Windham erupts early, dispatches Portland
PORTLAND—Portland's baseball team knows it has little margin for error.
And when it is committing errors, trouble ensues.
Saturday afternoon at Hadlock Field, the Bulldogs hoped to build on a huge road win over South Portland, but by the time the top of the first inning was complete, they were down, 4-0, to visiting Windham, thanks to three unearned runs.
Things got even worse in the third, when Portland committed a ghastly four errors and the Eagles tacked on six runs to blow the game open.
While the Bulldogs would score twice in the bottom of the frame, then couldn't take advantage of many baserunners and never got close enough to make things interesting and Windham went on to an 11-2 victory behind a strong start from junior pitcher Tanner Laberge, as Portland fell to 7-5 on the year, while the Eagles balanced their record at 6-6.
"We've been due for a bad game and Windham hit the ball all over the park," said Bulldogs coach Tony DiBiase. "They're a good, quality team. They can play with anybody. It's just typical of baseball and the league this year."
Saturday afternoon special
While Windham has lacked consistency all season (posting consecutive wins just once and losing three in a row before a 1-0, nine inning home victory over Deering Thursday), Portland has been pretty solid most of the way.
The Bulldogs opened up with a 1-0 home loss to Sanford, then avenged a playoff setback with a 2-1 victory at Westbrook and downed visiting Gorham, 7-3. A 5-4 loss at Thornton Academy was followed by a 5-4 home win over Marshwood. Portland's up-and-down play continued with a 4-2 win at Noble, a 6-4 setback at Biddeford, an 8-0 home win over Bonny Eagle and a 9-8 home triumph over Cheverus. Monday, the Bulldogs were beaten by host Scarborough, 7-5, but Tuesday, they registered an impressive 3-0 win at South Portland.
Last year, the Eagles beat the Bulldogs twice: 2-0 at Hadlock and 3-0 at home.
Saturday, Portland hoped to beat Windham for the first time since May 9, 2009 (6-3 at Windham), but the Eagles made it six in a row over the Bulldogs thanks in large part to a quick start.
Portland senior starter Ryan Dixon appeared primed for an easy top of the first inning, when he got senior third baseman Zach Conley to bounce back to the mound on the first pitch of the game and senior centerfielder Andrew Whiting to ground out to shortstop on the third.
Then, the bottom fell out.
The trouble started when Dixon walked Laberge on a 3-2 pitch. Next up was junior catcher Zach Alpern, who crushed a double to the fence in left-center and Laberge scampered home to put Windham ahead for good. Senior second baseman Spencer Hodge singled to right to put runners at the corners and Hodge took second on a wild pitch.
Next up was sophomore shortstop Tyler Johnson, who appeared to end the inning by grounding to freshman shortstop Jake Knop, but Knop's throw was low and sophomore first baseman John Williams couldn't dig the ball out and Alpern scored on the miscue. Senior rightfielder Ethan Petty made the Bulldogs pay by lining a double down the rightfield line to chase home Hodge and Johnson and the Eagles were up, 4-0.
"They booted some balls and that helped us out for sure," said Windham coach Brody Artes. "We took advantage of situations we caused by putting the ball in play and that's something we've been preaching all year."
Dixon struck out first baseman Timmy Greenlaw to end the inning, but the damage was done.
Laberge made quick work of Portland in the bottom of the first, getting senior leftfielder Travis Godbout to line to right, fanning senior second baseman Evan Gallant and after walking senior centerfielder Joe Apon, Laberge got sophomore designated hitter Joe Fusco to pop out to first.
Dixon settled down in the second, getting junior leftfielder Josh Dugas to look at strike three, then getting both Conley and Whiting to ground out to shortstop.
In the bottom half, Dixon grounded out to short, junior catcher Ryan Ruhlin did the same, with Johnson making a terrific play in the hole, and Williams fanned to end it.
Windham then put the game out of reach in the third, with a lot of help from the hosts.
Laberge started the trouble again, doubling to deep left-center. He came home when Alpern reached on a Knop error and Alpern took second on the play. After Hodge reached on an infield single, putting runners at the corners, Hodge stole second and on the play, Ruhlin's throw was off-line for another error, leading to another run and allowing Hodge to move to third. Johnson walked and Petty fanned before Williams couldn't handle a ground ball for another error, scoring Hodge. Dugas then smacked a double over the head of Bulldogs senior rightfielder Justin Zukowski and Johnson came home, ending Dixon's day.
Senior Owen Pence came on to pitch and was greeted by a RBI single to left off the bat of Conley. An RBI groundout by Whiting produced the 10th run. A fourth error of the inning, this one by senior Silas Corman, kept the inning alive and even though Alpern grounded out to Gallant to finally, mercifully end it, the Eagles had a commanding 10-0 lead.
"Who knows?" said DiBiase. "We shut out Portland Tuesday and didn't make an error. Today, errors put us in a hole. Our team defense has been so inconsistent. (Senior third baseman Dan) Kane's out with a bad ankle and rain limited our practice time."
To its credit, Portland showed some life in the bottom half and got on the board.
