Portland culminates emotional day with win over SP in quarterfinals

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Portland’s baseball team celebrates one of its 14 runs during Thursday evening’s 14-4, six-inning, Class A South quarterfinal round victory over rival South Portland. The Bulldogs will face Falmouth in Saturday’s semifinals.

Chris Lambert photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Class A South quarterfinal

Portland 14 South Portland 4 (6)

SP- 200 020-4 7 1
P- 500 054- 14 12 2

* One out when winning run scored.

Top 1st
Hasson singled to left, Troiano scored. Whittemore doubled to right, Hasson scored.

Bottom 1st
Donnie Tocci walked, Stasium scored. Snyder singled to center, Dom Tocci and Knop scored. King doubled to right, Donnie Tocci and Snyder scored.

Top 5th
Johnson flew out to left, Johnston scored. Whittemore flew out to right, Troiano scored.

Bottom 5th
Dom Tocci tripled to right-center, Snyder, King and Stasium scored. Tocci scored on error. Joyce singled to right, Knop scored.

Bottom 6th
Stasium walked, Snyder scored. Dom Tocci grounded out to short, King scored. Knop singled to left, Pasquali scored. Archambault singled to left, Stasium scored.

Repeat hitters:
SP- Johnson, Troiano
P- King 3, Archambault, Snyder

Runs:
SP- Troiano 2, Hasson, Johnston
P- Snyder, Stasium 3, King, Knop, Dom Tocci 2, Pasquali, Donnie Tocci

RBI:
SP- Whittemore 2, Hasson, Johnson 
P- Dom Tocci 4, King, Snyder 2, Archambault, Joyce, Stasium, Donnie Tocci

Doubles:
SP- Johnson, Whittemore
P- King

Triples:
SP- Troiano
P- Dom. Tocci

Stolen bases:
SP- Hasson, Troiano
P- Knop, Loranger, Snyder, Dom Tocci

Left on base:
SP- 7
P- 10

Johnson, Buckley (1), Kelley (5), Owen (6) and Horton; Ruotolo, Joyce (6) and King

SP:
* Johnson (L, 3-2) 0 IP 0 H 3 R 3 ER 3 BB 0 K 
Buckley 5.2 IP 9 H 7 R 5 ER 5 BB 5 K
G. Kelley 0.1 IP 0 H 2 R 2 ER 2 BB 0 K
Owen 0.1 IP 3 H 2 R 2 ER 1 BB 0 K

* Johnson pitched to three batters in the first

P:
Ruotolo (W, 8-1) 5.2 IP 7 H 4 R 2 ER 2 BB 5 K
Joyce 0.1 IP 0 H 0 R 0 BB 1 K

Time: 2:17

PORTLAND—Portland’s baseball program tasted the gamut of emotions Thursday, as its seniors graduated from high school and a beloved former Bulldog passed away far too young, so no one knew exactly what to expect when Portland hosted rival South Portland in a Class A South quarterfinal round showdown under the lights at Hadlock Field.

Sure enough, the fourth-seeded Bulldogs started slowly, as four batters into the game, the fifth-ranked Red Riots had a 2-0 lead, behind a triple from senior centerfielder Sam Troiano, an RBI single from junior shortstop Riley Hasson, a single from junior starting pitcher Zach Johnson and a run-scoring double from senior leftfielder Gordon Whittemore.

Portland senior starter Gio Ruotolo was on the ropes, but he turned the tide by escaping the inning without allowing another run and his teammates bailed him out in the bottom half with an bigger number.

After sophomore rightfielder Donnie Tocci drove in a run with a bases loaded walk, junior third baseman Will Snyder delivered a clutch, go-ahead, two-run single and junior catcher Cam King drove in two more runs with a double for a 5-2 lead.

Back came South Portland in the top of the fifth, as Johnson and Whittemore both drove in runs with sacrifice flies, but again Portland responded with a five-spot in the bottom half.

