By Eric Carson
PORTLAND—It’s been a long and winding road this season for first-year coach Mike McCullum and his band of baseball Bulldogs. Three times in the first quarter of the regular season they found themselves on the losing end of one-run ballgames, including a gut-wrenching 1-0 loss to the 2009 Maine Gatorade Player of the Year in right-handed ace Chris Bernard and the Scarborough Red Storm.
But Portland High kids have never been the type to lie down and give up, everybody knows that, and on Wednesday afternoon they earned some sweet redemption for all that heartache when the stakes were far greater.
Trailing by a run in the bottom of the ninth inning, the eighth-ranked Bulldogs rallied for a pair of runs in dramatic fashion to edge the ninth-ranked Biddeford Tigers, 5-4, on a walk-off single by Adam Gould in a Western Class A preliminary round game at Hadlock Field.
Portland benefited from a leadoff walk by senior P.J. Brogan that set the stage for their game-winning rally in the second and final extra frame. Senior Ed Bogdanovich followed with a sharp single to left, and senior Joe Violette was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Senior Craig Leborgne battled tough for an RBI walk to tie the game at 4-4, and Gould provided the final heroics with a sharp grounder through a drawn-in infield to set off a wild celebration at the plate for the gritty Bulldogs (10-7).
“He was having trouble throwing strikes at that point and I knew he was going to throw me a fastball on the first pitch,” said Gould. “I was sitting fastball and that’s what I got. This team never gives up, even when we are down. We found a way to answer back and hope to take this momentum into the next game.”
For their efforts, Portland earned a date with the top-ranked, two-time defending state champion Deering Rams (16-0) back at Hadlock on Thursday at 6 p.m. in the quarterfinal round.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” McCullum said. “I just told them that we needed a game like this. We lost three one-run games this season and we needed to find a way to come back and win these types of games. That was a great high school playoff game. We battled back.”
Facing Biddeford (8-9) ace Nate Curran in a steady drizzle on Wednesday, the Bulldogs couldn’t find a way to string together a rally and trailed 3-0 after four complete innings. Curran kept Portland off-balance with a looping breaking pitch and a hard fastball that he rarely threw over the middle of the plate.
But the Bulldogs made him work for his outs and he appeared to tire in the bottom of the fifth and found himself in a tie game at 3-3.
Leborgne led the inning off and reached on a throwing error by the Tigers shortstop. Senior Brian Furey, the winning pitcher, then dropped a tailing single into right field that advanced Leborgne to third. With no outs, a wild pitch went to the backstop allowing Leborgne to score, and with the catcher spinning this and way that trying to find the ball, Furey raced all the way to third. Senior Campbell Rico followed with a seeing-eye single between first and second to score Furey and pull the Bulldogs within a run at 3-2.
Campbell got caught napping at first and was picked off by Curran for the first out, and Brogan chopped to third for the second. But the Portland wasn’t done yet. Bogdanovich ripped a single down the left-field line by the diving third basemen, and Violette dropped a soft little pop-up behind the second basemen to move Bogdanovich all the way to third. Now with runners on the corner and two-outs, Leborgne delivered the game-tying fielders choice single back up the box. Biddeford’s second baseman dove and smothered Leborgne’s grounder behind the bag, but he fumbled the exchange to his throwing hand and Violette was safe at second as Bogdanovich raced home to tie the game.
Furey (4-4), the Portland ace for the better part of three seasons, found himself on the hill with new life and shut down the next 11 Tigers in a row to preserve the tie game. But the Tigers touched him for a run in the top of the ninth on a single, an errant pick-off attempt and an RBI single by Tyler Laverierre.
“That was a pretty intense game,” said Furey. “It went by very fast. We’ve fallen behind early a lot of times this year and not been able to come back. We got it done today. We came out with the bats. A lot of guys had big days at the plate. We’re excited to play Deering again.”
The unbeaten Rams broke open a tie game in the bottom of the fourth inning to defeat the Bulldogs 14-6 back on May 21 in their only regular season meeting. The last playoff meeting between the rivals came two years ago in the regional final (a 2-1 Deering victory in eight innings).