Portland Bulldogs Spring Sports Preview

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Senior Jess Brown is Maine’s reigning Gatorade softball Player of the Year. She and her Portland teammates hope to get back to the regional final this season.

File photos.

More photos below.

BASEBALL

Coach: Mike Rutherford (16th year, 231-71 overall record, one state championship)

2017 record: 13-5 (Lost, 4-3, in nine innings, to Falmouth in Class A South semifinal)

Top returning players: Cam King (Senior), Will Snyder (Senior), Ben Stasium (Junior), Donnie Tocci (Junior)

Pivotal games: April 28 @ Thornton Academy, May 5 @ Falmouth, May 8 @ Scarborough, May 15 DEERING, May 19 SOUTH PORTLAND, May 22 @ Cheverus

Coach’s comment: “We’re starting seven underclassmen, so we’ll probably be the favorite next year, but we should be a team to be reckoned with this year. Our pitching will be really good. They’ll change speeds and we’ll play good defense again. We have to replace three good hitters, but I think we’ll be one of the top teams along with Thornton Academy and South Portland.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland exceeded expectations a year ago and enjoyed yet another solid season which ended with an inspirational and agonizing extra-inning playoff setback. After some key seniors departed, the Bulldogs have some holes to fill this spring, but the expectation is that Rutherford will push the right buttons again and have Portland among the last teams standing at season’s end.

The pitching staff will be led this spring by Tocci. Junior Jackson Villani and sophomore Brian Reilly will also see key innings. King was a first-team league all-star a year ago. He’s back behind the plate and will be a top hitter as well. The infield features junior Ben Sawyer at first base, sophomore Sam Knop or junior Henry Westphal replacing Dom Tocci at second, junior Billy Bernard replacing Jake Knop at shortstop and Snyder at third. That group will again pride itself on making big plays and committing as few errors as possible. When Donnie Tocci isn’t pitching, he’ll be in rightfield. Tocci was a member of the SMAA All-Defensive team a year ago. He will be a top hitter as well. Stasium is another outfielder to watch in centerfield. He can also come through with the bat.

Portland is looking for its fourth straight trip to the semifinals or better. The Bulldogs have demonstrated under Rutherford that they can win games by any means necessary and are always a tough out in the playoffs. This squad might be one year away, but the rest of the league shouldn’t bank on that. If all goes well, Portland might just arrive this spring and take the whole thing.

SOFTBALL

Coach: Robbie Ferrante (fourth year, 30-23 overall record)

2017 record: 16-3 (Lost, 8-3, to eventual state champion Scarborough in Class A South Final)

Top returning players: Jess Brown (Senior), Sydney Gilbert (Senior), Kit Rosmus (Senior), Grace Stacey (Junior), Laini Legere (Sophomore), Callie Watson (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: April 19 GORHAM, April 21 @ MGA/Falmouth, April 27 NOBLE, May 7 @ South Portland, May 9 SCARBOROUGH, May 14 THORNTON ACADEMY, May 16 @ Biddeford, May 18 WINDHAM, May 25 DEERING

Coach’s comment: “We have a couple holes to fill, but the girls feel good about themselves. We’ll be strong up the middle again. Jess will keep us in games. We probably won’t score as many runs this year, but we’re working hard and we’ll keep building. We hope to get in the playoffs and go from there.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland’s resurgence continued in exhilarating fashion a year ago, as the Bulldogs posted their best record in 16 seasons and reached the regional final for the first time since 2004 before finally meeting their match against the eventual state champions. While graduation took all-stars and key contributors Morgan Boyle and Taylor Crosby, plenty of talent returns and Portland should again be among the teams chasing Scarborough in June.

Great pitching goes a long way and when a team can boast two strong arms, it’s chances to excel increase exponentially. The Bulldogs have that luxury again, as they not only return Brown (12-3 with a 1.29 earned run average in 2017), the reigning Gatorade Player of the Year and Portland’s Spring Female Athlete of the Year, but also bring back Gilbert, who has been very effective in her time on the hill as well.  Legere, who was an honorable mention all-star after a terrific freshman campaign a year ago, is back behind the plate. Replacing Boyle at short will be Watson, who also turned heads as a freshman and stepping in for Crosby at second base will be Gilbert, when she’s not pitching. Rosmus (a second-team all-star last season) is one of the best centerfielders around and in addition to anchoring the outfield, she’ll hit leadoff. Gilbert, Brown and Legere will also power the offense. Stacey (third base) is another veteran and team leader.

The Bulldogs are past the point where they’re happy to compete. Getting a taste of a championship game as it did last spring is addictive and Portland wants to get back. The Bulldogs will be pushed by many of their foes and like everyone else, is still chasing powerhouse Scarborough, but Portland knows to win close games and with their pitching prowess and hitting ability, the Bulldogs are ready to put on another show. Enjoy the ride.