The huge hit came off the bat of senior second baseman Dom Tocci, who cleared the bases with a two-out, three-run triple. Tocci scored on an error and senior first baseman Tom Joyce made it 10-4 with an RBI single.

After the Red Riots failed to score in the top of the sixth, the Bulldogs ended the game via the 10-run mercy rule in the bottom half, as sophomore centerfielder Ben Stasium walked with the bases loaded, Dom Tocci had an RBI groundout, senior shortstop Jake Knop produced an RBI single and senior leftfielder Nick Archambault laced another RBI single to give Portland a 14-4 victory.

The Bulldogs pounded out 12 hits, Ruotolo earned his eighth win of the season and Portland improved to 13-4, ended South Portland’s season at 13-5 and advanced to meet top-ranked Falmouth (16-1) for the third straight year in the Class A South semifinals, Saturday at 1 p.m., at Falmouth High School.

“It was a nice day,” said Archambault, one of the aforementioned graduates. “A long day, but it was exciting. We played well. We overcame some adversity. It’s always good to beat SoPo, especially in the playoffs, but to do it this way boosts our confidence going into the next game.” 

June Bridge Battle

Portland and South Portland have both made the most of their opportunities this spring and despite having holes to fill, have impressed (see sidebar, below, for links to prior game stories).

The Bulldogs started the year 2-2, then went on a 10-2 run to finish with the No. 4 seed in Class A South, which came with a bye into the quarterfinal round.

The Red Riots started 5-3 and also won 12 games, good for the fifth seed in the region. After holding off visiting Bonny Eagle, the No. 12 seed, in Wednesday’s preliminary round, 4-3, South Portland set its sights on Portland.

The Bulldogs won the regular season encounter, 5-2, at Wainwright Farms back on May 9.

Portland also held an 8-3 all-time edge in the playoffs (see sidebar, below), but the most recent encounter, the 2015 Western A Final, went to South Portland in a thriller, 2-1.

Earlier Thursday, before the team’s nine seniors graduated, it was learned that former Portland second baseman and top hitter Evan Gallant, Class of 2014, had passed away after a long battle with cancer. 

“That puts everything in perspective,” said Portland coach Mike Rutherford. “You can be mad about not being the lineup or going 0-for-4, but a 21-year-old just lost his life.” 

That meant the Bulldogs had a lot to contend with when they took the field, but they rose up and advanced.

The first inning took an eternity and while it began auspiciously, it wound up being one the Red Riots would sooner forget.

Troiano ripped the first pitch of the game to the wall in right-center for a triple. Hasson followed with a single to left for a quick 1-0 lead. 

The offense continued as Johnson singled to left and Whittemore followed with a a double to the wall in right, scoring Hasson and putting runners at second and third with no outs.

But South Portland couldn’t add to its lead.

Ruotolo settled down and got junior first baseman Jake Poole to chase strike three and sophomore catcher Caden Horton to do the same. Freshman designated hitter Anthony Perron then hit a deep fly ball to right which Donnie Tocci ran down to end the frame with Portland down just two runs, instead of four or five.

“The first four, five swings we took were possibly the best swings we’ve taken all year, but (Ruotolo) made some big pitches to keep it 2-0 and that was a big momentum swing,” lamented South Portland coach Mike Owens.

“One of the philosophies of Portland High baseball is when you have a bad inning, minimize it and stay away from the crooked number,” said Rutherford. “We were down two and they had second and third, nobody out and we played the infield back to give up maybe one more, but not two more. We got a couple big strikeouts and a fly ball. That was huge and then we came alive in the bottom half.” 

Portland got the runs right back, and then some, thanks to wildness from Johnson and some clutch two-out hits. 

Stasium drew a walk leading off and after throwing a wild pitch, Johnson walked Dom Tocci and walked Knop on a full count pitch to load the bases.

