Portland Bulldogs Spring Sports Preview

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

Portland’s girls’ lacrosse team enjoyed its finest season ever a year ago, celebrating victories all the way up to the regional final. This spring, with a new coach and several new players, the Bulldogs are hoping for another deep run.

File photos.

More photos below.

BASEBALL

Coach: Mike Rutherford (second year)

2015 record: 14-5 (Lost, 2-1, to South Portland in Western A Final)

Top returning players: Charlie Barnard (Senior), George Chaison-Lapine (Senior), Zach Fortin (Senior), Joe Fusco (Senior), Dan Marzilli (Senior), Jack Nichols (Senior), John Williams (Senior), Nick Archambault (Junior), Jake Knop (Junior), Dom Tocci (Junior)

Pivotal games: April 26 WESTBROOK, April 28 GORHAM, May 3 @ Windham, May 10 MARSHWOOD, May 12 @ Cheverus, May 17 @ Thornton Academy, May 19 DEERING, May 21 SOUTH PORTLAND, May 28 @ Gorham, May 30 @ Scarborough

Coach’s comment: “We have a veteran team, which is different from last year. We return eight starters and two pitchers. The kids know what to expect. No one expected us to be six inches from the state championship game last year, but this year, we’ll have a bulls-eye on our chest. We’ll score runs. Offense won’t be a problem. We were the best defensive team last year and our whole defense, minus our catcher, is back. We have to find a catcher and a number three pitcher. We want to get to the point where Portland was for like 30 years, where we’re a favorite every year. It should be fun.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: If a team ever had fun, it was the 2015 edition of the Bulldogs. In the wake of virtually no expectations, Portland stunned the local baseball world by finishing first in Western A, then going on a spirited playoff run, rallying to beat rival Deering in the quarterfinals, then erupting late again to beat Falmouth in the semifinals. The Bulldogs almost came from behind once more in the regional final against South Portland, but a potential game-winning line drive was caught and the season came to an end. For their efforts, however, Ryan Ruhlin was named Portland’s Spring Male Athlete of the Year and Rutherford, in the first year of his second stint with the program, was selected Coach of the Year. While Ruhlin has departed, just about everyone else is back and this spring, the Bulldogs seek to finish the job.

Marzilli, a crafty lefthander, went 4-1 with a 2.17 earned run average in 2015. He and Barnard (4-0, 1.68 ERA) will anchor the pitching staff. Both were second-team league all-stars a year ago. While last year’s team featured Ruhlin coming in in relief to slam the door, the pitchers this spring will need to go deeper into games. Ruhlin’s absence will also be felt behind the plate, as he was also the catcher last spring. This season, junior Dylan Wike and sophomore Cam King are battling for the critical spot.

The offense will be potent. Williams, the first baseman, didn’t just lead the team in hitting in 2015 with a .438 average, he also displayed blazing speed, going 19-for-19 in stolen base attempts and was named a first-team SMAA all-star. Chaison-Lapine is coming off a .342 campaign. Knop, the defensive wizard at shortstop, looks to build on his .281 average. He made the All-Defensive team a year ago and Rutherford calls him the best defensive player in the league. Centerfielder Archambault (six steals last season), designated hitter Fusco and second baseman Tocci also wield potentially potent bats. Nichols is the other infielder. Archambault and Chaisson-Lapine are joined in the outfield by Fortin. This is a solid team all around.

Portland won’t rest on last year’s laurels. The Bulldogs have arguably the best offense and defense in a balanced league. The only question is who will pick up the pitching slack after Barnard and Marzilli. If some other arms develop, Portland will likely find itself in a similar position to last year and this time around, the Bulldogs might just get to states for the first time in a decade and win it all for the first time since 1998.

