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Portland senior third baseman Will Snyder, left, junior first baseman Ben Sawyer and junior pitcher Sonny Villani converge on an infield pop fly which turned into an error during the third inning of Saturday’s 9-6 loss at Gorham in a Class A South semifinal. The Bulldogs made seven uncharacteristic errors as their season came to a close.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
P- 202 002 0- 6 5 7
G- 304 002 x- 9 9 3
King singled to right-center, Stasium and Snyder scored.
King scored on fielder’s choice. Loubier singled to left, McDonald and Brown scored.
Snyder and King scored on throwing error.
Brown reached on infield single, King scored. McDonald scored on Gray’s squeeze bunt. Prescott doubled to left-center, Brown and Loubier scored.
Brown grounded out to second, King scored. Barnard walked, Brooks scored.
King singled to right-center, Nelson scored. Roop singled to right, McDonald scored.
G- McDonald, Nelson
P- King, Snyder 2, Brooks, Stasium
G- King 3, Brown, McDonald 2, Loubier, Nelson
P- King 2, Barnard, Brown
G- Brown, Loubier, Prescott 2, Gray, King, Roop
P- Pasquali, Sawyer, Snyder
G- Brown 2, Nelson
Left on base:
Villani, Riley (4) and King; Sladen, Curesky (6), Nelson (6) and McDonald.
Villani (L, 2-2) 3 IP 5 H 7 R 3 ER 1 BB 0 K 1 HBP
Riley 3 IP 4 H 2 R 0 ER 0 BB 1 K 1 WP
* Sladen (W, 5-1) 5+ IP 5 H 5 R 0 ER 1 BB 1 K
Curesky 0.2 IP 0 H 1 R 0 ER 3 BB 0 K 1 WP
Nelson (Save) 1.1 IP 0 H 0 R 1 BB 1 K
* Sladen faced one batter in the sixth.
GORHAM—Portland’s baseball team has built its success this spring on a foundation of good pitching, great defense and timely hitting.
Saturday morning in the Class A South semifinals at Gorham, the Bulldogs’ defense deserted them and as a result, a promising season came to a sudden end.
Portland, which three different times put up two runs in the top of an inning, each time gave at least that many back in bottom halves.
The third-ranked Bulldogs started strong, scoring two unearned runs of their own in the top of the first inning, as senior catcher Cam King singled in a pair, but in the bottom half, after the second-seeded Rams got a run on a fielder’s choice off the bat of senior centerfielder Nolan Brown, junior first baseman Trevor Loubier singled in two more for a 3-2 lead.
In the top of the third, King came up big again, doubling after senior third baseman Will Snyder drew a one-out walk off Gorham junior starting pitcher Jake Sladen and when Sladen threw the ball away on a pickoff attempt, both runners came home to make it 4-3 Portland.
But it didn’t last, as the Bulldogs committed a staggering four errors in the bottom half of the frame, leading to four Rams’ runs and a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
An error allowed the leadoff hitter to reach and another error put runners at the corners with one out. Brown drove in a run with an infield hit, but an error put runners at first and third and another error, on a pop fly in front of home plate, loaded the bases. Junior first baseman Trevor Gray put Gorham on top to stay with a squeeze bunt and senior second baseman Will Prescott followed with a two-run double off Portland junior starter Sonny Villani to make the score 7-4.
It stayed that way until the top of the sixth, when the Bulldogs rallied before ultimately being frustrated.
After sophomore pinch-hitter Max Brown drove in a run with a ground ball, junior shortstop Billy Barnard drew a bases loaded walk to make it 7-6, but senior Ben Nelson came on in relief and ended the threat by getting junior rightfielder Donnie Tocci to ground out to second.
Again, in the bottom of the frame, the Rams answered, scoring twice after two men were out. An RBI single from senior third baseman Kyle King scored one run and senior leftfielder Lucas Roop drove in another.