With Archambault due up, Owens didn’t waste any time and pulled Johnson for junior Connor Buckley, who appeared primed to escape the jam by getting Archambault to chase strike three and catching Joyce looking at strike three.

Buckley couldn’t retire Donnie Tocci, however, walking him to drive in a run. 

Snyder then lined a single to center to put Portland ahead to stay, as Dom Tocci and Knop (who barely slid in safely) scored for a 3-2 lead.

After a double steal moved both Donnie Tocci and Snyder up, King delivered a bloop double to score both runners for a 5-2 advantage.

“Obviously we had a slow start, but we were able to get out of it with only two runs and we picked it up when we came to bat,” Dom Tocci said. “All year, we’re never down and out. We just play our baseball. We stay loosy-goosey. We feel like if they get five runs, we’ll get six.”

Ruotolo flew out to left to end the inning, but the Bulldogs had taken control.

Ruotolo settled down in the top of the second, getting junior second baseman Noah McHugh to ground out to second and junior rightfielder Khem Johnston to strike out swinging. Donnie Tocci then made a fabulous catch deep in right, running down a sure triple (at least) off the bat of Troiano to retire the side.

In the bottom half, Buckley got Stasium to ground out to third, Dom Tocci took strike three and after Knop walked and stole second and Archambault also drew a walk, Joyce looked at strike three to end the frame.

Ruotolo worked out of a jam in the top of the third, as after Hasson grounded back to the mound, Johnson reached on a double to the wall in left-center and took third on a groundout to third by Whittemore before Poole popped out foul to Joyce wide of first for the third out.

In the bottom half, Donnie Tocci lined put to center, Snyder flew to center and after King reached on a single up the middle, Ruotolo bounced into a force out.

Ruotolo was dominant in the fourth, striking out Horton and Perron swinging and getting McHugh to line out to third.

The first two Bulldogs reached in the bottom half, but the hosts couldn’t add to their lead.

After Stasium drew a walk, Dom Tocci beat out a bunt hit, but Knop flew out to center, Archambault looked at strike three and Joyce flew out to left to keep it 5-2.

It wouldn’t stay that way for long.

Johnston led off the top of the fifth with a single off the glove of a lunging Knop and Troiano followed with a single to right. Hasson then grounded the ball to the right of second and Dom Tocci had a chance to record at least one out, if not two, but he bobbled the ball for an error and the bases were loaded.

That brought up Johnson, who hit a fly ball to left to score Johnston. After Troiano and Hasson pulled off a double steal, Whittemore flew to right, scoring Troiano to cut the deficit to one and moving Hasson, the tying run, to third base.

Poole then had a chance to tie the score and after several foul balls, on a full count pitch, he drew a walk, giving Horton a chance to play the hero, but his deep fly ball to right was caught by Donnie Tocci to allow Portland to preserve a 5-4 lead.

In the bottom half, the Bulldogs again answered with a five-spot.

Donnie Tocci grounded out to short to start the frame, but Snyder cracked a single to center and King blooped a single over Hasson’s head. After Ruotolo hit a deep fly ball to left for the second out, sophomore pinch-hitter Ben Sawyer drew a walk to load the bases (Stasium re-entered and replaced Sawyer as a base-runner).

That gave Dom Tocci hit moment in the limelight and an opportunity to atone for his error and he crushed a Buckley offering to deep right-center, over Troiano’s head, to easily score all three runners with a triple. 

“I was happy to come up with the bases loaded,” Dom Tocci said. “I don’t usually make those errors and I was down on myself, but I was able to pick myself back up. I thought Troiano had it, but it was sweet.”

“They made it 5-4 and got the momentum, then Tocci hit that triple and that’s why he got the game ball,” Rutherford said.

If Tocci’s hit wasn’t special enough, the fact that he’s a sweet-swinging left-handed batter who wears number two and plays second base for the Bulldogs, like Gallant did, made it even more poignant.

“I wear my socks the same style (as Evan),” Tocci said. “I wear number two on my back just like him. It’s a horrible thing that happened, but I know he’s going to be looking down on us the whole way.” 

