Portland Bulldogs Spring Athletes of the Year

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Jake Knop

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Jess Brown

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Male:

JAKE KNOP, Senior-Baseball

* SMAA all-star, first-team

* SMAA All-Defensive team

* SMAA All-Academic team

* Senior All-Star

* USA Today All-Maine team

* Captain

Knop has long stood out on the diamond and left an indelible impact on one of the state’s premier programs, not just with his nonpareil glove and potent bat, but with his leadership skills as well.

Knop was drawn early to baseball. Very early.

“People tell me that I was rolling a baseball as a baby,” Knop said. “I love the sport. It’s a game of failure, but the best players learn to be OK with failure and bounce back. You don’t have to be the biggest or the fastest or the strongest one out there. It’s just as much a mental game as physical.”

Knop, who also made quite an impact for four years on the gridiron and played in two football state finals, became the Portland varsity starting shortstop midway into his freshman season. 

Knop credits some influential upperclassmen for easing his way into a pressure-packed position.

“I had so many amazing athletes to look up,” Knop said. “Like (Justin) Zukowski, ‘Espo’ (Joe Esposito) and (former Bulldogs second baseman) Evan Gallant, who completely took me under his wing my freshman year.” 

By sophomore season, Knop had solidified his status as the finest defensive shortstop in the league (he would be named three times to the All-Defensive team) and he had the ability to come up with key hits as well. Knop hit .273 in limited action as a freshman, batted .281 as a sophomore, then pounded the ball to the tune of an .389 average as a junior.

This past spring, Knop batted a whopping .444, led the Bulldogs with 25 RBI and had seven doubles, three triples and a home run. Despite having all eyes on him, he made just two errors.

Highlights included a single and double in a season-opening loss to Biddeford, an RBI double in a win over Scarborough, a triple in a victory over Massabesic, a single and double in a loss to Sanford, a key two-run hit in a win over Bonny Eagle, three hits and four RBI in a wild come-from-behind win at Marshwood (in which Knop tied the game with a two-run single, then scored the winning run in the seventh inning), a single and double in a win over South Portland, a triple in a win over Windham and a single, double and RBI in a second win over Bonny Eagle.

In a quarterfinal round playoff win over South Portland, Knop scored twice, drove in a run and stole a base. Then, in the semifinals, with Portland trailing Falmouth, 3-0, Knop crushed a two-run home run to spark a rally, but the Bulldogs ultimately dropped a nine-inning heartbreaker.

“I’m happy with our season,” Knop said. “We didn’t have as much talent on paper as we did the past two years, but I tried to model myself as a leader after my older teammates from other years and it turned out well.”

For his career, Knop batted .388 with 71 RBI. He had 23 doubles, nine triples and belted four home runs.

Knop also took part in Key Club, mentored students at Lyseth Elementary School and interned with Portland’s athletic trainer, Ryan Lucas. He’ll take his talents to Manhattan College in New York City next year, where he’ll play baseball and study engineering.

He leaves quite a legacy in his wake. Jake Knop, Portland’s Spring Male Athlete of the Year, made the most of his natural gifts, mixed in hard work and dedication and became one of the program’s all-time standouts.

Coach Mike Rutherford’s comment: “Jake is the best infielder than I’ve coached and I’ve coached some good ones. Shortstop is where the best athletes are and he was a three-time Gold Glove winner. He was the heart-and-soul of our team. He can hit, field and he has great leadership. He’s just a great athlete. If he wanted to go to the University of Maine to play football, there’s no question in my mind he could be a defensive back. He’s worked hard and put on muscle. We’ll miss his leadership, but it’s good to see he’s going on to greener pastures.”

