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South Portland Red Riots Spring Sports Previews

Sports

South Portland Red Riots Spring Sports Previews

South Portland's spring sports teams are primed for another exciting year. Baseball made the playoffs a year ago and has promise. Softball fell two runs shy of a state title and is bound and determined to finish the job this spring. Boys' lacrosse is expecting to make a leap into contention. The girls' squad has been a consistent playoff team and now hopes to take the next step. Both track teams feature depth and several athletes to watch. Boys' tennis hopes the success of the boys' basketball team will rub off, as players from that squad look to lead the Red Riots to the playoffs. The girls' squad should also be in the hunt. Both tennis teams will have to travel to practice this year, due to school construction.

BASEBALL

Coach: Mike Owens (third year, 17-18 overall record)

2012 Record: 6-11 (Lost, 9-2, to Biddeford in Western Class A preliminary round)

Top returning players: Adam Helmke (Senior), Nick Whitten (Senior), Robert Graff (Junior), John Vickers (Junior)

Pivotal games: April 19 (H) BIDDEFORD, May 2 (H) SCARBOROUGH, May 15 @ Portland, May 21 (H) DEERING, May 23 (H) WESTBROOK, May 25 (H) CHEVERUS, May 28 @ Scarborough

Coach's comment: “We graduated seven starters, but we have a lot of capable bodies to fill the holes. I'm excited about the guys coming in. They understand the game and know what to do in certain situations. We have good, young talent. I don't expect to take a step back. I expect us to get better as the season goes on as guys get experience and get to see varsity pitching. We should be very competitive. I hope to get into the playoffs and see what happens from there.”

The Forecaster's forecast: South Portland will be a work in progress this spring, but by the latter portion of the season, it could be very dangerous. The Red Riots lost a lot to graduation (including 2012 Spring Male Athlete of the Year Brendan Horton and All-Rookie team selection Jack Lano), but some talent returns. Whitten, a captain, was a first-team all-star last season after hitting .340 with 17 hits, which was second on the team (he also threw 4.2 shutout innings). He's a three-year starter and could play a big role with his bat and arm. Helmke, the other captain, returns for a third season at catcher. Helmke batted .271 with eight RBI in 2012 and will be a poised leader. Graff (who had an ERA of 3.00 in 11.2 innings last spring) could be the ace this time around. Vickers and junior Zac Marles, who was stymied by a broken foot last year, will also see time on the hill. Juniors Joe DiBiase (outfield) and Cosmo Romano (shortstop) will play bigger roles this season. South Portland will take awhile to get to full strength, but the schedule is more loaded with top foes near the end, which works in the Red Riots' favor. This team isn't viewed as a serious contender, so there won't be much pressure. South Portland could be a surprise in the weeks to come as if looks to make the playoffs for the 15th year in a row.

SOFTBALL

Coach; Ralph Aceto (fifth year, 69-9 overall record, one state championship)

2012 Record: 17-3 (Lost, 2-0, to Cony in Class A Final)

Top returning players: Erin Bogdanovich (Senior), Sam DiBiase (Senior), Danica Gleason (Senior), Emily Gray (Senior), Kelsey Morton (Senior), Olivia Indorf (Junior), Michaela Willwerth (Junior), Laurine German (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: April 22 (H) SCARBOROUGH, April 24 @ TA, April 26 (H) NOBLE, May 6 (H) MCAULEY, May 13 @ Cheverus, May 20 (H) BIDDEFORD

Coach's comment: “We only lost three seniors from last year. We have to replace our corner infielders. We're very strong in pitching. We're always strong up the middle. I dare say there isn't a stronger middle infield in the state than Danica and Laurine. We've obviously got to be considered the favorite, or one of the favorites, with so much coming back. It's up to me and the other coaches to keep the kids on an even keel. I don't worry so much about the regular season. It doesn't bother me to lose a game or two. Going undefeated in the regular season doesn't mean anything,”