Knop followed with a sharp grounder up the middle which Hasson stabbed, but his throw to first was dropped by Poole for an error, allowing Tocci to score as well.

Archambault kept the inning alive with a single to right and Joyce followed with a single to right to score Knop, making it 10-4. After Buckley was replaced by freshman Garon Kelley, sophomore pinch-runner Jacob Loranger stole second, but Donnie Tocci lined out to center to end it.

“All year, we talked about limiting those big innings and keeping the damage at one or two,” Owens said. “Connor has competed for us all year. He almost got us out of it. They limited it and when we possibly could have limited it, they put up five. They’re a very good team.”

South Portland threatened in the top of the sixth, but Ruotolo escaped.

Perron grounded out to short to start the frame, but McHugh reached on a low throw by Knop and Johnston drew a walk. Troiano, in his final high school at-bat, then grounded out to short with the runners moving up. Ruotolo was pulled in favor of Joyce, who fanned Hasson for the third out.

The Bulldogs then ended the game in walkoff fashion in the bottom half.

Snyder and King each walked to begin the frame. Owens then pulled Kelley for freshman Hunter Owen, who gave up an opposite field single to senior pinch-hitter Dylan Wike, loading the bases.

Stasium followed by drawing a walk, scoring Snyder. King came home when Dom Tocci grounded out to short and Knop singled to left to bring in junior pinch-runner Vinny Pasquali, with Stasium moving up to third.

That set the stage for Archambault, who has had a challenging, to say the least, senior year.

The football standout suffered a season-ending knee injury back in September and had to watch from the sidelines as Portland got to the Class A state final (and lost to Bonny Eagle) without him. After easing his way back into the lineup earlier this spring, Archambault has returned to his dominant self down the stretch and he seized the moment, lining an Owen pitch into left, bringing Stasium home to bring the curtain down on the 14-4 victory.

“I wasn’t aware (of the mercy rule),” Archambault said. “I got a hit and everyone came out of the dugout. I had some bad at-bats earlier, so I was just trying to put a good swing on it and I did.”

After a grueling 2 hours and 17 minutes, the Bulldogs had advanced.

“I was a little nervous,” Archambault said. “It’s playoffs, but to come back with that big first inning really reassured us we’d be alright. All three years I’ve been a starter, we feel OK being behind.”

“I think (South Portland) ran out of pitching a little bit,” Rutherford said. “I didn’t expect this. I expected a 3-2 game, but we’ll take it. The seniors, Archambault, Knop and Tocci, they’re three-year starters and they came through. These guys wanted to play baseball. Now they can go Project Grad and after a win, that’s nice.”

Ruotolo overcame a slow start to improve to 8-1 after giving up four runs (two earned) on seven hits in 5.2 innings. He walked two batters and struck out five.

“Gio’s done a great job for us all year,” Archambault said. “When we get him support, we’re extremely confident. It’s nice for him that when he makes a few mistakes we can pick him up.”

“Gio had his C-stuff against Deering,” Rutherford said. “I thought he has B-stuff today. He didn’t have A-stuff, but you have to win with B-stuff. He won’t throw a shutout, but he held them to four runs.”

Joyce struck out the only batter he faced.

Offensively, King had three hits, while Archambault and Snyder produced two apiece.

Snyder and Stasium both scored three runs, while King, Knop and Dom Tocci all touched home twice and Pasquali and Donnie Tocci scored one run apiece.

Dom Tocci had a game-high four RBI, while King and Snyder both drove in two runs and Archambault, Joyce, Stasium and Donnie Tocci had one RBI apiece.

Knop, Loranger, Snyder and Dom Tocci all stole bases.

Portland stranded 10 base runners, but it didn’t matter, as 14 others scored.

Better than anticipated

South Portland got two hits apiece from Johnson and Troiano.

