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SOUTH PORTLAND—In 86 dominant minutes Thursday afternoon, South Portland senior ace Henry Curran 86’d the Portland Bulldogs with a pitching performance for the ages.
In a Southwestern Maine Activities Association showdown at Wainwright Farms rife with Heal Points implications, Curran, a lefthander, completely neutralized Portland’s offense from start to finish with his latest stellar performance.
Curran was flawless through four innings, but the Red Riots’ offense could do nothing with Bulldogs junior lefty Dan Marzilli. Then, in the bottom of the fourth, after an error opened the door, senior first baseman Anthony Degifico gave Curran the only run he would need with an RBI single. Senior rightfielder Jacob Brown followed with a run-scoring triple for a 2-0 lead.
After Curran lost his bid for a perfect game, but still didn’t surrender a hit in the top of the fifth, he showed his hitting acumen in the bottom half, crushing an RBI triple, then coming home on senior third baseman Matt Beecher’s RBI single to push the lead to 4-0.
After Curran got through the sixth with only a walk, he took the mound in the seventh with a chance to complete a no-hitter, but leading off, Bulldogs sophomore shortstop Jake Knop smacked a seeing-eye single into the hole between third and short.
Curran quickly shook off the disappointment, striking out the next three hitters to slam the door on an emphatic 4-0 victory.
Curran finished with 14 strikeouts, improved to 5-0, solidified his claim as the state’s top pitcher and helped South Portland improve to 10-1, dropping Portland to 8-4 in the process.
“My shoulder was sore before the game, but my fastball was working and I was hitting my spots,” Curran said. “I was aware (of the perfect game and no-hitter), but the most important thing is we got the win.”
Both teams have enjoyed their share of triumph this spring and aren’t satisfied.
Portland opened with a 5-3 win at preseason favorite Marshwood, then added victories at Windham (4-2) and at home over Massabesic (4-0). A 3-2, eight-inning loss to visiting Thornton Academy dropped the Bulldogs from the unbeaten ranks, but Portland bounced back to blank visiting Scarborough (3-0) and Noble (8-0), then won at Gorham (7-3). After a 12-3 loss at Westbrook, the Bulldogs beat Marshwood again, this time at home, 5-0, then rallied to beat visiting Windham in a nine-inning thriller Monday (3-2) before falling, 6-3, at Biddeford Tuesday.
South Portland blanked visiting Thornton Academy in the opener, 7-0, then enjoyed wins at Sanford (8-3) and Westbrook (7-2) before downing visiting Noble, 6-2, host Deering (2-1) and visiting Cheverus (1-0) to start 6-0. An 11-1 five-inning loss at Marshwood knocked the Red Riots from the undefeated ranks, but they bounced right back to beat visiting Windham (9-3), host Thornton Academy (11-4) and visiting Sanford (12-0 in five innings).
Last year, Portland won the lone meeting between the ancient rivals, 3-0, at South Portland.
In fact, the road team had won each of the past four regular season encounters (see sidebar, below), but this time around, the Red Riots took care of business on their home field on an windy afternoon in which those on hands were witnesses to one of the best pitching performances of this or any other year.
Curran made an immediate statement, fanning junior first baseman John Williams on a 3-2 pitch, striking out sophomore second baseman Dom Tocci and getting Knop to pop up along the first base line and catching the ball despite the tricky breeze to retire the side.
The Red Riots had a chance to break through against Marzilli in the bottom half, but couldn’t do so. Leading off, Curran lined out deep to left. After Beecher lined out to center, sophomore centerfielder Sam Troiano reached on an error and stole second, but junior catcher Nick Troiano lined out to center.
In the second, Curran fanned junior designated hitter Joe Fusco, got senior catcher Ryan Ruhlin to strike out, then got sophomore centerfielder Nick Archambault to pop out to first.
A Tocci error allowed Degifico to reach leading off the bottom half, but Brown popped out to short, junior shortstop Drew Abramson grounded out to short with Degifico taking second and senior leftfielder Hayden Owen fanned.
In the third, Curran struck out junior third baseman Jack Nichols, got junior leftfielder Zach Fortin to foul out (Curran made the catch) and fanned junior rightfielder George Chaison-Lapine.
After senior second baseman Sam Solomon grounded out to short leading off the bottom half (Williams made a nice scoop to record the out), Curran lined a single to center for the game’s first hit, but Beecher grounded to Knop, who threw to Tocci for the force and Tocci threw on to Williams to complete a double play.