The Forecaster's forecast: South Portland certainly peaked at the right time a year ago, stunning Scarborough in the regional final, but the Red Riots couldn't get their bats going in the state final as they fell just shy of the pinnacle. While three seniors graduated from that team, almost every starter returns and this year's squad could be even better than last. For starters, Bogdanovich is back for a final year as starter. She was close to unhittable last season en route to earning Spring Female Athlete of the Year and first-team league all-star honors. Her stats were overpowering: 11-1 with a 1.01 earned run average, 103 strikeouts and a mere 10 walks. Indorf will see ample time on the mound too. The middle infield is dazzling, as German, at second base, looks to build on her stellar freshman season (she was a first-team all-star in 2012) and Gleason (still looking to get back to 100 percent after her knee injury during basketball) will be one of the state's premier shortstops (she's also a reigning first-team all-star and is South Portland's Winter Female Athlete of the Year). The four-year starter hit the cover off the ball last spring, batting. 568 with six triples, 24 RBI, 22 runs scored and 12 steals. Bogdanovich (.588, 33 runs scored, 18 steals last year), who's in centerfield when she's not pitching, also makes the offense go. DiBiase (the catcher) and Indorf (an all-star a year ago, who plays centerfield when she's not on the mound) also have pop. Gray (leftfield), Morton (first base/outfield) and Willwerth (third base) will play bigger roles this season. Sophomore outfielder Lexie Gervais (who swung up to varsity for the playoffs) and freshman Miranda Gleason (first base/third base) add depth and could be stars down the road. For a decade, South Portland has been chasing Scarborough, catching the Red Storm on three prior occasions. This spring, the Red Riots will get a good idea of where they stand vis a vis Scarborough when the teams meet next week, but that game will mean little when (likely if) the rivals square off again in June. South Portland, behind Bogdanovich's dominance, its solid defense and potent bats, will be able to give the Red Storm (and the rest of the league) everything it can handle. The Red Riots have never played in consecutive state games. That could change this season. If it does, it's not hard to imagine them winning it all.

BOYS' LACROSSE

Coach: Tom Fiorini (sixth year, 34-31 overall record)

2012 Record: 4-9 (Lost 5-3, to Kennebunk in Western A quarterfinals)

Top returning players: Cody Munson (Senior), Alec Neal (Senior), Josh Allen (Junior), Andrew Hodge (Junior), Thomas Leddy (Junior), Duncan Preston (Junior), Jordan Susi (Junior), T-Moe Hellier (Sophomore), Andrew Whipple (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: April 20 @ Cheverus, April 24 @ Scarborough, April 27 (H) YARMOUTH, May 8 (H) TA, May 18 @ Waynflete, May 22 (H) KENNEBUNK

Coach's comment: “We're having a nice preseason. I have a special group of kids this year. We're in great shape. We're still young, but I think we can turn last year's one-goal losses into wins. We want to have a winning record and get back ot the playoffs. With a little luck, we could surprise some teams.”

The Forecaster's forecast: South Portland is looking for big things this spring and got off to a good start with a stirring 8-7 home win over Marshwood Saturday in the opener. In that one, Neal scored the winning goal with 20 seconds to play. Preston scored twice and Hellier made 18 saves. Those players, and others, will be in the middle of a lot of excitement in the weeks to come. Hellier made 189 saves and stopped two-thirds of the shots he saw last year. He's quickly emerging as one of the state's elite keepers. Preston, a third-year player, will handle faceoffs and should also score a lot of goals. Hodge, Neal, Leddy, Susi, Whipple and junior Joey Babbidge, who was unavailable last year, are other key cogs on the offense. Defensively, Allen and Munson will help hold the opposition in check. The Red Riots have some tough games upcoming and while they'll take a few lumps, they should improve on last year's win total and be in a position to perhaps be the team best equipped to threaten three-time defending state champion Scarborough come June. South Portland figures to produce its share of memorable moments as the season develops. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.

GIRLS' LACROSSE

Coach: Bill Fenton (fifth year, 29-23 overall record)

2012 Record: 8-5 (Lost 12-5, to Kennebunk in Western A quarterfinals)

Top returning players: Lani Edwards (Senior), Ericka Lightner (Senior), Jackie Merrill (Senior), Jenna Wing (Senior), Brianne Maloney (Junior), Shae O'Brien (Junior), Courtney Trufant (Junior), Aimee LaPlante (Sophomore), Lily SanGiovanni (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: April 30 @ Scarborough, May 7 @ Westbrook, May 11 (H) FREEPORT, May 21 @ Deering, May 24 (H) PORTLAND

Coach's comment: “We lost five seniors and only have four seniors this year, so I've got a young team. If we can mold that talent, we'll do well. A lot of offense returns. We have work to do on defense. We want to go beyond one game in the playoffs this year. I've got really good athletes.”