BOYS’ LACROSSE

Coach: Mike DiFusco (sixth year, 21-42 overall record)

2017 record: 2-10 (no postseason)

Top returning players: Tristan Arcand (Senior), Joe Herboldsheimer (Senior), Aaron Hoekstra (Senior), Kevin Moore (Senior), Reilly O’Brien (Senior), Sam Shaw (Senior), Evan Bay (Junior), Nico Leavitt (Junior)

Pivotal games: April 13 WINDHAM, April 25 @ Westbrook, May 4 @ Mt. Ararat, May 25 @ Windham, May 30 WESTBROOK

Coach’s comment: “We’re really looking forward to the 2018 season. We’ve got talent and experience at every position and our senior class is motivated and hungry to lead the way. We’re going to continue to work hard and be prepared to grind it out, one game at a time. By season’s end, we’ll be a confident lacrosse team that is having fun and ready for the playoffs.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland looks to get back in the playoff hunt this spring behind an experienced squad that is hungry to return the program to glory.

O’Brien was an honorable mention league all-star last season. He’ll pace the attack. The midfield is strong behind Bay (a faceoff specialist), Arcand, Moore and Shaw. Junior Cam Clifford will also take faceoffs and provides depth. Leavitt, a longstick middie, will make life miserable for the opposition. Herboldsheimer and sophomore Ben Thompson are other defensive players to watch. Hoekstra, whose 2017 season was short-circuited by a broken collarbone, is healthy and will be a force in goal.

The Bulldogs last posted a winning record in 2011. This group has what it takes to dramatically increase last year’s victory total and not just make the playoffs, but be one of the top Class A North contenders when June rolls around.

GIRLS’ LACROSSE

Coach: Beth Broderick (second year)

2017 record: 4-9 (Lost, 14-12, to Messalonskee in Class A North quarterfinal)

Top returning players: Sarah Bryan (Senior), Charlie Green (Senior), Morgan Kierstead (Senior), Abby Krieckhaus (Senior), Catriona Moran (Senior), Georgia Stoddard (Senior), Chloe Kilbride (Junior)

Pivotal games: May 1 @ South Portland, May 7 BRUNSWICK, May 9 @ Deering, May 15 @ MGA, May 24 CHEVERUS

Coach’s comment: “I’m really excited for the season. We’re young, but with that youth comes enthusiasm. We only graduated three from last year. We’re trying to build a program. Last year, the goal was the make the playoffs and we proved a lot. I’d like to do that again this year. We want to play well against everyone.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland made nice strides a year ago and nearly sprung an epic upset in the quarterfinals before falling just short. The Bulldogs hope to build on last year’s growth and become a factor in Class A North this season.

Portland has some experienced players in key positions. Krieckhaus, a second-team all-star a year ago, is a captain and is back in goal this spring. She’ll be one of the better keepers in the region. Stoddard, an honorable mention a year ago, is a top defender, along with Bryan and Green. On offense, Kierstead, a captain, will look to put the ball in the cage, as will Kilbride and Moran. Sophomore Annika More, who made the SMAA All-Rookie team last season, sophomore Isabella More, who scored three goals in the playoff loss to Messalonskee, and sophomore Elena Clifford, who will play defense and in the midfield, add depth.

With Broderick in place for a second year, the Bulldogs are starting from a solid place this spring and they could be poised to improve on last year’s win total, earn a higher playoff seed and advance in the playoffs. Class A North appears wide open at the season’s onset and Portland is as capable of anyone of taking advantage.

OUTDOOR TRACK

Boys’ Coach: Dan Deniso (second year)

Girls’ Coach: Bill LeRoy (fourth year)

2017 results:

(Boys) No score @ Class A state meet

(Girls) No score @ Class A state meet

Top returning athletes:

(Boys) Cam Connelly (Senior), Joe Harrington (Senior), Klein Ngoga (Senior), Keller Nicolai (Senior), Nate Kapongo (Junior), Will Brewster (Sophomore)

(Girls) Ella Altidor (Senior), Jaidyn Appel (Junior), Inez Braceras (Junior), Lucy Medd (Sophomore), Noelle Walker (Sophomore)

Coach Deniso’s comment: “We have 30 participants, which is good increase from last year, and we have a really good team vibe. Everyone is working consistently each day conditioning and improving and learning new techniques and skills. It’s a great group to coach.”

Coach LeRoy’s comment: “We have good numbers, about 30 girls. We don’t have a lot of seniors. We’re heavily stocked with underclassmen, which bodes well for the future. I’m seeing signs of progress. We’ll continue to build and improve. Hopefully we’ll get to the point where we can compete with bigger schools.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland’s outdoor track program will make the most of its increased numbers this spring.

