Portland caps challenging week by holding off SP

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Portland junior pitcher Sydney Gilbert throws a strike to South Portland senior Stephanie Aceto to begin Thursday’s contest. The Bulldogs went on to a 4-0 victory.

More photos below.


Portland 4 South Portland 0

SP- 000 000 0- 0 4 2
P- 001 003 x- 4 9 2

Bottom 3rd
Crosby reached on infield single, Gilbert scored.

Bottom 6th
Brown scored on error. Watson singled to right, Rosmus and Ives scored. 

Repeat hitter:
P- Brown 3

P- Brown, Gilbert, Ives, Rosmus

P- Watson 2, Crosby 

P- Brown

Stolen bases:
SP- Luce, Rende
P- Brown, Rosmus

Left on base:
P- 5

S. Aceto and A. Aceto; Gilbert, Brown (5) and Legere

S. Aceto (L 1-6) 6 IP 9 H 4 R 1 ER 0 BB 4 K

* Gilbert (W, 3-0) 4+ IP 4 H 0 R 1 BB 3 K 
Brown (Save, 1) 3 IP 0 H 0 R 0 BB 7 K

* Gilbert pitched to two batters in the 5th. 

Time: 1:33

PORTLAND—Portland’s softball team entered the week not completely sure of its identity.

Four days later, the Bulldogs have confirmed what they suspected all along.

They’re pretty darn good.

Thursday afternoon at Payson Park, Portland, three days removed from a historic win at Thornton Academy and 24 hours removed from playing perennial powerhouse Scarborough close for half the game, hosted South Portland, a team that even if its record hasn’t shown it, is dangerous and on the rise.

And the Bulldogs would be pushed from start to finish, but befitting a team now firmly established as a top contender, they found a way to notch another victory.

After Portland junior starter Sydney Gilbert and South Portland senior Stephanie Aceto matched goose-eggs for a couple innings, the Bulldogs took the lead in the bottom of the third, as Gilbert, junior leftfielder Jess Brown and senior second baseman Taylor Crosby all singled to produce a 1-0 lead.

After Gilbert escaped a second-and-third jam in the fourth, the Red Riots put the first two batters on base in the fifth and Gilbert was replaced by Brown, who produced a marvelous relief effort.

With the potential tying and go-ahead runs on base, Brown struck out three straight batters, capped by catching slugging senior first baseman Kaitlin Bouchard looking, to end the threat.

Portland then opened it up in the bottom of the sixth, as Brown led off with a triple and scored on an error and with two on and two out, freshman first baseman Callie Watson came through with a clutch single to score two runs.

Brown closed it out in quick order in the seventh and the Bulldogs went on to a 4-0 victory.

Gilbert earned the win, Brown got the save and Brown also produced three hits as Portland improved to 6-1 and dropped South Portland to 1-6 in the process.

“We knew it would be a hard week and we’d have to play our best,” Brown said. “We wanted to get two wins out of the week and we did. We hope it keeps going the way it’s going.”

Different directions

For the better part of a decade, South Portland was ascendant and Portland struggled and the teams’ head-to-head results reflected that (see sidebar, below).

From 2006 through 2015, the Red Riots won all 10 meetings by an average score of 10-2. 

Everything changed last year, however, as the Bulldogs awakened the echoes, returned to prominence and in a result that went a long way toward propelling Portland to the playoffs, it won at South Portland, 10-4, for its first win over the Red Riots since 2005.

This season, the Bulldogs are off to a fast start, while the Red Riots have been competitive, but have found wins hard to come by.

Portland started with an 8-1 home win over Sanford, then rolled at Cheverus/North Yarmouth Academy, 19-4, in five innings. After beating visiting Westbrook, 5-1, the Bulldogs outlasted visiting Maine Girls’ Academy/Falmouth (12-8) and won at Thornton Academy Monday for the first time since 2008, 9-1. Wednesday, Portland hung tough for three innings at powerhouse Scarborough, bur ultimately lost in a playoff rematch, 9-0.

South Portland opened with a 2-1, nine-inning loss at Noble, then fell at home to Marshwood (8-6) and Biddeford (8-5), at Windham in a playoff rematch (11-5) and at Scarborough (11-0). Wednesday, the Red Riots got in the win column with a 10-1 home victory over Bonny Eagle.

Thursday’s game was scheduled to be played Friday night, but was moved up due to the threat of bad weather.

The skies were clear for this one, although it was chilly (54 degrees, with an 11 mile per hour wind), and Portland did just enough to hold off a South Portland team which gave it fits.

