Portland beats Deering in off-Broadway setting
PORTLAND—The venue was Deering Oaks, not the big stage of Hadlock Field, and the conditions were anything but conducive for the proverbial boys of summer, but whenever Deering and Portland meet on the baseball diamond, it's going to be a big deal.
Tuesday afternoon, in a pivotal late-season contest, Portland bounced back from a sloppy performance in its last outing by taking advantage of untimely Deering mistakes.
The Bulldogs scored unearned runs in the second and third innings, then, after the Rams got on the board in the fourth, Portland, sparked by new-to-baseball senior Justin Zukowski's double, erupted for six runs in the fifth and behind a two-hit gem from senior Nick DiPalma, never looked back as it went on to a 10-1 victory.
The Bulldogs improved to 8-5 on the season, earned city bragging rights for a third straight season and dealt the Rams' playoff hopes a serious blow as they dropped them to 3-11.
"I think it was the worst day of the year weather-wise," said Portland coach Tony DiBiase. "A brutal day, but we got the game in and got the win."
Regardless of records, games between Deering and Portland are always highly anticipated, even when the weather throws a wrench in the proceedings.
The Rams opened with a 5-1 home loss to Westbrook and an 11-6 setback at Massabesic before getting in the win column with a 9-1 home triumph over Thornton Academy. After getting doubled up at Sanford, 16-8, Deering came home and beat Noble, 4-2. Tough losses at Gorham (3-2) and Marshwood (13-11) and at home to Biddeford (7-4) followed, but last Thursday, the Rams appeared to turn the corner with a 4-3 home win over Scarborough, which allowed them to exceed last year's win total. The good times didn't last, however, as Deering fell at Cheverus (5-1), Bonny Eagle (1-0) and Windham (1-0, in nine innings) and at home to South Portland (12-1).
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 as well, 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. After losing at Scarborough, 7-5, the Bulldogs registered an impressive 3-0 win at South Portland before falling at home to Windham Saturday afternoon, 11-2, in an error-plagued affair.
The teams were supposed to play a holiday game in what likely would have been a big crowd Monday night, but poor weather moved the game to Tuesday afternoon and from Hadlock Field to Deering Oaks.
"I was hoping (to play at) Hadlock," said DiPalma. "I was kind of disappointed."
Even though conditions weren't much better, the show went on.
Entering Tuesday's contest, over a 10-year span dating back to 2004 (see sidebar, below), Deering had won 11 of 18 meetings, but Portland had won each of the past two, including a walk-off, 5-4 triumph a year ago.
Tuesday, the Bulldogs went out and beat the Rams again, making it three in a row over their rival for the first time since 2005-06.
Both pitchers excelled in a speedy (10 minutes total) first inning, as Deering sophomore lefty Dan Marzilli and DiPalma both set down the opposition 1-2-3.
Marzilli got senior leftfielder Travis Godbout to ground out to second and senior third baseman Dan Kane to do the same before striking out senior centerfielder Joe Apon looking.
DiPalma then made his opening statement by getting senior leftfielder Mike Marzilli to ground back to the mound, junior shortstop Nick Bevilacqua to line out to center and senior third baseman Will Barlock to strike out.
The first inning proved to be the high point for the Rams.
In the top of the second, Portland took the lead for good.
After Dan Marzilli struck out catcher Ryan Ruhlin looking, Dixon hit a ground ball to sophomore Pat Viola at second, but Viola's throw was short and senior first baseman Ben Peterson couldn't dig it out. After a passed ball, Bulldogs sophomore designated hitter Joe Fusco lined a single which scored Dixon to break the ice. Fusco was picked off by Marzilli and senior third baseman Evan Gallant struck out swinging, but Portland was up, 1-0.
In the bottom half, DiPalma got junior centerfielder Kevin Goldberg to ground back to the mound, then struggled with wildness, walking senior designated hitter Nick Carmichael and hitting Viola, but he settled down and got sophomore catcher Luciano Minervino to ground into a force out and Peterson to ground out to short to end the inning.
