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Spring Preview: South Portland Red Riots

Sports

Spring Preview: South Portland Red Riots

New coaches and excitement are the theme for South Portland spring sports. Three varsity teams welcome new coaches. Softball has been a strong contender in recent years and should be right there again. Girls' lacrosse says hello to a familiar face as it makes a run for the playoffs. Boys' tennis is hoping to get to the postseason as well. Baseball is always a contender and projects to be one again in 2009. Boys' lacrosse fell short of the playoffs last spring, but should be in the mix this time around. Both track teams have some talent that will be heard from. Girls' tennis is hoping to build on last year's winning record and postseason berth.

BASEBALL

Coach: Tony DiBiase (13th year)

2008 Record: 9-9 (Lost 11-3 to Deering in Western Class A quarterfinals)

Top returning players: Mike Dicenso (Senior), Chris Gorham (Senior), Ryan Curit (Junior), Jon DiBiase (Junior), Mike Foley (Junior)

Pivotal games: April 25 (H) PORTLAND, April 30 @ Bonny Eagle, May 5 @ Deering, May 12 @ Westbrook, May 16 (H) CHEVERUS, May 28 @ Portland, June 2 (H) SCARBOROUGH

Coach's comment: "We lost three of our top four pitchers to injury. That hurts us. We have talent. It's just a matter of getting experience. The position players are solid. We'll have to go slow with the pitching. We're so inexperienced. I'm sure somebody will step up. We'll rely on the strength and depth of our program. We'd like to continue our streak of making the postseason."

The Forecaster's forecast: South Portland has been in the playoffs 14 of the past 15 years including 10 in succession. That streak should expand to 11 this spring. The Red Riots would have been right there with the top contenders, but seniors John Carey and Nick Folan and junior Matt Lee are all out with injury. As a result, Gorham is the lead returning pitcher. He was 1-1 with a 2.53 ERA in limited action a year ago. Junior Jon Medici, a lefty, also figures to be a force on the hill. Dicenso will catch. Jon DiBiase was a .250 hitter a year ago with a pair of doubles and eight RBI. He'll play third. The outfield features Curit (an All-Rookie team selection in 2008 after hitting .326 with three triples, a home run, nine RBI and scoring 14 times) and Foley. South Portland has several other players eager to make a mark. By season's end, a few of them should become household names. The Red Riots will get a good test right out of the gate when they meet Portland Saturday. An early victory against a contender would do wonders for confidence. South Portland won't be viewed as a favorite this spring, but by season's end, it should be pretty formidable. No one will want to draw the Red Riots in the playoffs.

Fun fact: Last year marked the first time the Red Riots finished .500 since 1995, when they were also 9-9.

SOFTBALL

Coach; Ralph Aceto (first year)

2008 Record: 14-5 (Lost 1-0 to Scarborough in Western Class A semifinals)

Top returning players: Melissa Thomes (Senior), Lauren Tuttle (Senior), Stephanie Thibeault (Junior), Alexis Bogdanovich (Sophomore), Danielle DiBiase (Sophomore), Katlin Norton (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: April 25 (H) PORTLAND, April 29 @ Cheverus, May 1 (H) BONNY EAGLE, May 11 (H) DEERING, May 22 @ Gorham, May 29 (H) SCARBOROUGH, June 1 @ Biddeford

Coach's comment: "If the young kids can stay away from young mistakes, we'll be in every game. I think we'll be very solid defensively. We should be much improved. I'm a proponent of big-time defense. I think we'll be a better hitting team. We have playoff experience. I think we'll be a little better than middle-of-the-pack."

The Forecaster's forecast: The always-interesting Red Riots should be in for another strong season. South Portland welcomes a familiar face as its new coach. Aceto's oldest daughter Amanda was a third baseman on the 2005 regional champion. Middle daughter Christina was a standout as well. Aceto played softball in the military, started coaching when his kids were at the youth level and formed the Coastal Maine Diamonds ASA squad. He also coaches AAU basketball and is a South Portland native. Marc Sandora remains the hitting coach and Rick Fournier is back working with the pitchers. The group has a young, but promising squad to work with. Bogdanovich (a first-team all-star in 2008) saw limited time behind Julie DiMatteo last year and could be one of the better pitchers in the league. Tuttle will also see her share of innings. Both girls will be in the outfield when they're not pitching. Norton will catch with occasional help from Thibeault (an all-star honorable mention last year). Thibeault normally plays shortstop. She and Thomes (second base) make up one of the best middle infields around. DiBiase (an outfielder), Bogdanovich and Thibeault figure to lead the offensive charge. This young team will take a little while to hit its stride, but it's fortunate in that it won't face powerhouses Scarborough and Biddeford until the end of the regular season. By then, Aceto should have this group clicking on all cylinders. South Portland will be heard from in the weeks and years to come.

Fun fact: The last time South Portland changed coaches (2005), the Red Riots won their only regional championship the following season.

