Portland Bulldogs Spring Sports Preview

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Portland had a very competitive spring a year ago and looks to build on that success this time around. Baseball fulfilled its potential in 2013 and is hoping for more big things. Softball expects to continue its climb back to contention. Boys’ lacrosse kept its postseason streak alive last year and will once again be heard from. The girls’ team welcomes a new coach and is optimistic about its chances. Track features promising athletes. Girls’ tennis came oh-so-close to a first-ever championship last season and this time around, looks to finish the job. Boys’ tennis welcomes a new coach and will look to make the playoffs.

BASEBALL

Coach: Tony DiBiase (fourth year, 21-30 overall record)

2013 record: 10-9 (Lost, 2-1, to eventual champion Westbrook in Western A semifinals)

Top returning players: Joey Apon (Senior), Nick DiPalma (Senior), Ryan Dixon (Senior), Evan Gallant (Senior), Travis Godbout (Senior), Danny Kane (Senior), Ryan Ruhlin (Junior)

Pivotal games: April 25 @ Westbrook, May 7 MARSHWOOD, May 15 CHEVERUS, May 17 @ Scarborough, May 20 @ South Portland, May 26 @ Deering, May 31 WESTBROOK

Coach’s comment: “We played very well at the end of last year and had a good summer. I feel good going in. We lost a lot, but we’ll be OK. Nick and Ryan have been waiting in the wings. All five of our pitchers are average to above average. We have a lot of very competitive athletes who have had success in other sports. There’s no outstanding team on paper coming in. I think we’ll pitch well and play good defense. We just have to hit the ball well.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Just when it appeared the Bulldogs were never going to live up to their vast potential, last year’s team saved its best for last in memorable fashion, beating South Portland for the program’s first playoff victory in four seasons, then stunning tournament favorite Scarborough and its ace, Ben Greenberg, in the quarterfinals before going down to a narrow defeat to Westbrook in the semis. That team then lost first-team league all-star and Forecaster Spring Male Athlete of the Year Caleb Fraser and all-star Tim Rovnak to graduation, among a dozen others, including key contributors Kyle Reichert, Nate Smart and Nick Volger. While graduation certainly took its toll, the cupboard is not bare and Portland is primed to compete again in a league that does not boast a clear favorite. This spring, the Bulldogs will present a balanced pitching attack, featuring the experienced Dixon (3.55 earned run average, 16 strikeouts last season), DiPalma (1.85 ERA in 11.1 innings thrown) and Godbout (3.50 ERA last season), who is coming off a scintillating winter campaign as a key part of Portland’s basketball championship. Mix in senior Owen Pence, who played junior varsity last season, and Ruhlin, the catcher, who will also see time on the mound, and the Bulldogs have reason to believe they can hold the opposition at bay. Consistent offense has been a problem and while Portland had its moments last season, it will need to push runs across on a regular basis this spring to be triumphant. Apon, the centerfielder, is the top returning hitter. He batted .306 with four doubles and seven RBI in 2013. Gallant, a four-year player at second base, showed occasional pop last season (hitting .250 with a pair of triples) and could be in for a breakout campaign. Godbout (who plays first base when he’s not pitching) and sophomore designated hitter Joey Fusco are other bats to watch. Kane, like Godbout, is coming off a basketball title and will play a key role at third base. Speaking of excellence in other sports translating to the diamond, Justin Zukowski, Portland’s Fall Male Athlete of the Year, Fitzpatrick Trophy finalist and basketball champion, is playing baseball for the first time since middle school. He will see time in rightfield and might spark the offense from the leadoff role. The importance of his addition can’t be overstated. The Bulldogs have a very different look this season, but talent and hunger remain. Look for this group to be competitive throughout. If Portland’s pitching delivers as expected and if the bats show up, another deep playoff run is likely.

SOFTBALL

Coach: Kelly Libby (third year, 3-29 overall record)

2013 record: 2-14 (no postseason)

Top returning players: Amanda Gould (Senior), Brianna Holdren (Senior), Cassandra Kennie (Senior), Isabelle Dimillo (Sophomore), Maddie Kennie (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: May 5 @ Deering, May 7 MCAULEY, May 12 @ Cheverus

Coach’s comment: “This is the year we should start showing signs of being a competitive softball program. Despite the recent struggles, the girls were awarded the Sportsmanship award last season, which shows me they have a good perspective and understanding of the rebuilding process.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: The Bulldogs are showing life and are hoping to borrow some magic from the girls’ basketball team (which had a resurgent season this winter) to return to contention in the weeks to come. There is one obvious link between the teams as Holdren, the shortstop, helped the girls’ basketball team reach the semifinals for the first time in a decade, earning Winter Female Athlete of the Year honors in the process. Her leadership will pay big dividends for this squad. On the hill, Portland will turn to Dimillo, Gould and Maddie Kennie to keep them in games. Gould and sophomore Lauren McIntyre figure to pace the offense. Cassandra Kennie also has experience. Two freshmen, Taylor Crosby and Morgan Heathcoat, hope to quickly become household names. The Bulldogs have won a total of six games over the past five seasons. If all goes well, this team could approach that number this spring. If they do, they could even find themselves in the playoffs for the first time since 2008. It’s a longshot, but this program on the rise believes that anything is possible.