Portland put one runner on in the top of the seventh, but Nelson slammed the door and Gorham prevailed, 9-6.
Six of the nine Rams’ runs were unearned and they produced nine hits as well as they improved to 14-4, ended the Bulldogs’ season at 13-5 and in the process, advanced to meet No. 4 Cheverus (13-5) in the Class A South Final Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., at St. Joseph’s College in Standish.
“Before the game, we talked about great defense, good pitching and timely hitting, but we only had two out of three,” said Portland coach Mike Rutherford. “We made four errors in one inning. We haven’t made four errors in three weeks.”
“It’s a great win for our program,” said Gorham coach Chuck Nadeau. “We knew it would be a tough tournament. Portland is a great program that is well-coached.”
With top-ranked South Portland getting upset by No. 9 Falmouth in Thursday’s quarterfinal round, Gorham found itself the top remaining seed in Class A South with Portland right behind.
The Rams put together a solid 12-4 season, losing only to Biddeford, South Portland, Deering and Sanford and closing on a seven-game win streak, a surge that began with a 6-3 victory at Portland May 18. Thursday, in the quarterfinals, Gorham advanced by virtue of a 3-1 victory over No. 6 Thornton Academy.
The Bulldogs won nine of their first 10 games, lost three straight, then closed with three straight victories (see sidebar, below, for links to previous game stories), then opened the playoffs Thursday with a 3-1 quarterfinal round victory over No. 6 Windham in the quarterfinals.
In the teams’ lone regular season meeting May 18, Brown and Nelson had three hits apiece, Gorham built an early 3-0 lead, then after Portland got a pair of runs back, the Rams put it away with a three-run fifth. Senior Ryan Norris earned the victory.
Prior to Saturday, the teams had met twice in the playoffs with the Bulldogs taking both meetings: 7-3 in the 2006 Western A Final and 9-1 in the 2007 Western A semifinals.
This time around, on a beautiful morning (the temperature was 70 degrees and rising at first pitch), what was expected to be a low-scoring affair instead turned wild as defense was optional for much of the day.
The game began inauspiciously for the hosts, as Portland junior centerfielder Ben Stasium grounded the ball up the middle and reached when Nelson, who started the contest at shortstop, bobbled it for an error. Barnard sacrificed Stasium to second and after Tocci struck out looking, Snyder beat out a dribbler down the third base line for an infield hit and after Snyder stole second, Cam King came up huge, ripping a two-run single to right-center. Junior first baseman Ben Sawyer followed with a single to put runners at the corners and after Sawyer stole second, Sladen escaped further damage by getting sophomore designated hitter Griffin Buckley to ground out to short, keeping the score 2-0.
In the bottom half, Gorham roared right back and took the lead.
After Nelson crushed the first pitch to deep center, only to have Stasium run it down, Villani hit Kyle King with a pitch and senior catcher Brogan McDonald followed with a single through the hole before Roop walked on five pitches to load the bases. Brown was next and he blooped an apparent single to right, but Tocci, while he fell short of the ball on his dive, kept it in front of him, and was able to force Roop at second with King scoring to make it 2-1. Brown stole second and Loubier followed by smashing a ball toward third, which took a bad hop off Snyder for a single to score both runners. Junior leftfielder Jake Loranger’s throw home was wild, allowing Loubier to take second, but he’d be stranded as Gray popped out to short to end the uprising, which produced a 3-2 lead.
Portland nearly answered back in the top of the second inning, which ended with a dose of controversy.
Loranger led off by working the count full, then lining a single to center. Junior second baseman Henry Westphal sacrificed Loranger to second and he took third when Stasium flew out deep to center. That brought up Barnard, who hit a slow roller to the right side. Gray went for the ball, but couldn’t reach it, meaning Sladen had to cover first and he took the throw from Prescott just as Barnard arrived. The umpire initially appeared primed to make the safe call, then raised his fist and ruled out, keeping the Rams on top.
