PORTLAND—Portland’s baseball team entered Monday evening in dire need of a victory.
That, in itself, should have been motivation enough, but when you mix in Senior Night ceremonies and the team occupying the opposing dugout being none other than archrival Deering, it’s not surprising the Bulldogs put forth a winning effort.
It’s a good thing they did, because the Rams made them sweat until the bitter end.
With both teams needing victories to help their respective playoff causes, Deering grabbed a quick 2-0 lead against Portland senior starter Caleb Fraser, who couldn’t find the plate early, but the Bulldogs got their bats going in the bottom half, scoring three times to take the lead.
It stayed 3-2 Portland until the top of the fourth, when the Rams, sparked by senior Dominic Esposito-Martin, the pitcher, plated two runs to go back on top and Esposito-Martin held a 4-3 lead until the bottom of the sixth, when Bulldogs senior rightfielder Chip Webber came up with a clutch two-out hit to tie the score.
Then, in the bottom of the seventh, senior third baseman Mike Scala drew a one-out walk, stole second and after senior centerfielder Tim Rovnak was walked intentionally, junior letfielder Joey Apon delivered the biggest blow, lining an opposite field single to score Scala and give Portland a palpitating 5-4 victory.
Fraser earned the victory, Apon had two hits and two RBI and the Bulldogs overcame Esposito-Martin’s three hits and two RBI as they balanced their record at 7-7 and dropped Deering to 2-12 in the process.
“It feels awesome,” Apon said. “It give us some confidence for these last couple games. We had to keep fighting. Sometimes we get down and we get out of the game. We kept fighting and had confidence and came back.”
Deering-Portland showdowns are always meaningful and this year’s was no exception.
The Rams entered the game with just two wins, but still clung to playoff hopes. Deering lost its opener, 4-0, at Massabesic, then won at Thornton Academy, 6-1. That was the last victory for awhile as the Rams fell at home to Cheverus, 11-6, at home to Marshwood (11-2), at Noble (1-0), at home to Westbrook (7-3) and Gorham (11-3), at Biddeford (5-4), at home to Sanford (8-6) and Bonny Eagle (12-3), at Scarborough (6-0) and at home to Windham (4-0) before snapping a 10-game skid last Tuesday with an impressive 6-1 victory at South Portland, behind Esposito-Martin.
The Bulldogs had high hopes entering the season and started fast, rolling, 12-4, at Sanford, holding off host Kennebunk, 4-3, before letting a 3-0 lead slip away in an 8-4 loss at Gorham. Portland got back on track by blanking visiting Noble, 7-0, then earned even more confidence with a 6-3 home victory over Thornton Academy. That proved to be the high point, however, as the Bulldogs then lost at home to Windham, 2-0, at Marshwood (8-1) and after a 9-2 home win over Massabesic, dropped a 10-3 home decision to South Portland, fell at home to Scarborough, 9-2, and at Westbrook (4-3). After an 8-3 win at Bonny Eagle, another frustrating and agonizing loss followed, 7-6, in nine innings, at Cheverus, last Tuesday.
Portland beat Deering a year ago, 3-2, in eight innings, but hadn’t beaten the Rams in consecutive regular seasons since 2005 and 2006.
Monday, the Bulldogs turned that trick, but it took 101 minutes and certainly wasn’t easy.
After the Senior Night ceremonies, Fraser walked the first two batters he faced, Deering junior leftfielder Mike Marzilli (who promptly stole second) and junior first baseman Ben Peterson, Esposito-Martin followed with a single to right-center, scoring Marzilli to break the ice. Fraser made matters worse by balking home Peterson for a 2-0 Rams’ lead. Fraser worked out of further trouble and his teammates picked him up in the bottom half.
Rovnak, recently moved by coach Tony DiBiase to the leadoff spot to help spark a struggling offense, led off with a single to left and stole second. Apon then rapped a single to center, scoring Rovnak, cutting the deficit in half.
After senior shortstop Nick Volger flew out to right, Fraser helped himself by doubling to right-center on a hit-and-run and Apon came around to tie the score.
Senior first baseman Kyle Reichert then singled to right and Webber followed with a line drive out to center, which resulted in a sacrifice fly which scored Fraser for a 3-2 advantage.
“I think mixing up the lineup’s helped a lot,” Scala said. “Tim’s hit leadoff his whole life. Nicky’s comfortable in the 3 hole.”
Fraser settled down in the top of the second, working around a two-out walk.
In the bottom half, Esposito-Martin set the Bulldogs down in order.
Deering threatened in the third.
With one out, Esposito-Martin beat out an infield single with one down and moved to second when junior third baseman Will Barlock blooped a hit to center that Rovnak dove for, but couldn’t corral, putting runners at first and second. Sophomore shortstop Nick Bevilacqua grounded out to Scala at third for a force, but Scala’s throw to first, in an attempt to complete an inning-ending double play, was wild, putting runners at second and third. Fraser struck out sophomore catcher Nick Carmichael to end the threat, however.