BOYS’ LACROSSE

Coach: Mike DiFusco (second year, 3-10 overall record)

2013 record: 3-10 (Lost, 15-7, to Cheverus in Eastern Class A quarterfinals)

Top returning players: Mike Fuller (Senior), Zach Glanville (Senior), Anthony Green (Senior), Luigi Grimaldi (Senior), Connor Bruce (Junior), Jack Schwartz (Junior), Josh Sullivan (Junior)

Pivotal games: April 28 @ Deering, May 7 TA, May 20 @ Bonny Eagle, May 28 @ Cheverus

Coach’s comment: “We have most of our guys back from last year. They took their lumps, but they showed up. This preseason has been a little bit easier. We’ve started from the basics. We’re trying to build the program. I’m hoping a year’s difference will translate to a few ground balls going our way. We’re not the flashiest team. We’re not pretty, but we’ll be gritty. I hope the kids just get better each and every day.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: While Portland struggled last year, the Bulldogs still found a way to extend their postseason streak to 13 years. While Portland is still a long way from its glory days of 2005-10, this group is starting from a stronger foundation and should show much improvement in the weeks to come. Fuller and Grimaldi are seasoned and will lead the offense. Bruce is a top midfielder. Look for Glanville, Green and Sullivan to anchor the defense, with help from Schwartz, a longstick middie. Junior Andrew Hoekstra will be the starting goalie. He saw limited time in 2013. The Bulldogs have a more favorable schedule and should be able to compete with most foes. It’s not far-fetched to suggest Portland will improve on last year’s win total and keep its playoff streak alive, but it won’t be easy. If this group remains hardworking and dedicated, it will be a force to be reckoned with by June.

GIRLS’ LACROSSE

Coach: Cameron McManus (first year)

2013 record: 7-6 (Lost, 12-8, to Cony in Eastern Class A quarterfinals)

Top returning players: Hallie Allex (Senior), Laura Frank (Senior), Lizzy Landry (Senior), Erin Mahoney (Senior), Abbey O’Brien (Senior), Ella Coose (Junior), Hannah Mermin (Junior), Isabel Stehil (Sophomore)|

Pivotal games: May 6 MASSABESIC, May 13 @ Cheverus, May 17 @ Scarborough, June 3 DEERING

Coach’s comment: “I expect to see a great deal of success this season based on our players’ commitment to the sport and to each other. So far, we’ve emphasized that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and they’ve really taken that to heart. Most of the girls have played together for several years and have a great sense of camaraderie and respect for each other. We have some exceptional talent that is highlighted by selflessness, hard work and dedication to the team.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland has posted consecutive winning records for the first time and has now reached the postseason six years running. Into this era of prosperity steps new coach McManus, who served as the program’s junior varsity coach in 2012 and the varsity assistant to Kait Johnson (now at Falmouth) last spring. McManus played for a Class B state championship team at Yarmouth High School in 2006 and also played at Wheaton College, as a defensive midfielder. She inherits a squad that should be in the mix in Eastern A. Top returners include Landry, a second-team league all-star in 2013, and Stehli, who was named to the All-Rookie team. Landry will help anchor the midfield, along with Allex and Frank. Stehli and Coose will likely lead the team in scoring. Mahoney is another attacker to watch. Mermin is the top returning defender. She’ll be joined by new junior Darcy Hinck and sophomore Kate Brewer in front of O’Brien, who returns in goal. The Bulldogs have enough firepower to compete against everyone on their schedule, even the top tier teams like defending champion Cheverus, runner-up Massabesic and perennial powerhouse Scarborough. Once this group gets comfortable, look out. Another strong season will be in store.

OUTDOOR TRACK

Boys’ coach: Carroll Nappi (13th year)

Girls’ coach: Bruce Koharian (first year)

2013 results:

(Boys) 24th @ Class A state meet

(Girls) No score @ Class A state meet (17th at Southwesterns)

Top returning athletes:

(Boys) Jonathan Bobe (Junior)

(Girls) Monica Reno (Senior), Madison Bolduc (Junior), Kelby Violette (Junior)

Top foes: Cheverus, Scarborough, TA boys; Bonny Eagle, Scarborough, TA girls

Coach Nappi’s comment: “We’ve got 23 boys. A bunch of freshmen are giving track a shot. Hopefully I can retain the younger kids. It’s going to be interesting. I want to see if we can get Jonathan to the big meets.”

Coach Koharian’s comment: “We have some dedicated girls who are working hard. Most ran indoor track and at this point, I feel we have the potential to score. We want the girls to have a positive experience with the sport this season. I’m very impressed with the dedication and positive attitudes.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland has new faces and a lot of excitement this spring.