In the bottom half, Prescott chased the first pitch and flew out to left, senior rightfielder David Drew grounded to short in another bang-bang play at first and Nelson flew to Tocci on the first pitch.
Portland retook the lead in the third, again scoring unearned runs.
Tocci grounded out to second leading off, but Snyder worked a four-pitch walk and Cam King made solid contact again, crushing a double to left-center, moving Snyder to third. With Sawyer up, Gorham brought the infield in, but it became a moot point, when Sladen’s attempted pickoff throw to third sailed high and rolled down the leftfield line, allowing both Snyder and King to come home for the lead. Sawyer grounded out to first and Buckley bounced out to short, but the Bulldogs were on top, 4-3.
In the bottom half, the Rams got involved in the unearned run parade, taking advantage of a stunning four Portland errors to score four times.
Kyle King led off with a sharp grounder to Snyder at third. Snyder knocked it down, but his throw was low and Sawyer couldn’t dig it out, allowing King to reach with error number one. McDonald then beat out an infield single to third and when Snyder’s throw to first was off, King moved up to third on error number two. Roop chased the first pitch and popped out to second, but Brown reached on an infield single to the hole, scoring King, and when Barnard threw wildly to second for error number three, McDonald took third. Loubier followed with a high pop fly near the mound that saw the whole infield converge before Snyder tried to catch it and drop it for error number four, loading the bases.
“It was a team effort,” Rutherford said. “We played poor defense for an inning. All those errors hurt. Will is an All-State third baseman. He’s the best third baseman I’ve coached. One game doesn’t change that.”
Gray put Gorham ahead with a squeeze bunt (Snyder threw him out at first, but McDonald scored for a 5-4 lead) and with runners at second and third, Prescott delivered the big hit, a two-run double to left-center, to make it 7-4. Drew grounded to second to end it, but the Bulldogs were in a deep hole.
Sladen made quick work of Portland in the top of the fourth, getting Loranger to ground out up the third base line where the pitcher made the play on another close ruling at first, Westphal to pop out to short and after going 3-2 on Stasium, getting him to ground to second.
In the bottom half, Nelson singled to center, but Kyle King flew out to right and McDonald hit into a shortstop-to-second-to-first double play to end the frame.
Sladen remained strong in the top of the fifth, thanks in part to his defense, as Barnard lined out to short, Tocci worked the count full then grounded out sharply to first, and Snyder flew out to right.
“I was proud of (Jake),” said Nadeau. “He made a mistake and these types of games create mistakes, but he came back and refocused. He looked more confident after (the error) than before.”
In the bottom half, Roop popped out foul to Snyder leading off, but Brown reached when Westphal couldn’t handle a sharp grounder for an error. Brown stole second and went to third when Loubier grounded out to short, but a deep fly ball by Gray ended the threat.
The Bulldogs rallied in the top of the sixth, but couldn’t come all the way back.
Cam King walked leading off, ending Sladen’s run of eight straight hitters retired, and chasing him in favor of junior Joe Curesky, who got Sawyer to ground to second, but Prescott’s flip to Nelson at second base was dropped for an error, allowing both runners to be safe. Junior Cam Brooks came on to run for Sawyer and with sophomore pinch-hitter Max Brown at the plate, a wild pitch moved the runners up. Brown grounded to second to score King to make it 7-5.
Brooks took third on the play and when Loranger followed with a ground ball to deep short, Brooks didn’t come home. He would score eventually, however, as Westphal and Stasium both drew walks and on a 3-2 pitch, Barnard did the same to bring home the run.
That brought Nelson on to replace Curesky and on a 2-2 pitch, Nelson got Tocci to ground out to second to keep Gorham ahead, 7-6.
“I came on and I just wanted to throw strikes and let my fielders make plays and they backed me up,” Nelson said. “I think the pressure brings out the best in me and makes me play better.”
“Ben is such a good shortstop and I hate to use him on the mound because it changes our defense a lot, but when things get difficult, I’m happy to send him out there,” Nadeau said.