BOYS LACROSSE

Coach: Tom Fiorini (second year)

2008 Record: 5-7 (no postseason)

Top returning players: Tyler Bickford (Senior), Joe Connolly (Senior), Ben Linscott (Senior), Greg Roberts (Senior), Adam Burpee (Junior)

Pivotal games: May 6 (H) GREELY, May 12 (H) DEERING, May 15 @ Scarborough, May 18 (H) CAPE ELIZABETH, May 22 @ Waynflete

Coach's comment: "We have a good mix. Only a few seniors. We have kids with great attitudes. They're working hard and having fun. We have some winnable games. If the kids do what they should do, we'll be alright. We're looking to get into the playoffs and go deep in them."

The Forecaster's forecast: After consecutive seasons which ended in the semifinals, South Portland fell short of the postseason in 2008. The Red Riots are confident they can get back this spring. This year, the offense is will be paced by Linscott (the team's leading scorer last season), Roberts (who handles faceoffs), Burpee and new sophomore Harrison Keithly. Connolly, a second-team all-star in 2008, will anchor the defense. Bickford returns in goal. South Portland's schedule is favorable until the midway point when the Red Riots draw defending Class A state champion Scarborough and defending Western B champ Cape Elizabeth back-to-back. Other than that, most of the games are winnable and South Portland should be able to make a run at the playoffs. If a few other sources step up on offense and if the defense can hold the opposition in check, the Red Riots will end their one-year drought and return to the postseason. They might do some damage once they get there.

Fun fact: Last year was just the third time in the program's nine-year varsity history it failed to make the playoffs.

GIRLS LACROSSE

Coach: Bill Fenton (first year)

2008 Record: 3-9 (no postseason)

Top returning players: Amber Cresswell (Senior), Annie King (Senior), Kim Loeffel (Senior), Cassie Lyons (Senior), Anna Rerrick (Senior), Samantha Viola (Senior), Erika Waterhouse (Senior)

Pivotal games: April 28 (H) WESTBROOK, May 1 @ Gorham, May 12 (H) FREEPORT, May 19 @ Portland, June 1 (H) MCAULEY

Coach's comment: "It's an exciting group with a lot of talent. We have some good athletes. I want to have a winning season and I'd like to make the playoffs. I'd really like to see the girls come together as a team. We're looking forward to it."

The Forecaster's forecast: The Red Riots will unleash an abundance of athletes this spring as they look to return to contention. Fenton replaces his daughter, Bethany, who coached the prior three seasons. He played in prep school in Massachusetts (no truth to the rumor he was a teammate of Jim Brown's!) and served as the Red Riots assistant coach in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Fenton also played football and basketball in his day. He was part of a New England championship team on the hardwood. He's also done his share of coaching baseball and basketball. He'll be assisted by Blaik Watson and Leslie Perrault. This year's team has several players who can score. Lyons, a returning honorable mention all-star, leads the group. She's joined by King, Rerrick, Viola and Waterhouse. New sophomore Victoria Brookings will handle draw controls. Loeffel is the anchor on defense in front of Cresswell. New sophomore Abby Hasson (best known for her basketball exploits) will also see some time in the cage. The new scheduling tier will help and hurt South Portland this year. The Red Riots have a great chance to post their first winning record since 2004, but there might not be enough Heal Points for the team to earn a postseason berth. Regardless, look for a positive season of growth from this squad. They should be a lot of fun to watch and by year's end, could be very dangerous.

Fun fact: After making the playoffs every year from 2001 through 2004, South Portland's fallen short the past four. The Red Riots hope to start a new trend this spring.

OUTDOOR TRACK

Coach:
(Boys) Dave Kahill (second year)
(Girl) Bob Zinchuk (22nd year)

2008 Results:
(Boys) 18th @ Class A State Meet
(Girls) 24th @ Class A State Meet

Top returning athletes:
(Boys) Kevin Campbell (Senior), Brandon Emerson (Senior), Sean Feely (Senior), Tony Haeuser (Senior), John Johnston (Senior), Ryan Skillings (Senior), Jake Viola (Senior), Brian Arsenault (Junior), Jon Clement (Junior), J.C. Esquibel (Junior)
(Girls) Melissa Bodwell (Senior), Abbey Cook (Senior), Caitlin Ferriera (Senior), Aleesa Larson (Senior), Kaylee Newcomb (Senior), Annelise Donahue (Sophomore)

Top foes: Bonny Eagle, Gorham, Scarborough

Coach Kahill's comment: "The exceptional character, work ethic and competitiveness of the upperclassmen should enable the team to be very competitive during the regular season and conference championship meets. We have a rapidly developing group of young distance runners. Developing pole vaulters and jumpers will be a welcome challenge to an eager group of seniors and underclassmen."

Coach Zinchuk's comment: "We're very excited with a large turnout of athletes. Our main goals are to build team unity, improve each week and qualify a lot of girls for the state meet. We will have to outwork the other teams by performing well. What we lack in first place talent, will be compensated with effort and determination."

The Forecaster's forecast: Both South Portland outdoor track teams boast a lot of strong athletes.