The boys will be strong in the sprints behind Connelly and Ngoga and freshmen Milo Bloom, Nate Fogg, Zach Lull, Jack Mahoney and Joe Pike. Bloom will also compete in the hurdles. In the distance races, look for Brewster and Harrington to be competitive. On the field side, Nicolai could contend in the throws. Mahoney will jump. The Bulldogs have the numbers to fill out most events and be competitive in the regular season. Portland could make some noise in the postseason as well.

On the girls’ side, the speedy Altidor returns for her final high school season and looks to score in the sprints. Braceras and Medd are top distance runners. On the field side, look for Appel and Walker to be top jumpers. Freshman Caroline Lerch, the hockey standout, is new to the team and will compete in the throws. With only Altidor departing after this season, anything the Bulldogs accomplish will be a down payment on even bigger things to come in the future. Don’t be surprised if Portland holds its own in the league season and scores some points at states.

BOYS’ TENNIS

Coach: James Siegel (fifth year)

2017 record: 12-2 (Lost, 5-0, to eventual state champion Falmouth in Class A South semifinal)

Top returning players: Quinn Clarke (Senior), Dana Hinchliffe (Senior), Jack Kovarik (Senior), Ian McCallum (Senior), Sam Mermin (Senior)

Coach’s comment: “Even though we lost our first and third singles from last year, we hope to be competitive with most of the schools in our conference. We’re still relatively deep. I expect my doubles players to be very competitive.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland has reached the semifinals three years in  row and while all-stars Peter Barry and Peter Gribizis have graduated, the Bulldogs remain one of the top squads in Class A South this season.

Clarke, Hinchiffe, McCallum and Mermin all were all-stars a year ago and return this spring. Clarke, a captain, will be in the first singles spot. Hinchliffe is primed to play second singles. Kovarik, McCallum and Mermin were battling for the third position at press time. The two who don’t make the cut will likely make up the first doubles squad. Captain John Moran, senior Reed Foehl and Italian exchange student, Nico Sacco, are also in the mix for spots.

Portland has established itself as a consistent contender. While Falmouth and Thornton Academy, schools that have combined to win the past four Class A titles, are rightly considered the favorite in the region, the Bulldogs like their chances to be right there at the end. Look for another winning mark from this group and perhaps another long playoff stay as well.

GIRLS’ TENNIS

Coach: Bonnie Moran (11th year)

2017 record: 9-5 (Lost, 5-0, to Gorham in Class A South quarterfinal)

Top returning players: Ashley Chadbourne (Senior), Leshka Jankowski (Senior), Karina Boothe (Junior), Lauren Paradise (Junior)

Coach’s comment: “We’re very excited this year. We’ve been quite young the last two years and still managed 9-5 seasons. This group has made remarkable progress and is constantly working to improve their skills and standing as a team. They’ve been together for awhile and it’s obvious to see how much they enjoy playing together and challenging each other.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland has been the model of consistency this century, as it posted its 10th straight winning record last spring and made the playoffs for the 17th consecutive season. This time around, the Bulldogs expect to be competitive again and hope to advance deeper into the postseason.

Paradise returns as the first singles player. She was a league all-star a year ago and is equipped to match up with the region’s top talents. Boothe will be in the second singles spot. Chadbourne and Jankowski were vying for the third singles spot at press time. Juniors Kate Bourque and Hannah Smith and sophomores Erin Chadbourne and Rose Watson are all in the mix for doubles positions.

Portland’s beat figures to go on this spring. The Bulldogs aren’t on the short list of Class A South favorites, but they’ll win more matches than they lose and will be primed to not just take part in the playoffs, but to stick around for awhile.

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

Junior Donnie Tocci will be a top hitter and number one pitcher for Portland’s baseball team this season.

Junior Cam King is a reigning all-star and one of the league’s best catchers.

Senior Will Snyder is steady at third base and with the bat.

Good luck slowing junior Ben Stasium when he gets a head of steam.

Senior Sydney Gilbert gives Portland’s softball team a second strong arm.

Senior Kit Rosmus has a potent bat and is a terrific centerfielder.

Junior Grace Stacey is a sparkplug at third base and with the bat.

Callie Watson made some big plays as a freshman. She’s moving to shortstop this spring.

Senior Sam Shaw hopes to lead Portland boys’ lacrosse team to the playoffs in his final high school season.

Senior Reilly O’Brien is another returning veteran for the Bulldogs.

Portland sophomore Annika More could be a top scorer this spring for Portland’s up-and-coming girls’ lacrosse team.

Senior captain Morgan Kierstead will look to pace the Portland offense.

Senior Abby Krieckhaus, an all-star in 2017, returns in goal for the Bulldogs.

Junior Inez Braceras will be a top distance runner for Portland’s girls’ outdoor track team.

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