Gilbert started the game by getting Aceto to ground to second and sophomore shortstop Kaylee Whitten to fly out to right. Sophomore third baseman Grace Rende followed with a single to center and stole second, but Bouchard grounded out to Crosby at second, who made a nice play going to her right, before throwing to first to retire the side.

In the bottom half, Aceto got senior shortstop Morgan Boyle to sky to left and Gilbert to bounce out to short, but Brown singled into the hole between short and third. Crosby then ended the inning by grounding out to third.

The Red Riots put a couple runners on in the second, but couldn’t score, thanks to a terrific defensive play.

Freshman catcher Ashlee Aceto struck out swinging to start the frame and junior centerfielder Maeve Kelley flew out to right, but sophomore second baseman Cortney Luce reached on an error and sophomore designated hitter Aliyah Palmer singled off Watson’s glove to put runners at the corners. Then, on a 3-2 pitch, freshman leftfielder Aviyonna Kim ripped a shot to center that appeared ticketed for the grass and the lead, but junior centerfielder Kit Rosmus raced in and stabbed the ball just inches off the ground to retire the side.

The old adage suggests that a player who makes a tremendous defensive play always leads off the next inning and that was the case as Rosmus started the bottom half, but she popped out foul to Ashlee Aceto. After freshman catcher Elaina Legere singled to left-center and was replaced by sophomore courtesy runner Olivia Ives, sophomore third baseman Grace Stacey struck out and Watson’s line drive was caught by Luce at second.

Gilbert had her easiest frame in the top of the third, getting Stephanie Aceto to ground out to second, Whitten to fly to senior rightfielder Annie Twombly, who made a nice running catch, and Rende to chase strike three.

Portland then took the lead behind some two-out magic in the bottom half.

Twombly led off by grounding out to short and Boyle hit a little foul pop behind third which Rende caught nicely on the run.  Gilbert then singled to right and Brown did the same with Gilbert moving to third. Crosby then grounded to the left of Rende and when she couldn’t come up with the ball, Gilbert came home for a 1-0 lead. Rosmus could have opened it up further, but she flew out to center.

Gilbert had to work out of a jam in the fourth.

Bouchard led off by ripping a single to center on a 3-1 pitch and after she was replaced by freshman courtesy runner Shaelyn Kierstead, Ashlee Aceto’s ground ball got past Boyle for an error to seemingly put runners at first and second, but Kierstead wasn’t able to stay on the second base bag and Rosmus’ throw to Crosby resulted in a critical first out. That loomed large, as Kelley walked on a full count pitch. Luce then grounded to second, where Crosby threw to Boyle for the force out, but Luce barely beat out the throw to first to keep the inning alive. That set the stage for Palmer, who looked at strike three to end the threat.

Aceto set the Bulldogs down 1-2-3 in the bottom half, getting Legere to pop out foul to Ashlee Aceto, Stacey to stare at strike three and Watson to ground back to the mound.

South Portland had a great chance to rally in the top of the fifth before Brown came out of the bullpen to extinguish the fire.

Gilbert hit Kim on the first pitch of the inning, then Stephanie Aceto blooped a single to left to put runners at first and second.

Portland coach Robbie Ferrante then pulled Gilbert for Brown, who already threw two games this week, but Brown showed no signs of fatigue, getting Whitten (who couldn’t manage to lay down a sacrifice bunt) to chase strike three, Rende to do the same and after falling behind 3-1 to the dangerous Bouchard, battling back to catch her looking at strike three to maintain the lead.

“With ‘Bouch,’ I didn’t want to give her anything good,” Brown said. “She’s a very good hitter. At the end, I knew I had a good outfield and I wanted to see if she could hit it and it happened to be the one she wasn’t looking for.

“I’ve had one day off this week. Syd and I, no matter who starts, we’re both always ready. Every game, I’m ready to throw. That’s why we have two pitchers. I just threw the same way I normally do. I didn’t experiment as much. I just wanted to get out of that inning. I wanted a strikeout or ground ball, nothing out of the infield. I felt more comfortable with runners at first and second than second and third.”

“It was their third time around the order and it was only a 1-0 game,” said Ferrante. “Jess threw pretty good yesterday and she warmed up today and said she felt pretty good. When the two runners got on, I thought I’d go to her and she struck out the side. She can make me look like a genius. That took a lot of momentum away from them.”

