College, where he won the 2006 national title. DiFusco takes over a team in transition, one that finished with a losing record last season for the first time since 2000, but one that has its share of potential. Portland's biggest task will be replacing two time Spring Athlete of the Year and All-American goalie Ryan Jurgelevich, who is now at the University of Southern Maine. Sophomore Andrew Hoekstra will step in between the pipes. Green will help protect Hoekstra on defense. The midfield features Allen and faceoff man Brochu. Allen figures to score his share of goals, as will Fuller and Nielsen. Portland looks to extend its streak of postseason berths to 13, but with its schedule, will have its work cut out (it dropped its opener, 9-4, at Thornton Academy Saturday). This program is used to winning and should show steady improvement. Don't write the Bulldogs off. They might just be a team no one wants to face in June.

GIRLS' LACROSSE

Coach: Kait Johnson (second year, 10-3 overall record)

2012 Record: 10-3 (Lost, 9-7, in overtime, to Messalonskee in Eastern Class A quarterfinals)

Top returning players: Drew Barry (Senior), Gabi Cardona (Senior), Quinn Lavigne (Senior), Laura Frank (Junior), Lizzy Landry (Junior), Abby O'Brien (Junior), Emma Stehli (Junior), Elizabeth Victor (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: April 25 @ Kennebunk, April 30 (H) CHEVERUS, May 14 @ Deering, May 24 @ South Portland

Coach's comment: “We have a good, but small group back. I think we'll be a strong team. We want to build on the success from last season and we want to make it farther than we did last year.”

The Forecaster's forecast: Portland enjoyed its best season to date a year ago, but it ended in disappointment with the overtime loss to Messalonskee. While the Bulldogs lost some key players to graduation, most notably all-stars Raechel Allen, Kylie Dalbec and Mary Roma, they should be right back in the mix again as they try to make it to the playoffs for the sixth year in a row. This year's team will be sparked by 2011 and 2012 Female Athlete of the Year Drew Barry, a captain and prolific scorer who plans to play at Bates College next year. Barry, an honorable mention all-star last spring, will also take draws. Frank and Landry also project to score their share of goals, as will Stehli and her freshman sister, Isabel. New junior Hallie Alex will also help the cause. The defense features captains Cardona and Lavigne. O'Brien and Victor will both see time in goal. Portland will get some early tests in the form of Kennebunk and Cheverus, but should be favored in most of its outings. If the Bulldogs can find consistent scoring outside of Barry, they'll be very difficult to stop. Portland's flying under the radar a bit as the season commences, but this team has athletes and the desire to continue what last year's squad started. Another trip to the postseason is likely and this time, the Bulldogs might just stick around awhile.

OUTDOOR TRACK

Boys' Coach: Carroll Nappi (12th year, one state championship)

Girls' Coach: Tammy Heathco (first year)

2012 Results:

(Boys) No score @ Class A State Meet

(Girls) No score @ Class A State Meet

Top returning athletes:

(Boys) Drew Graham (Senior)

(Girls) Megan Anderson (Senior), Sunday Charles (Senior), Sarah Gale (Junior), Monica Reno (Junior), Jessica Wolfe (Junior), Madison Bolduc (Sophomore), Claire Kirby (Sophomore)

Top foes: Bonny Eagle, Cheverus, Scarborough boys; Cheverus, Deering, Scarborough girls

Coach Nappi's comment: “I like the kids, but I don't have that many to work with. We have 20, 16 who are underclassmen. We're headed in the right direction. I'm trying to build the program back up again.”

Coach Heathco's comment: “The team is growing with 23 athletes, many returning and many more new to the program. I'm hopeful this season that the girls will do well and try new events. The team is expanding and we are bringing in more girls for field events. All in all, the girls are working hard and eager for the season.”

The Forecaster's forecast: Both Portland outdoor track teams will look to make the most of small rosters.

The boys will be led by Graham, who hopes to score in the hurdles. Sophomore Jon Bobe could make some noise in the middle distance events, while freshman Eric Molina is a sprinter to watch. The Bulldogs will hold their own during the regular season. If all goes well, they might be able to score at the conference and state meets.

On the girls' side, Heathco, the indoor coach, takes over the team. She's pleased with the numbers and the quality of athlete she has to work with. Anderson, Charles and Reno are the top returning sprinters. They're joined by new junior Alexis DiBiase, sophomores Fair Charles and Alyssa Vaccaro and freshman Joska Odong. Kirby's the top hurdler. Gale leads the distance contingent, with help from junior Rachel Glover and sophomore Bea Hesselbart. Junior Eliza D'Anieri and sophomore Brooke Ahonen could be factors in the racewalk. Wolfe will look to score in the shot put. Sophomore Kelby Violette is another thrower with potential. Bolduc will do the same in the jumps. The rest of the team consists of junior Maddie Holton, sophomores Eveliz Feliz and Georgia Drew and freshmen Warda Abukar, Juliet Jarrel, Mary Kanda and Sabrina Shapiro. If this group develops as hoped, Portland will be competitive in the league and will make some noise at Southwesterns and states.

BOYS' TENNIS

Coach: Brian Threlkeld (first year)

2012 Record: 8-5 (Lost, 4-1, to Scarborough in Western Class A quarterfinals)

Top returning players: Jon Gatti (Senior), Matt Livermore (Senior), Alex Abreau (Junior), Chris Eye (Junior), Curran Clere (Sophomore)

Pivotal matches: April 24 @ Gorham, May 1 @ Cheverus, May 6 @ Scarborough, May 20 @ Deering

Coach's comment: “We're looking to have fun, play hard and win some matches.”