The Rams' defense betrayed them again in the third.
After Zukowski led off with a single to right, DiPalma grounded back to Dan Marzilli, but Marzilli's throw was off target, allowing both runners to be safe. Marzilli then tried to pick off DiPalma, but threw the ball away, putting runners at second and third. After getting Godbout to fly out to shallow right and striking out Kane looking, Marzilli was primed to escape, but he threw a wild pitch and Zukowski scampered home for a 2-0 advantage.
Zukowski, who was a finalist for the football Fitzpatrick Trophy after leading Portland to the Eastern A Final and also a basketball standout who played a pivotal role during the Bulldogs' Class A state championship run, hadn't played organized baseball since middle school, but he's made his presence felt this spring.
"It's fun," Zukowski said. "I just wanted to do something since I'm not playing basketball this spring. I'm playing to hang out with these guys, some of them I haven't played with in other sports.
"(Pitchers) normally throw just fastballs to guys lower in the lineup. I'm just happy to be up there and contribute."
Ruhlin then grounded out to end it.
In the bottom of the third, DiPalma got sophomore rightfielder Ian Westphal to ground out to third, Mike Marzilli to pop out to Ruhlin in foul territory and Bevilacqua to chase strike three.
Dan Marzilli set Portland down in order in the top of the fourth, as Dixon grounded out to short, Fusco grounded out to third and Gallant struck out swinging.
The Rams then got on the board in the bottom half.
Barlock walked leading off and after Goldberg flew out to center, Barlock stole second base. Carmichael struck out, but Viola ripped a single down the leftfield line and Barlock came home to cut the deficit to 2-1. After Viola stole second to get into scoring position as the tying run, DiPalma avoided further trouble by striking out Minervino.
The Bulldogs ended the competitive phase of the game with a six-run uprising in the fifth.
Zukowski again got things going, as he crushed a double to left-center.
"Zuk came through with some hits to get things going," DiBiase said.
DiPalma then singled to right and Zukowski scored. DiPalma was replaced by senior courtesy runner Peter Hill, who moved to second when Godbout singled to left. Kane walked to load the bases and after Marzilli threw ball one to Apon, Deering coach Tim Eisenhart came out with the hook and replaced Marzilli with Carmichael.
Carmichael's first pitch was a wild pitch, which scored Hill. Ruhlin walked to reload the bases and after Dixon fanned, Fusco walked to score Godbout and a wild pitch chased home Kane with another run. Gallant then came through by ripping a single to right-center and Ruhlin and Fusco scored to make it 8-1. Zukowski, who started the inning, then ended it by striking out, but the damage had been done.
Despite sitting for a half-hour, DiPalma was sharp in the bottom of the fifth, fanning junior pinch-hitter Sam Luebbert and sophomore pinch-hitter Dom Bernard before getting senior pinch-hitter Tophe Thorne to fly to left.
"It's always better to pitch with the lead," DiPalma said. "I like the runs, but it's tough not to pitch for so long."
Portland kept pouring it on in the sixth and this time, the Bulldogs waited until there were two outs before coming to life.
After DiPalma popped to short and Godbout grounded to third, Kane and Apon both walked. Ruhlin then grounded a single through the hole between short and third and Kane scored. After Ruhlin stole second, Dixon walked and with Fusco at the plate, Carmichael threw a wild pitch to score Apon to make it 10-1. Carmichael was then replaced by Bevilacqua, who ended the frame by getting Fusco to look at strike three.
Portland wasn't able to end the game early by inducing the 10-run "mercy rule."
"We're still looking for a big hit to put things away," DiBiase said. "We got hits here and there, but we have to come through with big hits in playoff games."
DiPalma got junior pinch-hitter Brendan McNally to swing at strike three to start the bottom half. Barlock then singled down the leftfield line, but he tried to stretch it into a double and Godbout fired a strike to Gallant at second to gun him down for out number two. Goldberg then grounded back to the mound to end it.