Curran stayed perfect in the fourth, getting Williams to ground sharply to short, battling back from a 3-0 count to strike out Tocci, then getting Knop to line to center.
The Red Riots finally broke through in the bottom half.
Sam Troiano led off with a fly ball to center. Archambault raced in, but over-ran the ball, then dropped it for a two-base error. Nick Troiano struck out looking, but Degifico came through, grounding a single into the hole between first and second and Sam Troiano raced home with the game’s first run.
“I said to the kids early that I thought one run might do it,” said South Portland coach Mike Owens. “Playing for one run isn’t my normal strategy, but Marzilli doesn’t give up much. If we can get ahead with Henry pitching, it puts pressure on the other team.”
Brown then rapped a triple down the rightfield line and Degifico came all the way around to make it 2-0. Tocci ensured South Portland wouldn’t add any more, as he dove and caught a liner off the bat of Abramson, then threw to third to double up Brown to end the inning.
With the Red Riots on the board, the story then became Curran’s perfection, which reached 14 hitters as he got Fusco to ground out to short, with Abramson making a nice play going to his right, and Ruhlin to look at strike three, but Archambault grounded to Abramson, whose throw was off target, allowing Archambault to reach safely on the error. Archambault stole second base, but Nichols struck out for out number three.
South Portland doubled its lead in the bottom half and effectively ended the competitive phase of the game.
After Owen struck out, Solomon blooped a single to right. Curran then crushed a Marzilli offering over Archambault’s head in center for a run-scoring triple.
“That was a surprise,” Curran said. “No one was expecting that.”
Beecher followed by rapping a single to center to bring home Curran for a 4-0 lead. After Sam Troiano reached on an infield single, Beecher was picked off at second. Troiano stole second, but after Nick Troiano was walked intentionally, Degifico lined out to right to end the inning.
Curran got Fortin to pop to first and struck Chaison-Lapine to start the sixth, then he walked Williams, who stole second, but Curran kept the no-hitter intact by striking out Tocci.
In the bottom half, Brown lined to center and after Abramson singled, Owen grounded into a force out and Abramson was picked off.
All eyes were on Curran as he came out for the seventh, but the storybook finish wasn’t to be as Knop grounded a clean single into the hole between the diving Beecher and Abramson.
“I thought about the no-hitter, but didn’t want to say anything,” Owens said. “It’s an unwritten rule of baseball. It was exciting. Even though he gave up a hit, it didn’t take away from his performance today.”
With the no-hitter out of the equation, Curran zeroed in on the win and slammed the door by getting Fusco to look at strike three, Ruhlin to chase strike three and Archambault to also swing and miss at strike three to bring the game to a close.
“Portland’s a very good team,” Owens said. “I knew we had our work cut out for us.
Curran threw 90 pitches, allowed just one hit and one walk in seven innings and struck out 14 Bulldogs.
“I thought Henry was really good,” said Owens, in an understatement. “He established his fastball and hit his spots and got ahead in the count. He stayed down in the zone and elevated when he needed to. His command was so good. He definitely had his good stuff. When I saw him throw his curveball for strikes, that said it was going to be difficult for (Portland). I knew he’d be one of the best pitchers in the league this year, but I’m surprised how many strikeouts he’s getting. He never ceases to amaze me.”
Portland coach Mike Rutherford could only pay tribute to Curran’s greatness.
“The kids were disappointed, but sometimes, you just have to tip your cap,” Rutherford said. “I compare Curran to guys like Scott Heath, Ian Boyle, James Dawson, Brian Ross and Ryan Reid. You just can’t score against guys like that. (South Portland’s) almost guaranteed a win when he’s on the mound. I knew he’d probably put up a bunch of goose eggs today. He was on from the very beginning. We hit two balls hard all day and 14 of our outs were strikeouts. Nobody was going to beat him today.”
Curran paced the offense too as the game’s lone repeat hitter, scoring a run and having an RBI as well. Degifico, Solomon and Sam Troiano also scored, while Beecher, Brown and Degifico added RBI.
South Portland left four runners on, but it didn’t matter.
Marzilli was the tough luck loser, falling to 3-1, after giving up four runs (three earned) on seven hits and a walk in six innings. He fanned three.
“I was very impressed with Danny,” Rutherford said. “He pitched well enough for it to have been a 0-0 or 1-0 game.”
