Portland edition Spring Coaches of the Year

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Boys’ team:

Mike Rutherford, Portland baseball

You can indeed go home again.

And Portland’s baseball program is mighty glad that Mike Rutherford returned to Hadlock Field this spring.

Rutherford inherited a promising, but raw Bulldogs squad this season and by June, Portland was turning heads thanks to its ability to win games by any means necessary. The Bulldogs got to within inches of an improbable state final appearance and for his work in restoring Portland to greatness much faster than anticipated, Mike Rutherford gets The Forecaster’s nod as our Portland edition Spring Coach of the Year, of a boys’ team.

Rutherford is a Bulldog through and through. He graduated Portland High in 1983 as a baseball standout and a state champion and Fitzpatrick Trophy winner in football. Rutherford played baseball at the University of Southern Maine and coached the Bulldogs for the first time between 1995 and 2006, winning 192 games and leading Portland to the 1998 Class A championship. Rutherford spent four years coaching at Westbrook, then made a triumphant return to Portland this spring.

The Bulldogs returned only one player, senior Ryan Ruhlin, with any experience to speak of, so expectations weren’t high, but Portland announced it was going to be a force to be reckoned with when it went to preseason favorite Marshwood and sprung an upset in the opener. Portland won its first three games, six of its first seven and eight of its first 10, but back-to-back losses made it appear that the Bulldogs were going to fade.

Guess again.

Portland closed on a four-game win streak and unexpectedly snared the top seed for the Western Class A playoffs as a result and then the fun truly began.

In the quarterfinals, the Bulldogs rallied from three runs down to stun Deering. In the semifinals, Portland pushed across four runs in its final at-bat to oust Falmouth. Then, in the regional final, the Bulldogs rallied late against the state’s best pitcher, South Portland southpaw Henry Curran, and appeared to have produced the game- and region-winning hit, but the line drive was caught and the fairy tale run ended with a 2-1 setback.

It was hard to view the season as anything short of a resounding success, however.

“The guys just believed,” Rutherford said. “As a coaching staff, we came into the season hoping to win a prelim and that would have been a nice season. No one believed we would be one hit from the state championship game. I give the kids all the credit. It’s the most fun I’ve had in 17 years of varsity coaching.”

Portland junior first baseman John Williams credited his coach for making the difference.

“Coach Rutherford changed the program around completely,” Williams said. “It was so different this year. We weren’t in anyone’s top 10 in the preseason and that motivated us.”

Rutherford, who also coaches Legion ball in the summer, is an assistant to Jim Hartman with the football program, referees basketball and teaches advanced placement U.S. History at Portland High. He now looks to lead the Bulldogs to their first state title in nearly two decades.

It wouldn’t be wise to bet against him. Mike Rutherford, our Portland edition boys’ team Spring Coach of the Year, showed that a return to ones roots can be a life changing and triumphant decision.

Previous winners:

2014 Steve Virgilio (Cheverus track)

2013 Jeff Madore (Waynflete tennis)

2012 Deke Andrew (Cheverus lacrosse)

2011 Mac McKew (Cheverus baseball)

2010 Steve Kautz (Waynflete baseball)

2009 Eric Begonia (Portland lacrosse)

2008 Mike D’Andrea (Deering baseball)

2007 Mike D’Andrea (Deering baseball)

2006 Stephane Pejic (Waynflete tennis)

2005 Eric Begonia (Portland lacrosse)

2004 Mike D’Andrea (Deering baseball)

Girls’ team:

Cameron McManus, Portland lacrosse

Working overtime can pay some mighty big dividends.

It sure did this spring for the Portland girls’ lacrosse team.

The Bulldogs, who started the season 2-4, were an afterthought in the minds of many entering the playoffs, then, thanks to a pair of marathon victories, went somewhere no team in program history had ever gone, to the regional final.

Second-year coach Cameron McManus deserves much of the credit for Portland’s arrival as a power. During the course of a challenging season, she put the right pieces in place and with the pressure at its highest, got her girls to believe that they were deserving of greatness.

As a result, Cameron McManus is deserving of The Forecaster’s mention as our Portland edition Spring Coach of the Year, of a girls’ team.

McManus was part of a state championship team at Yarmouth High, then played lacrosse at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. She served as Portland’s junior varsity coach in 2012 and a varsity assistant in 2013, then took over the varsity program in 2014, helping the Bulldogs to the playoffs, where they lost to Cony.

This spring, McManus and her charges were hoping to enjoy a deep playoff run, but when they were 2-4 at the midway point, qualifying for the postseason wasn’t a certainty. Portland would go 5-1 down the stretch, however, to not only post a 7-5 record, but earn the No. 3 seed for the playoffs.

Even winning seven games was quite an achievement since the Bulldogs didn’t have a homefield. With Fitzpatrick Stadium’s turf being replaced, Portland had to practice and play home games at Deering. The team never let its nomad status become an obstacle and even earned a home playoff contest.

That quarterfinal, against two-time defending Eastern A champion Cheverus, would prove to be a game for the ages. One that went on and on and on before the Bulldogs prevailed in the fourth overtime, the first quarterfinal round playoff victory in program history.

Portland wasn’t finished.

In the semifinals, at Mt. Ararat, the Bulldogs were down four goals early in the second half and appeared on the ropes, but they roared back to force overtime before winning in OT, punching their ticket to the regional final for the first time.

While midnight finally struck in that round, against Messalonskee, Portland had stolen hearts and put the program on the map for good.

“We accomplished more than anyone expected and more than even we thought was possible,” McManus said. “It was unreal.”

It was also thrilling to behold. The Bulldogs never said die and excelled in the clutch and much of the credit for the best season in program history has to go to Cameron McManus, our Portland edition girls’ team Spring Coach of the Year.

Previous winners:

2014 Maureen Curran (Cheverus softball)

2013 Jamie Chamberlain (Cheverus lacrosse)

2012 Cathie Connors (Waynflete lacrosse)

2011 Linda Cohen (Waynflete tennis)

2010 Robby Ferrante (McAuley softball)

2009 Bonnie Moran (Portland tennis)

2008 Cathie Connors (Waynflete lacrosse)

2007 Jamie Chamberlain (Cheverus lacrosse)

2006 Jamie Chamberlain (Cheverus lacrosse)

2005 Rick Supinski (Cheverus softball)

2004 Cathie Connors (Waynflete lacrosse)

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

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