The Forecaster's forecast: South Portland has managed to post winning records and get to the postseason in recent years, but the program is no longer satisfied just getting there. This year's team has the ingredients to make some noise all season. The Red Riots feature offensive firepower in the form of Edwards, LaPlante, Lightner, O'Brien, Wing and sophomores Colleen Fleming and Abby Letourneau. Merrill and Trufant (who take draws), along with freshman Mary Cronin, will patrol the midfield. On defense, sophomore Marty Bushey, Maloney and freshman Ingrid Boyce will look to keep the opposition away from SanGiovanni, a second-team league all-star last season, who returns in goal. She's a budding star. South Portland knows it will score its share of goals, but to be in the conversation with teams like three-time defending state champion Scarborough, it has to tighten up the defense. If that happens, the Red Riots will compete with everyone. A fourth straight winning record and a fifth successive playoff berth will be the likely results from this season. This might just be the year that South Portland breaks through in the playoffs. The Red Riots might even make a deep run.

OUTDOOR TRACK

Coaches:
(Boys) Dave Kahill (sixth year)
(Girl) Karen Reardon (second year)

2012 Results:
(Boys) 21st @ Class A State Meet
(Girls) 14th @ Class A State Meet

Top returning athletes:
(Boys) Max Knutsen (Senior), Ryan Tuttle (Senior), Joey Zelasko (Senior), Zak Addan (Junior), Jon Bagley (Junior), Ben Michaud (Junior), Jack Salamone (Junior), Michael Cuesta (Sophomore), James Falconer (Sophomore), Xavier Gagne (Sophomore), Darien McMahon (Sophomore)
(Girls) Akossiwa Alognon (Senior), Nyajock Pan (Senior), Angela Tirabassi (Senior), Bridget Campbell (Junior), Hope Garrison (Junior), Maya Letourneau (Junior), Ariana Mohammad (Junior), Janey Blackwell-Orr (Sophomore), Lauren Magnuson (Sophomore), Maddie Martin (Sophomore), Kyndra McKenzie (Sophomore), Sydney Onos (Sophomore), Emma Russell (Sophomore), Sydney Smith (Sophomore), Sarah Speeches (Sophomore)

Top foes: Sanford, Scarborough boys; Bonny Eagle, Cheverus, Scarborough, Thornton Academy, Windham girls

Coach Kahill's comment: “This year's team has small numbers, but a great work ethic.  Overall, the team is young, but the veteran distance group and Joey Zelasko in the throws should lead them. The younger sprinters and jumpers have great potential to improve throughout the season to round out the team.”

Coach Reardon's comment: “We continue to improve and are training very hard for the season right now. A number of the girls have a little more experience this year, so we hope to go beyond just qualifying for the Southwesterns or state meet and actually start scoring and scoring higher in the meet. We're looking to continue to develop more athletes in each of the events. The outdoor season goes very fast, so we are trying to be prepared as best we can.  Great attitude and effort so far by the girls.”

The Forecaster's forecast: Both South Portland outdoor track teams have a lot of promising athletes this spring.

The boys are led by Knutsen, who was third indoors in the two-mile. He's a top distance threat, along with Bagley, Salamone and freshmen Thomas Hodgkins and Jacob Maloney. In the sprints, Michaud could contend, along with sophomore Kam Harper and freshman Noah Blake. Cuesta and Tuttle are top hurdlers. Harper and Maloney will also take part in those races. Falconer, Gagne and junior Jacob Guay compete in the racewalk. On the field side, Zelasko is a thrower to watch. He hopes to score at the SMAA and state meets. Addan is a threat in the javelin. Cuesta and McMahon also throw. In the jumps, Michaud is coming off a fifth place showing in the long jump indoors. He'll be joined by Cuesta and Tuttle, along with newcomers Blake and Harper. Cuesta and Michaud will also pole vault. The Red Riots look to be one of the stronger teams in the conference and place higher at the postseason meets.