Zukowski led off by beating out an infield single. Corman walked and Godbout lined a single to center to load the bases. Gallant delivered the Bulldogs' first run with an infield single, but Portland wasn't able to produce a big inning.
Apon struck out and Fusco lined to right, with Corman scoring on the play. Dixon then flew to left to end it and the deficit was 10-2.
Pence got both Hodge and Johnson to ground out to short to start the fourth, then, after Petty singled to right, he got Greenlaw to line to right.
The Bulldogs got two more hits in the fourth, but couldn't score.
Ruhlin led off with a sharp grounder past Conley's glove for a single into left. Pence then hit a shot down the rightfield line, which Petty dove to catch in foul territory, much to the chagrin of Portland, which felt he didn't cleanly catch the ball.
Zukowski followed with a single, but senior Nick DiPalma struck out and Godbout grounded to Conley, who touched third for the final out.
Windham returned to its scoring ways in the fifth against Godbout, who replaced Pence on the mound.
Dugas led off with a single the other way to left and Conley followed by dropping a single in almost exactly the same spot. A wild pitch moved the runners up and Whiting grounded out to short to score Dugas, with Conley racing all the way third on a heads-up play. Godbout escaped further damage, however, as he got Laberge to chase strike three and Alpern to pop to Gallant at second.
In the bottom half, Gallant reached on an error, but Laberge struck out Apon and Fusco. After Dixon lined a single to right, Ruhlin walked to load the bases, but Portland couldn't score any of the runners, as Pence flew out to right.
Ruhlin came on to pitch in the sixth and proved to be the Bulldogs' best hurler of the day.
Ruhlin caught Hodge looking at strike three, got senior Alex Loftis to strike out swinging, then induced a ground ball to short off the bat of junior pinch-hitter Eli Williams.
Portland went quietly in its half, as Zukowski grounded out to short, junior Domenic Fagone looked at strike three and junior Pat Sheils, who had replaced Ruhlin behind the plate, popped out to short.
Ruhlin had another strong inning in the seventh, getting senior pinch-hitter Sam Pattee to ground out to third, junior pinch-hitter Ryan Gorman to ground out to short and striking out junior pinch-hitter Sam Coons.
Laberge was done after six and Loftis came on to finish things off in the seventh.
Loftis struck out Gallant looking, then got senior pinch-hitter Aidan Bowe to ground out to short. After Loftis hit senior pinch-hitter Bobby Lajoie-Earnes with a pitch, he got Dixon to ground out to short to bring the curtain down on Windham's emphatic 11-2 triumph.
"I think in the past, (Portland's) been a good matchup for us," Artes said. "We had a couple good battles last year. It all depends who you match up with. They're always a good team. The kids always get excited to come here."
Laberge improved to 2-1 after giving up just two earned runs on six hits and three walks in six solid innings. He fanned seven.
(Tanner) did a very good job today," said Artes. "Our defense made some big plays."
Loftis mopped up and hit a batter and had a strikeout in his inning of work.
Offensively, Windham got multiple hits from Conley, Dugas, Hodge and Petty. Alpern, Dugas, Laberge and Petty all doubled. Alpern, Dugas, Hodge, Johnson and Laberge each scored two runs, while Loftis had the other. Petty and Whiting had two RBI, while Alpern, Conley and Dugas each added one.
“We broke out pretty well today," Artes said. "It's been a struggle up and down. One game, we have pitching but no offense. Other games we have offense but no pitching. Today was definitely good to have both. I'm happy for the kids for getting it done today."
Portland got two hits from Zukowski, runs from Zukowski and Corman and RBIs from Fusco and Gallant.
Dixon fell to 3-3 after giving up 10 runs (just two earned) on six hits and two walks. He struck out three and threw a wild pitch. Pence threw 1.2 scoreless innings. Godbout gave up a run on two hits in his inning and Ruhlin threw two perfect innings, striking out three.
“When we catch and throw the ball, we can play with anybody," lamented DiBiase. "We had runners and couldn't get a key hit, but it came down to our defense."
Windham (11th in the latest Western Class A Heal Points standings at press time) is back in action Tuesday at Massabesic After welcoming Westbrook and Sanford, it closes at Thornton Academy.
These Eagles are thinking postseason.
"We have to win at least two of the next four to have a chance to make the playoffs," said Artes. "Today is a good Heal Points win for us, but that won't do it for us by itself. We've got big games left and we have to come out and play our best baseball. Hopefully we'll stay hot. We beat Sanford earlier in the year. We still have to get those Points even though they don't have much. TA beat us earlier, so we have a little revenge. The opportunity's there. Our destiny's in our hands.”
Portland (now ranked sixth), meanwhile, has its chances to secure at least one and perhaps more home playoff games.
The Bulldogs are at Deering Monday. The only predictable about that matchup is that it will be unpredictable.
"Portland-Deering is always a tight game," DiBiase said. "I don't care about records, they'll be tough. We'll see what happens.”
Portland then hosts Massabesic Thursday and Westbrook Saturday and closes at Sanford June 3.