Rovnak singled into the hole to start the bottom half and moved to second on a groundout to short by Apon. Volger grounded out and Fraser fanned looking, however, to end the inning.
The Rams broke through in the top of the fourth, thanks in part to a Portland defensive miscue.
Freshman second baseman Pat Viola led off with a ground ball to Scala, who threw the ball away, allowing Viola to reach safely. Junior David Fowler then laid down a bunt and beat it out for a single. Sophomore centerfielder Kevin Goldberg bunted as well, but was thrown out by a step. Marzilli then blooped a single to center, scoring Viola to tie it. After Peterson walked to load the bases, Esposito-Martin came through again, singling through the hole between third and short for his third hit, scoring Fowler for a 4-3 advantage. Deering could have added on, but Barlock lined out to left and Bevilacqua popped out to Volger to end the frame.
Portland threatened to draw even when Reichert led off the bottom half by legging out a triple to right-center. Webber struck out, but junior designated hitter Dan Kane drew a walk. Ball four was wild and Reichert tried to score, but Carmichael ran the ball down and threw to Esposito-Martin, who applied the tag on Reichert for the second out. Junior second baseman Evan Gallant then popped out to Esposito-Martin and a great opportunity had gone by the wayside.
Fraser had his first 1-2-3 inning in the fifth, but the Bulldogs went down in order in the bottom half.
After Fraser again set Deering down 1-2-3 in the top of the sixth, Portland finally broke through to tie the score.
Volger was the sparkplug, doubling to right-center. He moved to third when Fraser flew out to right, but it looked like the Bulldogs were going to squander another golden chance when Reichert struck out looking.
The inning came down to Webber, who came through with a single to center. Volger raced home and it was 4-4.
“Chip Webber tying it up was huge,” DiBiase said.
Another Portland defensive breakdown gave the Rams a chance to go back on top in the top of the seventh.
Esposito-Martin led off with a ground ball to Volger, who threw wildly, allowing the pitcher to reach. Barlock popped out, but Bevilacqua followed with a single down the leftfield line. Apon did a nice job getting over to cut the ball off, forcing Esposito-Martin to hold at second. Carmichael was next and he hit a tough grounder at Scala, who shook off his previous defensive difficulties and handled the hop, touching third for a force out. Viola was next and grounded to Gallant, who threw to Reichert to end the frame.
Esposito-Martin started the bottom of the seventh by fanning senior pinch-hitter Nate Smart, but Scala drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch. Scala promptly stole second to get in scoring position.
Rovnak was then walked intentionally, bringing Apon to the plate.
Apon wasted no time ending it.
He lined the first pitch to left and Scala didn’t hesitate, rounding third as Marzilli fielded the ball. The throw home was cut off and the relay wasn’t even close as at 7:51 p.m., Scala slid home with the run that ended it.
Portland 5 Deering 4.
“They disrespected me (by walking Rovnak),” Apon said. “He threw me first pitch fastballs down the middle. I just had to jump one. I found one. I thought (coach) would hold (Mike), but he went. It felt good. Portland-Deering is the best rivalry in Maine sports. We just have to hit the ball. We need timely hits to win games.”
“Any ‘W’ is good right now,” Scala said. “Especially one that gets us to (.500). (Assistant coach Wes Ridlon) told me if I got on base, the game was over. I got on, easy steal, I knew it was coming. It was an easy hit to read by Apon. I took advantage of the opportunity and got around. We started out rough, then it clicked and we got into it and made plays and hit the ball. It gives us good momentum heading into tomorrow at Windham.”
“We’ve had a lot of tough losses,” DiBiase added. “This game, no matter the records, will always be a tough game. I was happy the kids battled back. I give Deering a lot of credit. They’ve had a tough season, but they played well. They’ve gotten a lot better. Esposito threw well and he hit well. They’re much more competitive than they were at the beginning of the year.”
The Bulldogs got two hits apiece from Apon, Reichert and Rovnak. Apon, Fraser, Rovnak, Scala and Volger scored the runs. Apon and Webber both drove in two runs, while Fraser had the other RBI. Fraser and Volger both doubled, while Reichert tripled. Rovnak and Scala had stolen bases.
“I’m moving people around to try to get more runs,” DiBiase said. “We have no consistency, which is the biggest problem. We have good innings, then we don’t have innings after that. That’s been a problem all year long.”
Fraser improved to 4-0 by allowing four runs (two earned) on seven hits. He walked four and struck out four and also balked in a run.
“It all comes down to our pitching,” DiBiase said. “Fraser pitched well against Westbrook, but he hasn’t pitched since. A week-and-a-half. He struggled early. It’s been that kind of year. We can’t get guys on a routine.”