On the girls' side, South Portland is led by Pan, who was fifth in the 800 and sixth in the mile last year. She looks to cap her high school career by finishing even higher. McKenzie and Mohammad are other top returning distance runners. They'll be joined this season by freshman Casey Loring. The Red Riots have a lot of middle-distance talent, featuring Blackwell-Orr, Letourneau, Onos, Speeches, Tirabassi, new seniors Abby Onos and Alexis Verdugo and juniors Shannon Conley and Casey Kelley. In the sprints, Magnuson (seventh in last year's 100) looks to move up the standings. She'll get company from Martin, Tirabassi, junior Adadia Higgins, sophomore Isobell Kraemer and freshman Edita Isakovic. Russell, Smith and Tirabassi return in the hurdles. Sophomore Holly Black and freshman Meaghan Doyle, a pair of basketball players, also take part in those events. On the field side, jumpers to watch include Black, Campbell, Doyle, Isakovic, Kraemer, Magnuson, Russell and Smith. Garrison, Higgins, Martin, Speeches, senior Elisa Martin, sophomore Jamie Stanford-Cribby and freshman Krystal Nevells will all throw. Alognon is the top pole vaulter. Clearly, this is a deep team with a lot of athletes. Reardon hopes a few will develop into top of the podium stars. If that happens, South Portland could make a big leap up the ladder.

BOYS' TENNIS

Coach: Tom Hyland (sixth year, 23-40 overall record)

2012 Results: 4-8 (no playoffs)

Top returners: Ben Burkey (Senior), Tanner Hyland (Senior), Bao Loc (Senior), Chris Feely (Junior), Ethan Benevides (Sophomore), Tyler Gagne (Sophomore), Trenton Johnson (Sophomore), Rowan Varga (Sophomore)

Pivotal matches: April 22 (H) CHEVERUS, April 26 (H) DEERING, May 13 (H) GORHAM, May 15 (H) PORTLAND, May 20 (H) SCARBOROUGH

Coach's comment: “We lost five out of our top seven to graduation, but we have a fine young group ready to step up and challenge for playing time. The competition will do us good. It will be a different and challenging year as we lost our home courts to construction and it will force us to travel to all practices and matches. It will be an exercise in resiliency, but a lesson for the kids to adapt and to control that which we can control. Our players have committed to the task. We enter every season with expectations to make the playoffs. As our ladder shakes out, I'm certain we will be competitive and play hard with spirit and pride."

The Forecaster's forecast: South Portland has fallen short of the playoffs the past three years and after graduating a lot of talent, compounded by not having a home court this season due to school construction, it would easy to write this group off. Don't. For starters, the top two singles players, Winter Male Athlete of the Year Hyland and Burkey, are coming off an epic basketball season which saw them lead an unheralded squad to within a couple baskets of a championship. While tennis isn't their first sport, they'll compete like mad. Gagne, Loc and Varga were fighting for the third singles spot at press time. Benevides, Feely and Johnson are in the doubles mix. Senior Ryan Pelletier and freshmen Taylor Miller and Ian Mitchell are other players to watch. Miller could step right into the lineup. Look for this group to battle every time out and to win some matches. If the Red Riots wind up with a winning record and a trip to the playoffs, it certainly wouldn't come as a big surprise.

GIRLS' TENNIS

Coach: Elizabeth Scifres (14th year, 83-90 overall record)

2012 Results: 5-8 (Lost, 3-2, to Windham in Western A preliminary round)

Top returning players: Paige Doane (Senior), Sarah Mileson (Senior), Claudia Ouellette (Senior), Bri Woodward (Senior), Michelle Foster (Junior), Jamie McDonald (Junior), Danielle Proctor (Junior)

Pivotal matches: May 1 (H) SANFORD, May 8 (H) WINDHAM, May 17 (H) BIDDEFORD

Coach's comment: “We have a great crop of freshmen this year. Too many to name. We're in a peculiar situation of being a team with no courts. We've worked hard to come together as a team and have some continuity, despite this difficulty. As always, our top priorities are sportsmanship, ethics and personal growth. It's a wonderful group of 24 girls and they're working very hard.”

The Forecaster's forecast: South Portland has now reached the playoffs 13 years running and with some strong talent back, is looking for another trip. Doane, Ouellette and Woodward are captains and were projected to play singles. Foster, McDonald, Mileson and Proctor were closing in on doubles spots at press time. While the Red Riots have to go to the Eastern Prom in Portland and to Cape Elizabeth to practice, the experience should help the team bond. South Portland will be able to compete well with the teams on the slate and should once again be among those taking part in the playoffs. This program has been nothing if not consistent and more success is likely in the weeks to come.