SOFTBALL

Coach: Robbie Ferrante (second year)

2015 record: 4-12 (no postseason)

Top returning players: Isabelle DiMillo (Senior), Morgan Boyle (Junior), Taylor Crosby (Junior)

Pivotal games: April 22 @ Sanford, April 25 CHEVERUS, April 29 @ McAuley, May 2 THORNTON ACADEMY, May 4 SCARBOROUGH, May 6 @ South Portland, May 11 @ Deering, May 18 BIDDEFORD, May 20 DEERING

Coach’s comment: “We have a lot of returning players with another year of experience. Our pitching should be better this year. We just have to gain some confidence. I hope to get into the playoffs. It’s been a few years.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland last qualified for the postseason in 2008, but there are signs that the Bulldogs could be improved this spring.

For starters, Portland has depth on the mound. DiMillo returns and is joined by junior Sydney Gilbert and sophomore Jessica Brown, who could see the majority of innings. Boyle, an honorable mention all-star in 2015 after hitting .386, will play shortstop and will be a top hitter. Crosby, the second baseman, is another threat in the batter’s box. Senior Gianna Gaudet, who didn’t play as a junior, returns to softball and will serve as the catcher.

While the Bulldogs aren’t yet at the elite level in a brutally tough region, there are a lot of winnable games on the slate. If this group can steadily improve and gain some confidence, they could make a run at a winning record and that would position them to awaken the echoes and get back to the playoffs.

BOYS’ LACROSSE

Coach: Mike DiFusco (fourth year, 15-24 overall record)

2015 record: 6-7 (Lost, 8-7, in OT, to Lewiston in Eastern A quarterfinals)

Top returning players: Charlie Kovarik (Senior), Drake McGhie (Senior), Robert Nolan (Senior), Wes Bryan (Junior)

Pivotal games: April 26 @ Windham, May 3 @ Deering, May 6 SCARBOROUGH, May 12 THORNTON ACADEMY, May 24 @ South Portland, May 27 @ Cheverus

Coach’s comment: “It’s a whole new crop of kids. We lost our whole defense. Our go-to guy will be the open guy. We’ll focus on executing our game plan every game. We want to get back to the playoffs. Our goal is to keep improving every day and by season’s end have a competitive and hardworking team.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Last spring, Portland fell just short of its first playoff victory since 2011. This season, the Bulldogs will be one of several teams in the hunt for Class A North supremacy.

McGhie will take faceoffs and joins Kovarik as a top midfielder. Bryan and Nolan are on attack. Portland will look to several different players to fill the net. Defensively, the Bulldogs have to rely on a pair of newcomers, seniors Ryan Caiazzo and Ben Legere in front of new sophomore goalie Aaron Hoekstra. Several other players will have a chance to make a name for themselves as the regular season progresses. Friday, Portland got off to a promising start with a 16-5 home win over Marshwood, as Bryan scored five times and Kovarik and McGhie had three goals apiece.

Portland has a storied tradition and is trying to get back to the upper echelon. While that might still be in the future, the Bulldogs have the looks of a playoff team. One that might just stick around awhile.

GIRLS’ LACROSSE

Coach: Gina Campbell (first year)

2015 record: 9-6 (Lost, 11-8, to Messalonskee in Eastern A Final)

Top returning players: Merritt Ryan (Senior), Isabel Stehli (Senior), Grace Cox (Junior), Sophia Leavitt (Junior), Ellie Zukowski (Junior)

Pivotal games: April 28 @ Scarborough, May 3 MASSABESIC, May 10 @ Cheverus, May 12 SOUTH PORTLAND, May 23 @ Thornton Academy, May 31 DEERING