The boys’ team returns Bobe, who scored last year at states, coming in seventh in the 400. He hopes to be a real factor in the 400 as well as the 200 in the weeks to come. Several newcomers are on the roster and numbers are up, so that bodes well going forward. If a few athletes step up, the Bulldogs will be competitive in the league. By the time the big meets roll around, they might be able to produce a few top finishers.

On the girls’ side, Koharian, who has coached since 1979, takes over the program with help from his daughter, Liz, a former Portland High captain and coach. While the Bulldogs didn’t score last year at states, they do return Bolduc, Reno and Violette, who expect to make their presence felt. Keep your eye on newcomers Ellianna Booth and Lilly Thorn, who could soon be top contenders. Portland will look to improve as the season progresses and hopes to be a threat by the postseason.

BOYS’ TENNIS

Coach: James Siegel (first year)

2013 record: 9-4 (Lost, 4-1, to Thornton Academy in Western Class A quarterfinals)

Top returning players: Alex Abreu (Senior), Curran Clere (Senior), Chris Eye (Senior)

Pivotal matches: May 2 @ Deering, May 7 @ Scarborough, May 14 @ Cheverus, May 21 SOUTH PORTLAND

Coach’s comment: “I’m hoping for no injuries and for the players to play with confidence in their abilities.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland’s now been in the playoffs two years in a row and really exceeded expectations last spring. This season, the Bulldogs welcome Siegel, a former player and coach, as the new head man. He welcomes back league all-stars Abreu and Eye, who made the team as doubles players in 2013, but might play singles this time around. Clere and freshman Peter Gribizis are also in the mix as top players to watch. The Bulldogs expect to be competitive, win more matches than they lose and return to the playoffs where they might be primed for an even deeper run this time around.

GIRLS’ TENNIS

Coach: Bonnie Moran (seventh year, 74-15 overall record)

2013 record: 15-1 (Lost, 3-2, to Brunswick in Class A Final)

Top returning players: Margaret Adham (Senior), Kayla Berg (Senior), Annette Denekas (Senior), Meghan Suslovic (Senior), Margot Andreasen (Junior), Georgia Drew (Junior), Halie Repeta (Junior), Alyssa Vaccaro (Junior)

Pivotal matches: May 2 DEERING, May 7 SCARBOROUGH, May 14 CHEVERUS

Coach’s comment: “We expect to be very competitive again this year. As always, we’re working on technique, strategy and handling the mental and emotional ups and downs inherent in the sport. We’re focusing a lot more energy on conditioning this year to help prevent injuries and outlast our opponents.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Moran has built Portland into a perennial powerhouse (over the past five seasons, the Bulldogs have played in the state final twice and made the regional final on two other occasions). She came oh-so-close to cementing her legacy with a first championship last spring, only to see the Bulldogs fall agonizingly short in the state match. This time around, Portland appears to be the favorite in the conference but come playoff time, the Bulldogs will have to deal with the seemingly invincible Falmouth juggernaut (which has won 93 matches in a row and the past six Class B championship). Before Portland can think about June, however, it does have business to take of and its well equipped to do. While the loss of league all-star Sophie Hulbert will hurt, two standout singles players are back and at press time, Denekas, Portland’s reigning Spring Female Athlete of the Year, and Andreasen, are so close that Moran wasn’t sure who would be first and who would play second singles. The number three spot also wasn’t clear. Adham, Berg, Drew, Repeta (who is fighting her way back from injury), Suslovic and Vaccaro are all in the mix for that position and to make up the two doubles teams. Juniors Anna Houanche, Miranda Richman and Lucy Wanzer, along with sophomore Maggie Denekas, are other players to keep an eye on. They’re all good enough to play for other teams, but might struggle finding a spot on the varsity ladder. The Bulldogs’ goal is simple this season, finish the job. Portland should be able to hold its own against everyone on its regular season schedule. The Bulldogs really hope they’re at their best by the playoffs. If they go up against Falmouth, they’d be the underdog and who knows? This group is hungry to finish what last year’s team started.

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

Senior Evan Gallant returns to help Portland’s baseball team make a run at June glory.

Senior Travis Godbout, fresh off helping the Portland boys’ basketball team win a state title, will look to lead the baseball squad to greatness as well.

Junior catcher Ryan Ruhlin’s myriad skills will help the Bulldogs on offense and defense.

Senior Anthony Green is a top returning defender for Portland’s boys’ lacrosse team.

Senior Luigi Grimaldi will help pace the Portland offense this season.

Junior Ella Coose will be a top scoring threat for Portland’s talented girls’ lacrosse team this season.

Sophomore Isabel Stehli made the All-Rookie team as a freshman and could be even better this spring.

Senior Laura Frank is another key returner for the Bulldogs.

Sidebar Elements


Senior Annette Denekas and her teammates came oh-so-close to a first ever state title last spring. The Bulldogs will be a powerhouse again this season.

File photos.

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