Bevilacqua worked a 1-2-3 seventh, getting Gallant to fly deep to center (he only missed a home run by a few feet), sophomore pinch-hitter John Williams to pop out along the first base line (with the pitcher running over the make the catch) and DiPalma to pop out to second.
DiPalma got two quick outs in the bottom half, as Dan Marzilli lined to left and Viola popped out to short, but Minervino, not wanting to be the last out, had a terrific at-bat, fouling off several pitches before drawing a walk. DiPalma then slammed the door by getting Luebbert to look at strike three and Portland had its 10-1 victory.
DiPalma was the story for the Bulldogs, improving to 3-2 after allowing just one earned run on two hits and two walks in seven strong innings. He hit a batter and struck out eight.
"I just threw strikes as much as I could," DiPalma said. "I don't like the windup anymore. I've been struggling with the windup, so I just try to use the stretch as much as I can. I felt really good from the first inning on."
DiPalma's performance was hailed by both teams.
"Right from the start, he had good stuff," Zukowski said. "To get a big start out of him was big."
"DiPalma pitched very well," DiBiase said. "Confidence-wise he's coming off shutting out South Portland. He beat Westbrook earlier. He struggled earlier in the year with his control, but he was very good today."
"(DiPalma) pitched great," said Deering coach Tim Eisenhart. "He kept his pitches low."
Zukowski paced the Portland offense with two hits and two runs scored. Kane also scored twice, while Apon, Dixon, Fusco, Godbout, Hill and Ruhlin all touched the dish once. Fusco and Gallant both finished with two RBI, while DiPalma and Ruhlin had one apiece. Ruhlin stole a base.
Best of all for the Bulldogs, unlike Saturday, when they committed five errors in the loss to Windham, their fielding was flawless.
"We missed three days of practice before that game and I think that had something to do with it, but that was an awful game," DiPalma said.
"We don't have strikeout pitchers, so the guys have to make plays and we did today," DiBiase said.
For Deering, Barlock scored the lone run and Viola had the RBI. Barlock and Viola stole bases.
Dan Marzilli fell to 1-2 after giving up six runs (four earned) on five hits and two hits in four-plus innings. Marzilli threw a wild pitch and struck out five.
"I thought Dan pitched well enough to win, but we missed balls," Eisenhart said. "We simply didn't catch the ball and they're too good a team to do that against."
Carmichael gave up four earned runs on two hits and five walks in 1.2 innings of work. He struck out two and threw three wild pitches. Bevilacqua threw a perfect 1.1 innings, fanning one.
All in all, it was a disappointing day for Deering.
"The kids were bummed to have play here," Eisenhart said. "It's Portland's practice field. They were looking forward to playing at Hadlock against their crosstown rival, but it wasn't in the stars."
Now or never
Deering's playoff hopes are hanging by a thread. The Rams (14th in the Western Class A Heal Points standings, where only 12 teams make the field) have to beat visiting Massabesic Saturday and host Westbrook Tuesday of next week to have a chance.
"As long as Scarborough and Thornton keep winning and we win, we have an outside prayer of getting in," Eisenhart said. "It would be great if the kids could finish strong and the seniors could see some playoff action since they never have before."
Portland will be in the tournament, but can still move up. The Bulldogs (presently sixth in Western A) will play host to Massabesic Thursday, welcome Westbrook Saturday and finish at Sanford June 3.
"It's been up-and-down, but we're trying to win out and trying to get home playoff games," Zukowski said. "We have the pitching to make a run."
"I think we'll be a factor as long as we play as hard and as consistent as we can," said DiPalma.
"We've beaten the No. 1-ranked team and the second-ranked team and the No. 4-ranked team," DiBiase added. "We've had some good games, but we've been inconsistent. No one is a clear favorite this year and (new to the region for the playoffs) Falmouth is in the mix now too.
"But when we play well, we play really well."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
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