Coach’s comment: “We graduated a lot of talent. I’m really excited to see the talented underclassmen, who have been waiting for their chance to shine, really step up and make an impact on both ends of the field. We have more experience on attack and in the midfield, so I’m really looking for some leaders to step up on defense. We’re young and it’s safe to say we’re rebuilding, but we’re rebuilding with some raw talent and a great group of girls. I think the most significant thing for us is finally getting the monkey off our back with winning in the playoffs. The stretch of barely making it in the tournament and losing in the first round was maddening for the girls and last year showed them that they have the ability to get there, compete with the top teams and even be considered a top team themselves. The bar has been set and this group won’t be satisfied with minimal success and just making it in.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland lived a fairy tale a year ago, enjoying the finest run in program history. First, the Bulldogs survived Cheverus in a four-overtime marathon in the quarterfinals, then they rallied to outlast Mt. Ararat, in overtime, naturally, to reach the regional final for the first time. Portland fell short against Messalonskee, but the program truly arrived and Cam McManus was named Coach of the Year for her efforts. McManus has moved on and has been replaced by Campbell, who assisted with the Bulldogs for three seasons. Campbell has quite the pedigree, playing for Falmouth High School and at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island. Campbell, who also previously coached for the erstwhile Maine Premier Lacrosse program and with the MAINEiax club team. She inherits a squad that lost some key players, but expects to compete again.

Ryan will pace the offense. She eclipsed the 100-goal mark during the playoffs last spring and made the all-conference first-team. She’ll also take draws. Stehli is another scorer to watch. She came up huge often last year, most memorably in the playoff win at Mt. Ararat. Look for her to score plenty of goals and set up teammates on a regular basis. Cox (who will take draws at times) and Leavitt, along with newcomers Morgan Kierstead, Abby Krieckhaus and Caitriona Moran, will also be heard from on the offensive end. Defensively, all-star Hannah Mermin graduated, but Zukowski is back to anchor that group. Junior Jenni Nguyen and sophomore Georgia Stoddard provide depth. The big question mark at the season’s onset comes in goal, where honorable mention all-star Liz Victor, who made countless huge saves in the postseason, needs to be replaced. Krieckhaus and freshman Madelyn Danse were vying for that position at press time.

Portland will have several players who need playing time to gain confidence. Luckily for the Bulldogs, a few key veterans can carry the team through the early going. The schedule is challenging and Portland can no longer sneak up on anyone. This group has become accustomed to winning, however, and won’t be content just getting back to the playoffs. After last  year’s magical ride, Portland is looking to once again be one of the last teams standing. Don’t bet against this promising bunch.

OUTDOOR TRACK

Boys’ Coach: Carroll Nappi (15th year, one state championship)

Girls’ Coach: Bill LeRoy (second year)

2015 results:

(Boys) Tie-21st @ Class A state meet
(Girls) Tie-24th @ Class A state meet

Top returning athletes:

(Boys) Ryan Donaldson (Senior), Alex Frank (Junior)

(Girls) Chessa Hoekstra (Senior), Ellianna Boothe (Junior), Maggie Hosmer (Junior)

Coach Nappi’s comment: “I know that there’s a ton of talent in the school, but we only have 16 kids out. Just two seniors. It’s discouraging. We do have eight freshmen, so as long as the kids have the enthusiasm to run, we’ll get them used to the meets.”

Coach LeRoy’s comment: “Our numbers are a little bigger than last year. We have a solid group of freshmen. I’m really encouraged by their numbers. Chessa, Ellianna and Maggie will do well at the bigger meets. Our number one goal is to rebuild the program to where we can compete in the league. That’s going to take some time. We’ll see how the season goes.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Both Portland outdoor track teams are battling small numbers, but both feature promise.

The boys’ team graduated Jonathan Bobe, its lone scorer from a year ago. Donaldson will look to score in the hurdles and Frank will compete in the sprints. Freshman Cameron Conley is an up-and-coming jumper and sprinter. The Bulldogs will do their best to develop some talent and prepare for future success.

On the girls’ side, last year’s lone state meet scorer, jumper Madison Bolduc, has graduated, but the squad returns Hoekstra, who will sprint, and middle-distance runners Boothe and Hosmer. LeRoy believes that several freshmen will quickly make a mark as well. Portland could be a factor in the weeks to come.