The Forecaster's forecast: Last spring, the Bulldogs posted their best record in nine years and hope to build on that under new coach Threlkeld, a longtime recreational player. Gatti and Livermore return as seniors. Abreau and Eye also have experience. Clere projects to play a key role. Portland should once again be in the mix for a winning record and a playoff spot. The Bulldogs might even eclipse last year's accomplishments.

GIRLS' TENNIS

Coach: Bonnie Moran (sixth year, 59-14 overall record)

2012 Record: 12-3 (Lost, 3-2, to McAuley in Western Class A Final)

Top returning players: Lily Bruenjes (Senior), Sophie Hulbert (Senior), Kayla Berg (Junior), Annette Denekas (Junior), Margot Andreasen (Sophomore), Georgia Drew (Sophomore)

Pivotal matches: May 1 (H) CHEVERUS, May 6 (H) SCARBOROUGH, May 17 @ McAuley, May 20 (H) DEERING

Coach's comment: “We are ready for a great season. This is a fun, motivated team which has made tremendous strides over the past year. They're very competitive, even among themselves, but they are also very supportive of each other. What more could a coach ask for? We will continue to work on improving skills, developing strategies to combat various opponents' styles and mastering the mental game. We are also placing more emphasis this year on strength and conditioning to help withstand the long, tedious matches and prevent injury. We have a very large team again, so trying to give everyone what they need in order to learn to play this great sport or continue to improve is a constant challenge."

The Forecaster's forecast: The Bulldogs have been as competitive as anyone in Moran's five seasons and might be the team to beat this spring. Hulbert, a first-team SMAA all-star a year ago, Andreason (second-team all-star) and Denekas (a doubles all-star last season) will play singles. Berg, Bruenjes and Drew (all all-stars in 2012) all return at doubles. They'll be bolstered by juniors Margaret Adham and Meghan Suslovic, sophomores Hallie Repeta and Alyssa Vaccaro and promising freshman Maggie Denekas. Portland has been knocking on the championship door, but hasn't been able to knock it down. This season, the Bulldogs have what it takes to be the best team in the SMAA and perhaps win a championship for the first time.

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

Photo: File photo

Joe Nielsen returns for his senior season and will be a top scorer for the Portland boys' lacrosse team.

Photo: File photo

Senior Drew Barry is one of the state's top girls' lacrosse players and should produce a lot of goals before taking her game to Bates College next year.

Portland Spring Schedules

BASEBALL

Fri., April 19 @ Sanford

Tues., April 23 @ Kennebunk

Thurs., April 25 @ Gorham

Sat., April 27 H NOBLE

Tues., April 30 H TA

Thurs., May 2 H WINDHAM

Tues., May 7 @ Marshwood

Thurs., May 9 @ Bonny Eagle

Sat., May 11 H MASSABESIC

Wed., May 15 H SP

Thurs., May 16 H SCARBOROUGH

Sat., May 18 @ Westbrook

Tues., May 21 @ Cheverus

Thurs, May 23 H DEERING

Sat., May 25 H BIDDEFORD

Tues., May 28 @ Windham

SOFTBALL

Sat., April 20 @ Scarborough

Mon., April 22 H TA

Tues., April 23 H BONNY EAGLE

Wed., April 24 H SANFORD

Mon., April 29 @ Noble

Fri., April 26 @ Massabesic

Wed., May 1 H DEERING

Fri., May 3 @ McAuley

Mon., May 6 H KENNEBUNK

Wed., May 8 @ Marshwood

Fri., May 10 H CHEVERUS

Mon., May 13 @ Windham

Wed., May 15 H WESTBROOK

Sat., May 18 @ Biddeford

Wed., May 22 H SP

Fri., May 24 @ Gorham

BOYS' LACROSSE

Wed., April 17 @ Massabesic

Fri., April 19 H DEERING

Wed., April 24 H GORHAM

Sat., April 27 @ Falmouth

Wed., May 1 H KENNEBUNK

Sat., May 4 @ Scarborough

Tues., May 7 H NOBLE

Sat., May 11 H YARMOUTH

Wed., May 15 @ Cheverus

Sat., May 18 H WINDHAM

Wed., May 22 @ Bonny Eagle

GIRLS' LACROSSE

Tues., April 23 @ Biddeford

Thurs., April 25 @ Kennebunk

Sat., April 27 @ Sanford

Tues., April 30 H CHEVERUS

Thurs., May 2 H WINDHAM

Tues., May 7 @ Bonny Eagle

Thurs., May 9 H TA

Fri., May 10 H MCAULEY

Tues., May 14 @ Deering

Thurs., May 16 H WESTBROOK

Fri., May 24 @ SP

Wed., May 29 H GORHAM

BOYS' TENNIS

Mon., April 22 H BONNY EAGLE

Wed., April 24 @ Gorham

Fri., April 26 H SANFORD

Mon., April 29 H WESTBROOK

Wed., May 1 @ Cheverus

Fri., May 3 H KENNEBUNK

Mon., May 6 @ Scarborough

Wed., May 8 H TA

Fri., May 10 @ Marshwood

Mon., May 13 H BIDDEFORD

Wed., May 15 @ SP

Mon., May 20 @ Deering

GIRLS' TENNIS

Mon., April 22 @ Bonny Eagle

Wed., April 24 H GORHAM

Fri., April 26 @ Sanford

Mon., April 29 @ Westbrook

Wed., May 1 H CHEVERUS

Mon., May 6 H SCARBOROUGH

Wed., May 8 @ TA

Fri., May 10 H MARSHWOOD

Mon., May 13 @ Biddeford

Wed., May 15 H SP

Fri., May 17 @ McAuley

Mon., May 20 H DEERING