The boys' squad returns two scorers from last year. Haeuser came in fourth in the 110 hurdles (he was third in the 55 hurdles indoors) and Johnston was sixth in the racewalk in 2008. Skillings came in sixth in the shot put during the indoor season. The distance team will include Jon Clement, sophomore Matt Clement, Esquibel, and sophomores Sam and Tom Redstone. Haeuser, along with Arsenault, Emerson, Feely, junior Joey Michaud, sophomore Adrian Reid, and new seniors David Hardison (fourth in the 55 hurdles indoors) and Terry Ho, junior Jeff O'Connor, sophomore Cal Skillings and freshman Jalen Diffin will compete in the sprints. Ryan Skillings and Viola are top throwers. Jumpers include Haeuser, Diffin, Hardison, Ho, O'Connor and new sophomore Jarren Parris. Esquibel and Diffin will pole vault. The Red Riots depth and ability to cover events will serve them well during the regular season. South Portland hopes a few top athletes will emerge to produce points in the postseason. The Red Riots are certainly capable of moving up at states.

On the girls' side, depth and promise are in abundance. The distance crew is led by Cook, Donahue, and sophomore Maria Letourneau. Bodwell, along with sophomore Sarah Johnston, competes in the racewalk. Ferriera and Newcomb lead the sprinters. Juniors Faith Abraham and Bobielyn Fisher could also be factors. Larson is a thrower. Eight freshmen are on the roster suggesting the future is bright. South Portland will contend during the regular season and hopes to be at its best for the postseason. Look for the Red Riots to score some points at the state meet.

BOYS TENNIS

Coach: Tom Hyland (first year)

2008 Results: 6-8 (Lost 5-0 to Windham in Western Class A quarterfinals)

Top returning players: Tanner Burgdorf (Senior), Corey Doucette (Senior), Mark O'Donnell (Senior), Adian Boyce (Junior), Keegan Hyland (Junior)

Pivotal matches: April 27 @ Cheverus, May 11 @ Deering, May 15 @ Scarborough, May 22 @ Portland, May 26 @ Westbrook

Coach's comment: "It's a great group. We're having a ball. We have some solid returning players. We should compete. This guys are working hard. We could be middle-of-the-pack and make the playoffs."

The Forecaster's forecast: A year after getting to the postseason for the first time since 2004, the Red Riots would like to go again. Tom Hyland, a former South Portland assistant and recreational player who teaches at the high school, replaces Cory Snow as coach. Of course, the new coach is best known as the father of Keegan, the basketball standout who will play first doubles this spring along with Boyce, who was an all-star a year ago. The first singles spot will go to Doucette. Burgdorf plays No. 2 singles. O'Donnell (another all-star from last year) moves from doubles to No. 3 singles. The second doubles squad will likely consist of new senior Ryan Chapin and junior Brian McHugh, who was on the JV team last season. South Portland is one of several teams in Western A that could make a run at one of the top spots. There isn't a favorite in the league this season and the Red Riots will have a great chance to win most of their matches. A triumphant season and another trip to the postseason are distinct possibilities.

GIRLS TENNIS

Coach: Elizabeth Scifres (11th year)

2008 Results: 8-6 (Lost 5-0 to Deering in Western Class A quarterfinals)

Top returning players: Meg Bagley (Senior), Kaycee Hendricks (Senior), Megan Lundgren (Senior), Patricia Lusty (Senior), Alison Dolbow (Junior), Savannah King (Junior), Courtney Perruzzi (Junior), Amanda Junkins (Sophomore)

Pivotal matches: April 27 (H) CHEVERUS, May 1 (H) MCAULEY, May 8 (H) WINDHAM, May 11 (H) DEERING, May 22 (H) PORTLAND

Coach's comment: "We have a strong group of returning players who are very competitive, athletic and assertive. Our team goals include having a winning season again, making the playoffs, as well as being known as a team which puts sportsmanship first."

The Forecaster's forecast: South Portland is coming off its ninth straight trip to the postseason, where it made a little noise. The Red Riots should be right back in the mix again in 2009. The ladder wasn't complete at press time, but it appears Lusty will move up from the third singles spot to No. 1. She had the best record on the team in 2008. Junkins moves up from JV to play No. 2. Lundgren could be at the third singles position. She was a doubles player a year ago. Bagley teamed with Lundgren a year ago and will probably be first doubles again, likely with Perruzzi. Dolbow, King and Hendricks are in the running for the other doubles spots. South Portland should score its share of points in singles and doubles play and will be able to match up well with just about every opponent. There isn't a heavy favorite in the league this year meaning most matches will be up for grabs. If this team can build on last year's success, it should post another winning record and might be capable of going even deeper in the postseason.

 

Photo:
Catcher Stephanie Thibeault is a returning all-star for the South Portland softball team. (File photo)

Photo:
Senior Ben Linscott is the top returning scorer for a dangerous South Portland boys' lacrosse team. (File photo)

Photo:
Senior Brandon Emerson will look to score points in the sprints and hurdles this spring. (File photo)