BOYS’ TENNIS

Coach: James Siegel (third year)

2015 record: 9-5 (Lost, 3-2, to Thornton Academy in Western A semifinals)

Top returning players: Peter Barry (Junior), Peter Gribizis (Junior), Quinn Clarke (Sophomore)

Pivotal matches: April 25 @ Scarborough, April 29 @ South Portland, May 4 WINDHAM, May 9 @ Cheverus, May 18 @ Deering, May 20 THORNTON ACADEMY

Coach’s comment: “We lost our number one and number four to college and have no varsity seniors or freshmen this year. We hope to improve on last year.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: A year ago, Portland posted a winning record for the fourth season in a row. While some key players graduated, the Bulldogs are starting 2016 in a position of strength, as Siegel and new assistant Bob Lansing, a math teacher at Portland High, have some talent to work with.

Barry was a second-team league all-star in 2015 and at press time, was battling Gribizis for the top singles spot. Clarke, who played doubles as a freshman, is projected to move into the third singles position. If some untested players can help fill the doubles spots, the Bulldogs will be that much stronger.

Portland will be competitive with everyone and could make a run at another winning mark. Another trip to playoffs appears likely and it wouldn’t be a big surprise if the Bulldogs make some noise once they get there.

GIRLS’ TENNIS

Coach: Bonnie Moran (ninth year)

2015 record: 12-2 (Lost, 5-0, to eventual champion Falmouth in Western A semifinals)

Top returning players: Nellie Block (Senior), Maggie Denekas (Senior), Robyn Ritchie (Senior)

Pivotal matches: April 25 SCARBOROUGH, May 4 @ Windham, May 9 CHEVERUS, May 13 MCAULEY, May 18 DEERING

Coach’s comment: “We took a big hit at graduation last year, losing our top six players, so this will definitely be a building year for us. We’re very encouraged, however, by the enthusiasm of our returning players and their desire to move up, as well as a large group of incoming freshmen and other new players who are athletic and show a real affinity for our sport. They are all very coachable and are making quick progress. More important, they have a great attitude and are a fun group. We’ll be back in the mix in no time.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland has been among the state’s best programs the past eight years, reaching the regional final twice and the state match on two other occasions. Graduation has taken its toll, however, and this year’s squad has some holes to fill. Reigning Spring Female Athlete of the Year Margot Andreasen (now playing at Endicott College) is the latest key departure, but there are reasons to believe that the Bulldogs will remain in contention.

For starters, Moran is still at the helm. Last spring’s 4-1 win over Gorham in the quarterfinals was her 100th match victory with the program. Denekas will play singles. After that, the ladder has yet to be determined. Block and Ritchie have experience and freshman Lauren Paradise looks to step in and make an immediate impact. After that, some untested girls will have their chance to make a name for themselves.

Portland has posted double digit victories in seven of the past eight seasons. Doing so this year might be a stretch, but don’t bet against Moran and her players. If opposing teams want to beat the Bulldogs, this might be the year to do so. It’s unlikely they’ll be vulnerable for long.

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

Left-handed ace Dan Marzilli hopes to cap his high school career by leading Portland’s baseball team one game farther than it went a year ago, all the way to the state final.

Charlie Barnard is another top pitcher for the Bulldogs.

Junior shortstop Jake Knop is a wizard with the glove.

Junior Nick Archambault’s aggressiveness makes good things happen on the basepaths and in the outfield.

Look for Joe Fusco to be one of Portland’s leading hitters this spring.

Junior second baseman Dom Tocci is another hitter to watch.

Senior John Williams usually finds himself in the middle of the action.

Junior Sydney Gilbert is an experienced pitcher for a Portland softball team seeking to end a long playoff drought.

Senior Charlie Kovarik will be a team leader and likely a top scorer for a Bulldogs boys’ lacrosse squad that is eyeing the playoffs.

Senior Drake MacGhie is another key returner.

Senior Merritt Ryan has been a scoring machine for the Portland girls’ lacrosse team. She enters the season with 103 career goals.

Junior Grace Cox will be a factor for the Bulldogs on draws and in the scoring column.

Senior Isabel Stehli scored some big goals last season and will look to cap her career in style.

0
Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.