Knop had Portland’s lone hit. The Bulldogs left three runners on.
“We had to be perfect defensively and both innings they scored, we weren’t,” Rutherford lamented. “We came in knowing Curran would be on and that we had to win 1-0 or 2-1. We had to play a perfect game and we didn’t.”
Portland (now fifth in the Western Class A Heal Points standings) has the weekend off, then hosts Cheverus Tuesday and Bonny Eagle Thursday. After going to Deering next Friday, the Bulldogs close at Sanford June 2.
“Next week will be a big week,” Rutherford said. “We have tough games coming up. If we can beat Cheverus, we have a good chance to be in the top four (and avoid a preliminary round playoff game). We’ll throw Charles Barnard (3-0 with two shutouts) against Cheverus Tuesday and Marzilli against Bonny Eagle. We rebounded after the Westbrook loss, so I know the guys can rebound.”
South Portland (first in Western A) is home with Bonny Eagle Saturday, visits Biddeford Tuesday and Scarborough Thursday, then hosts Massabesic and goes to Gorham to close.
“This was a big win for us and will help us in our goal of getting a first-round bye in the playoffs,” Curran said. “I didn’t get to pitch against Marshwood. I’d love to get that chance.”
“I think we’re going to have to prove that we can consistently hit good pitching and we did a good job of that today,” Owens said. “We have to win a big game without Curran on the mound. I think we have capable guys. It’s a very tough league. Every game, we have to be prepared. Getting off to a good start this year put a target on our back. We’re getting the other teams’ best effort and pitchers. We want to be in that position, but we have to be ready to go every game. We want to continue to win and put ourselves in a good position to be in the top four, get a bye and that will allow us to match up with the top teams.”
South Portland senior Matt Beecher takes a swing.
South Portland senior Jacob Brown races in to third base with an RBI triple in the fourth inning.
South Portland senior Henry Curran lines an RBI triple in the fifth inning.
South Portland senior Anthony Degifico lines a hit.
Portland junior Joe Fusco swings and misses. The Bulldogs struck out 14 times Thursday.
South Portland sophomore Sam Troiano comes home with the game’s first run.
South Portland junior Nick Troiano shows his form.
Portland sophomore shortstop Jake Knop prepares to make a throw. Knop broke up Henry Curran’s no-hitter leading off the seventh inning.
South Portland senior Sam Solomon makes contact.
Portland sophomore Nick Archambault steals second late in the game.
South Portland celebrates its 4-0 victory.
Portland 3 @ South Portland 0
South Portland 10 @ Portland 3
Western A preliminary round
@ Portland 8 South Portland 0
Portland 6 @ South Portland 1
South Portland 7 @ Portland 0
@ South Portland 2 Portland 0
@ South Portland 6 Portland 5
@ Portland 2 South Portland 1
@ Portland 6 South Portland 2
Portland 7 @ South Portland 4
@ Portland 11 South Portland 0 (5)
@ Portland 7 South Portland 0
Western A quarterfinals
@ Portland 6 South Portland 5
South Portland 7 @ Portland 2
@ South Portland 8 Portland 3
Western A semifinals
Portland 5 @ South Portland 4 (11)
@ Portland 4 South Portland 0
Portland 14 @ South Portland 2 (5)
@ Portland 7 South Portland 1
@ South Portland 6 Portland 0
Western A semifinals
Portland 4 @ South Portland 3
South Portland senior ace Henry Curran delivers a pitch during Thursday’s home contest against rival Portland. Curran took a perfect game into the fifth and a no-hitter into the seventh before settling for a one-hit, 14-strikeout masterpiece as the Red Riots prevailed, 4-0.
Jim Allen photos.
More photos below.
P- 000 000 0- 0 1 3
SP- 000 220 X- 4 7 1
Degifico singled to right, S. Troiano scored. Brown tripled to right, Degifico scored.
Curran tripled to center, Solomon scored. Beecher singled to center, Curran scored.
SP- Curran, Degifico, Solomon, S. Troiano
SP- Beecher, Brown, Curran, Degifico
SP- Brown, Curran
SP- S. Troiano 2
Left on base:
Marzilli and Ruhlin; Curran and N. Troiano
Marzilli (L, 3-1) 6 IP 7 H 4 R 3 ER 1 BB 3 K
Curran (W, 5-0) 7 IP 1 H 0 R 1 BB 14 K