Portland’s seniors had themselves a memorable evening.
“I hoped to get more seniors in,” DiBiase said. “Our seniors are great kids. A wonderful group. They work hard every day. They really love the game of baseball. Sometimes, you have talented kids where baseball is their third sport, but these kids love to play.”
Deering was paced by Esposito-Martin’s three hits and two RBI. Marzilli also drove in a run. Fowler, Marzilli, Peterson and Viola all scored. Marzilli stole two bases.
Esposito-Martin was the hard-luck loser. He fell to 1-1 after giving up five runs on nine hits in 6.1 innings. He walked three, fanned five and threw a wild pitch.
“We never gave up,” said Deering coach Tim Eisenhart. “We’re getting closer. We got outhit by a good hitting team. I thought Espo did a great job keeping us in the game. He battled. He gave up doubles and triples, then put down the rest of the guys and left them stranded. The rest of the guys played their roles, laid down bunts, played errorless baseball. Hats off to Portland. They just came up with clutch hits in clutch moments. Games like this, you have to play perfect. I just told the kids, if you look back at our first game against Massabesic and look at today, we look like a totally different team.”
Deering plays at Westbrook Tuesday and finishes the regular season with a makeup game Thursday vs. Kennebunk (at Harlow Field). The Rams (14th in the Western Class A Heal Points at press time, the top 11 make the postseason) feel they can still get into the playoffs and be a dangerous out if they do.
“We’ve come of age and are starting to learn how to play the game,” said Eisenhart. “(The guys) believe they can win every game they play. If we win both, that can get us in. We have to win out. If we keep playing the way we’re playing, we can do it.”
Portland (ninth in the Heals) is at Windham Tuesday and closes at home (in a game played at Deering Oaks) against Biddeford Wednesday. The Bulldogs are hoping to earn a home prelim next week.
“We could be a tough out in the playoffs,” DiBiase said. “No question about it. We’ll be 8 or 9. I don’t think it makes a heck of a lot of difference. It all depends on the pitcher.”
“We want to come back here for one more game in our career,” Scala said. “We feel we can make a run. I think we’re a very dangerous club. I’d be scared to play us in the playoffs.”
Deering senior Dominic Esposito-Martin did everything but win Monday night, pitching 6.1 strong innings, while rapping three hits and driving in a pair of runs.
Portland senior starter Caleb Fraser delivers a pitch. Fraser earned the victory.
Deering senior pitcher Dominic Esposito-Martin tags out Portland senior Kyle Reichert after Reichert tries to score on a wild pitch in a key play in the fourth inning.
Portland junior second baseman Evan Gallant takes a rip.
Deering sophomore shortstop Nick Bevilacqua lines a hit.
Deering sophomore centerfielder Kevin Goldberg makes contact.
Portland 3 Deering 2 (8)
Deering 11 Portland 0 (5)
Portland 8 Deering 7
Deering 14 Portland 6
Western A quarterfinals
Deering 10 Portland 0 (6)
Deering 5 Portland 3
Deering 4 Portland 3 (9)
Deering 11 Portland 6
Western A Final
Deering 2 Portland 1 (8)
Portland 2 Deering 1
Western A semifinals
Portland 6 Deering 0
Deering 7 Portland 0
Portland 5 Deering 2
Western A semifinals
Portland 9 Deering 6
Deering 3 Portland 0 (11)
Deering 9 Portland 4
Western A Final
Deering 12 Portland 0 (5)
Portland senior centerfielder Tim Rovnak makes an attempt to make a diving catch during Monday night’s 5-4 win over Deering at Hadlock Field.
More photos below.
D- 200 200 0- 4 7 0
P- 300 001 1- 5 9 3
Esposito-Martin singled to right-center, M. Marzilli scored. Fraser balked, Peterson scored.
Apon singled to center, Rovnak scored. Fraser doubled to right-center, Apon scored. Webber flew out to center, Fraser scored.
M. Marzilli singled to center, Viola scored. Esposito-Martin singled to left, Fowler scored.
Webber singled to center, Volger scored.
Apon singled to left, Scala scored.
D- Esposito-Martin 3
P- Apon, Reichert, Rovnak 2
D- Fowler, M. Marzilli, Peterson, Viola
P- Apon, Fraser, Rovnak, Scala, Volger
D- Esposito-Martin 2, M. Marzilli 1
P- Apon, Webber 2, Fraser 1
P- Fraser, Volger
D- M. Marzilli 2
P- Rovnak, Scala
Esposito-Martin and Carmichael; Fraser and Ruhlin.
Esposito-Martin (L, 1-1) 6.1 IP 9 H 5 R 5 ER 3 BB 5 K 1 WP
Fraser (W, 4-0) 7 IP 7 H 4 R 2 ER 4 BB 4 K 1 balk