Troiano had two runs scored in his swan song, while Hasson and Johnston touched home once each.

Whittemore had two RBI, while Hasson and Johnson also drove in runs.

Hasson and Troiano also stole bases.

The Red Riots left seven runners on.

Johnson only faced three batters, walked them all, and they all scored, as he took the loss and fell to 3-2.

Buckley produced a strong relief effort, going 5.2 innings, allowing seven runs (five earned) on nine hits. He walked five and struck out five.

Kelley gave up two runs on two walks in 0.1 inning and Owen also gave up two earned runs and a walk (on three hits) in his 0.1 inning of work.

“When you step back, I’m really happy with the season,” Owens said. “You don’t want it to end this way, but I had three freshmen on the field in a playoff game. We replaced 12 seniors from last year.”

Graduation takes Troiano and Whittemore from the starting lineup, but everyone else will be back.

Expect South Portland to be a factor again in 2018.

“We only lose two guys from this year’s team,” Owens said. “(Troiano) is as special as anyone I’ve every coached. We may be a year or two ahead of where I thought we were. This was a good experience. We’re not going anywhere. I’m excited about working with these guys in the future.”

Saturday showdown

Falmouth was the preseason favorite and won its first 15 games this spring to extend its regular season win streak to 33 before losing in its finale to Greely.

As the top seed, the Yachtsmen earned a bye into Thursday’s quarterfinal round where they ousted No. 8 Scarborough with surprising ease, 9-2.

The teams have played in each of the past two semifinals, with Portland taking the 2015 encounter at home, 4-0, and Falmouth returning the favor on its home diamond last June, 5-0.

The Yachtsmen will be the favorite Saturday, but don’t ever overlook the Bulldogs’ heart and determination to keep their season alive.

“It’s chapter three and we’ll see what happens,” Dom Tocci said. “We’ll be fine.”

“Everyone is proud of what we’ve done,” Archambault said. “We weren’t expected to do much. I knew we had great potential, but I didn’t know how the season would be. We’ve overachieved, but we feel like we have a legitimate chance to beat Falmouth and we’ll play like that. We respect them. I look forward to the challenge. You want to play against the best and we look forward to Saturday.”

“Donnie will have the ball,” Rutherford added. “This is a different team. We’re loosy-goosey and we really like each other. We’ll go in and battle. We won’t roll over. We look forward to it. We have at least one more game where anything can happen.”

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

Portland senior starter Gio Ruotolo goes into his delivery. Ruotolo earned his eighth victory of the season.

South Portland junior Connor Buckley pitched well in relief for the Red Riots.

Portland sophomore Donnie Tocci slides in safely at third base as South Portland junior Zach Johnson takes the throw.

Portland junior third baseman Will Snyder fields a ground ball.

South Portland senior centerfielder Sam Troiano runs down a fly ball.

Portland senior Dom Tocci crushes a three-run triple in the fifth inning to break the game open.

Portland sophomore Ben Stasium rounds third and scores on Tocci’s triple.

Previous Portland stories

Season Preview

Portland 3 Scarborough 2

Portland 3 Cheverus 1

Portland 5 Deering 3

Previous South Portland stories

Season Preview

Cheverus 4 South Portland 0

Deering 2 South Portland 1

Portland-South Portland playoff history

2015 Western A Final
South Portland 2 Portland 1

2013 Western A prelim
Portland 8 South Portland 0

2005 Western A quarterfinals
Portland 6 South Portland 5 (8)

2004 Western A semifinals
Portland 5 South Portland 4 (11)

2002 Western A division semifinals
Portland 4 South Portland 3

2001 Western A semifinals
South Portland 5 Portland 2

1995 Western A quarterfinals
Portland 7 South Portland 2

1991 Western A Final
South Portland 18 Portland 4

1987 Western A Final
Portland 7 South Portland 4

1986 Western A semifinals
Portland 8 South Portland 7

1980 Western A Final
Portland 7 South Portland 5

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