Previous winners:

2016 Dan Marzilli (baseball)

2015 Ryan Ruhlin (baseball)

2014 Jonathan Bobe (track)

2013 Caleb Fraser (baseball)

2012 Ryan Jurgelevich (lacrosse)

2011 Ryan Jurgelevich (lacrosse)

2010 Caleb Kenney (lacrosse)

2009 K.R. Jurgelevich (lacrosse)

2008 Brian Furey (baseball)

2007 Sam McAdam (lacrosse)

2006 Joe Fessenden (baseball)

2005 Peter Sengelmann (lacrosse)

2004 Jake Schuit (lacrosse)

Female:

JESS BROWN, Junior-Softball

  • Maine Gatorade Player of the Year

  • SMAA all-star, first-team

  • Underclass all-star

Brown’s legend continues to grow along with her team’s profile and 2017 proved to be a memorable campaign both for the Bulldogs and for their ace/top hitter, who earned a national honor for her excellence and a repeat nod from The Forecaster as Portland’s Spring Female Athlete of the Year.

Brown started playing softball at a young age. She saw limited varsity time as a freshman and when she joined the Portland varsity full-time as a sophomore, her goal was to earn one start.

Suffice it to say, she’s earned a lot more than that. Brown went 8-6 with a 2.63 earned run average as a sophomore, helping the Bulldogs vault into playoff contention and reach the Class A South quarterfinals. She also batted .335, proving that her game is multi-dimensional.

As good as Brown and Portland were in 2016, that season was a mere appetizer for what ensued this spring.

Brown, who also plays volleyball for the Bulldogs, would go 9-1 in the regular season with a 1.66 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 72 innings.

She set the tone by striking out 14 and allowing five hits in a season-opening 8-1 win over Sanford. Brown had a pair of hits in a win over Cheverus/NYA, then struck out nine more to beat Westbrook. Brown had two hits, scored three times and had an RBI in a win over MGA/Falmouth, threw a four-hitter with 12 Ks in Portland’s first win over Thornton Academy in nine years, threw three hitless innings with seven strikeouts to earn a save and also had three hits, including a triple, versus South Portland, fanned 15 against Noble, struck out nine and scored the winning run in a come-from-behind win over Massabesic, threw a five-hit shutout and scored the winning run against Marshwood, belted a bases-clearing double to help beat defending state champion Biddeford, struck out 10 in a win over Deering, allowed just five hits in a win over Gorham, allowed just five hits and struck out 10 in a 1-0 loss to Windham, then singled and tripled in a regular season-ending win at Bonny Eagle.

Prior to the start of the playoffs, Brown learned that she had become the first player in the storied history of the Portland softball program to win the Maine Gatorade Player of the Year award.

If she felt extra pressure going into the playoffs, she certainly didn’t show it, as she threw a three-hitter with seven 7 Ks in a quarterfinal round win over South Portland and retired 16 straight batters in one stretch and had two RBI in a semifinal round victory over Thornton Academy. Brown and the Bulldogs met their match against Scarborough in the regional final, but Brown finished with a 12-3 record and a 1.29 ERA. She fanned 114 batters in 80 innings and hit .451 with a team-high 15 RBI.

“I still felt like we had the underdog card coming into the season,” Brown said. “We’ve proved ourselves. It’s been great to come back into relevance.”

Brown also boasts a 102.2 average in the classroom, is member of the National Honor Society, the Girl Scouts of America and the Math Club and is an accomplished pianist. She’s playing plenty of softball this summer and you have to believe she’s going to make some college team much better not too far down the road.

First, however, she has her senior season to look forward to and if Jess Brown, Portland’s Spring Female Athlete of the Year, keeps raising the bar, who knows what the Bulldogs might accomplish.

Coach Robbie Ferrante’s comment: “Jess had to live up to the expectations this year and she more than stepped up. She really hit her spots. She’s a very good batter too. We’re comfortable with her at the plate. I really couldn’t ask for anything more than what she gave us. She can make me look like a genius.”

Previous winners:

2016 Jess Brown (softball)

2015 Margot Andreasen (tennis)

2014 Annette Denekas (tennis)

2013 Annette Denekas (tennis)

2012 Drew Barry (lacrosse)

2011 Drew Barry (lacrosse)

2010 Mary Moran (tennis)

2009 Maggie Swann (tennis)

2008 Liz Mosley (lacrosse)

2007 Jasmine Powell (track)

2006 Katie Hutchins (softball)

2005 Kelly Flaherty (lacrosse)

2004 Lily Anderson (lacrosse)

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached atmhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

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Jake Knop

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.