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

Photo: File photo

Senior captain Adam Helmke is a three-year starter and catcher for a South Portland baseball team looking to contend.

Photo: File photo

Senior Nick Whitten is a top hitter and reigning all-star.

Photo: File photo

Senior Erin Bogdanovich is back for her senior season, hoping to pitch the Red Riots to the title.

Photo: File photo

Senior Danica Gleason is back for another season as one of the league's top players.

Photo: File photo

After a strong freshman season, Laurine German is back as one of South Portland's potential standouts.

Photo: File photo

Junior Olivia Indorf will be a top hitter and pitcher this spring.

Photo: File photo

Junior Thomas Leddy will be a key cog on this year's Red Riots boys' lacrosse team.

Photo: File photo

Senior Nyajock Pan is back for one final high school track season. She'll be one of the premier distance runners in our midst.

South Portland Spring Schedules

BASEBALL

Fri., April 19 H BIDDEFORD

Tues., April 23 H NOBLE

Thurs., April 25 @ TA

Sat., April 27 @ Massabesic

Tues., April 30 H SANFORD

Thurs., May 2 H SCARBOROUGH

Tues., May 7 @ Gorham

Thurs., May 9 @ Windham

Sat., May 11 @ Marshwood

Wed., May 15 @ Portland

Thurs., May 16 H KENNEBUNK

Sat., May 18 @ Bonny Eagle

Tues., May 21 H DEERING

Thurs, May 23 H WESTBROOK

Sat., May 25 H CHEVERUS

Tues., May 28 @ Scarborough

SOFTBALL

Sat., April 20 @ Bonny Eagle

Mon., April 22 H SCARBOROUGH

Wed., April 24 @ TA

Fri., April 26 H NOBLE

Mon., April 29 @ Sanford

Wed., May 1 H MASSABESIC

Fri., May 3 @ Deering

Mon., May 6 H MCAULEY

Wed., May 8 @ Kennebunk

Fri., May 10 H MARSHWOOD

Mon., May 13 @ Cheverus

Wed., May 15 H WINDHAM

Fri., May 17 @ Westbrook

Mon., May 20 H BIDDEFORD

Wed., May 22 @ Portland

Tues., May 28 H GORHAM

BOYS' LACROSSE

Sat., April 20 @ Cheverus

Wed., April 24 @ Scarborough

Sat., April 27 H YARMOUTH

Wed., May 1 @ Bonny Eagle

Sat., May 4 H WINDHAM

Wed., May 8 H TA

Wed., May 15 @ Massabesic

Sat., May 18 @ Waynflete

Wed., May 22 H KENNEBUNK

Wed., May 29 @ Biddeford

GIRLS' LACROSSE

Thurs., April 25 H SANFORD

Sat., April 27 H TA

Tues., April 30 @ Scarborough

Fri., May 3 @ Noble

Tues., May 7 @ Westbrook

Thurs., May 9 H BIDDEFORD

Sat., May 11 H FREEPORT

Tues., May 14 @ McAuley

Fri., May 17 H WINDHAM

Tues., May 21 @ Deering

Fri., May 24 H PORTLAND

Wed., May 29 @ Bonny Eagle

BOYS' TENNIS

Mon., April 22 H CHEVERUS

Wed., April 24 @ Bonny Eagle

Fri., April 26 H DEERING

Wed., May 1 @ Sanford

Fri., May 3 @ Massabesic

Mon., May 6 H WESTBROOK

Wed., May 8 @ Windham

Fri., May 10 @ Kennebunk

Mon., May 13 H GORHAM

Wed., May 15 H PORTLAND

Fri., May 17 @ Biddeford

Mon., May 20 H SCARBOROUGH

GIRLS' TENNIS

Mon., April 22 @ Cheverus

Wed., April 24 H BONNY EAGLE

Fri., April 26 @ Deering

Mon., April 29 @ McAuley

Wed., May 1 H SANFORD

Fri., May 3 H MASSABESIC

Mon., May 6 @ Westbrook

Wed., May 8 H WINDHAM

Fri., May 10 H KENNEBUNK

Wed., May 15 H Portland

Fri., May 17 H BIDDEFORD

Mon., May 20 @ Scarborough