Aceto struck out Twombly to start the bottom of the fifth and after Boyle singled to left, Ashlee Aceto gunned her down trying to steal second. Gilbert then lined to second to end the inning.

Brown remained dominant in the top of the sixth, striking out Ashlee Aceto and Kelley swinging and getting Luce to ground out to short.

Portland then finally got some breathing room in the bottom half.

Brown led off by lining the ball the other way down the rightfield line and she didn’t stop until she reached third base with a triple.

“I knew I could hit (Aceto),” Brown said. “I just had to get her timing down. I wanted to help myself.”

Aceto got Crosby to pop out foul to third, but Rosmus laid down a bunt (which appeared to hit the bat after a bounce but went uncalled) and reached safely with Brown holding at third. After Rosmus stole second, Legere hit a ground ball to Rende, but the ball went through her legs and Brown came home to make it 2-0 with the runners taking second and third.

After Legere was replaced by Ives, senior pinch-hitter Samantha Stewart struck out, leaving it up to Watson, who delivered the first big hit of her varsity career, hitting a line drive off the glove of Luce at second and into right-center to easily score Rosmus and Ives for a 4-0 lead.

“I was very nervous,” Watson said. “I was confident in myself and believed I could play like anyone else on the team. I wanted to get us more runs. I was just swinging at anything I could hit. I thought she was going to catch it. It felt good when she didn’t.”

Watson plays for the junior varsity team and has only seen limited time with the varsity prior to Thursday. It’s likely we’ll be hearing more from her at the varsity level.

“(Callie) got all of that hit,” Brown said. “It was awesome. She’ll be staying with us.” 

“(Callie’s) very capable” Ferrante said. “I said to my JV coach that I needed someone. I told him after, ‘I think you lost her.'”

Twombly bounced out to third, but the Bulldogs were in control.

Brown wasted no time closing out the victory in the seventh, getting Palmer to strike out swinging, Kim to do the same on a full count pitch and Stephanie Aceto to pop out to short to end the game in 1 hour, 33 minutes.

“We’ve been pretty lucky to score early in our other games,” Brown said. “Being 1-0 in this one made me nervous, but it was nice to get those safety runs.”

“This was a team effort today,” Ferrante said. “Everyone’s contributing.”

Gilbert and Brown combined for a shutout.

Gilbert improved to 3-0 by allowing no runs on four hits in four-plus innings, walking one, hitting a batter and striking out three.

Brown retired all nine batters she faced, not allowing a hit, run or walk and striking out seven as she earned her first save of the season.

Brown also paced the nine-hit attack with three hits, including a triple. She scored a run, as did Gilbert, Ives and Rosmus. Watson had two RBI and Crosby drove in a run. 

Brown and Rosmus had stolen bases.

The Bulldogs stranded five baserunners.

Keep an eye on the Red Riots

South Portland got steals from Luce and Rende, but left seven runners on base.

Stephanie Aceto fell to 1-6 after giving up four runs (just one earned) on nine hits in six innings. She fanned four. 

“We’re young and we’re working hard,” said Red Riots coach Alexis Garrison. “We’re in games for five, six innings, then we face reality for an inning. We had runners in scoring position in four of seven innings. Unfortunately, we couldn’t produce the bunt or hit. You have to score to win. Stephanie threw a very good game. We just don’t have the bats and hopefully that comes around. We’re competing with good teams. It was 1-0 against Scarborough until the fifth and 1-0 here until the sixth. I’m proud of the girls.”

Ferrante had plenty of praise for the Red Riots following the game.

“They’re a good 1-6,” he said. “They could be dangerous. Stephanie can beat anybody. She threw pretty good today.”

Playing through the raindrops

Both teams have a busy week scheduled and are hoping that Mother Nature doesn’t stand in the way.

South Portland hosts Thornton Academy Monday and Scarborough Wednesday, then plays at Sanford Friday.

“We have a big week next week,” Garrison said. “I hope to come out just as strong. We’ve surprised some people. Hopefully we can put everything together and it will click into a win. Some outdoor practices will do us some good. We’ll put it together when the time’s right.”

Portland is at Noble Monday, then hosts rival Deering Wednesday and Massabesic Friday.

“The kids feel good about themselves,” Ferrante said. “We’ll keep working. We have the senior leadership, which helps.” 

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

South Portland senior pitcher Stephanie Aceto throws a strike to Portland senior shortstop Morgan Boyle.

Portland junior Jess Brown came on in relief in the fifth inning and retired all nine batters she faced, seven by strikeout.

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