“I’ll take Tocci up (in that spot) seven days a week and twice on Sundays,” Rutherford said. “In that situation, bases loaded, their best pitcher made a good pitch and Tocci rolled over on it.”
In the bottom half, Riley got Prescott to look at strike three and Gray to pop to short, but Nelson lined a single off the pitcher and stole second and Kyle King followed with a liner barely over the outstretched glove of the leaping Westphal for an RBI single to right-center to deliver a crucial insurance run.
After a wild pitch, McDonald reached on an error by Barnard at short, putting runners at the corners. That opened the door for Roop to line a single to right, bringing in King for a 9-6 lead. Brown grounded out to short, where Barnard made a nice play, but the damage was done.
“We kept battling back, but every time we scored, they answered,” Rutherford said. “We never had a shutdown inning. Give them credit. They’re a good baseball team.”
Portland didn’t exactly go quietly in the seventh, but the Bulldogs weren’t able to rally.
Nelson started the frame by getting Snyder to fly out to center and Cam King to hit a foul ball down the rightfield line which Drew hauled in, but Sawyer kept hope alive by drawing a walk and a passed ball moved him up to second before Nelson battled back from a 3-0 count to catch senior pinch-hitter Jack Kilbride looking at strike three to bring an end to the eventful, 116-minute contest with Gorham advancing, 9-6.
“The kids were able to take advantage and do something special,” said Nadeau. “We were in this game last year and came up short. To win shows the growth of these kids. I’m proud of what we did today.”
Gorham got two hits apiece from McDonald and Nelson and had nine hits overall.
“We just hit the ball, put it in play and made them make plays,” said Nelson.
Kyle King scored three times for the Rams, while Brown and McDonald each touched home twice. Loubier and Nelson had one run apiece.
Brown, Loubier and Prescott had two RBI apiece, while Gray, King and Roop had one each.
Brown stole two bases and Nelson pilfered one.
Gorham stranded five runners.
Sladen improved to 5-1 by giving up five unearned runs on five hits in five-plus innings. He walked one and struck out a batter.
Curesky allowed one unearned run in two-thirds of an inning of hitless relief. He walked three and threw a wild pitch.
Nelson picked up the save with 1.1 hitless, scoreless innings of relief. He walked one and struck out a batter.
Gorham will next do battle with a Cheverus squad that has won 10 straight games, including Saturday’s 5-4 walkoff victory over No. 9 Falmouth. Gorham won at Cheverus, 5-2, back on April 20. The Stags beat the Rams, 5-1, in last year’s semifinal round in the only prior playoff encounter.
Gorham is primed to take another shot at Cheverus in its first regional final since 2006. The Rams last made it to a state game in 2005, when it won the Class B championship.
“This feels great,” Nelson said. “Last year, we were one win away. We have to keep hitting. We have a great pitching staff behind us.”
“Nothing will be easy,” Nadeau said. “We face another good team. We have to come with good energy and take care of ourselves and hope we play well enough to win.”
Portland’s offense was paced by Cam King, who had two hits, two RBI and two runs scored.
Snyder also scored twice, while Brooks and Stasium had the other runs.
Barnard and Brown also had RBI.
Pasquali, Sawyer and Snyder stole bases.
The Bulldogs stranded seven runners.
Villani fell to 2-2 on the year after giving up seven runs (three earned) on five hits in three innings. He walked one and hit a batter.
Riley gave up two unearned runs in three innings of relief. He surrendered four hits, struck out one and threw a wild pitch.
“They also gave us extra outs, but they got more runs than we did,” Rutherford said. “We had to find a way to win without Tocci. We’re 5-5 when he doesn’t pitch. I didn’t think Villani or Riley pitched poorly, but we seem to play poor defense when Donnie isn’t on the mound.”
Portland graduated five players, with King and Snyder being the biggest departures (Kilbride, Pasquali and Charles Graffius also graduated), but the Bulldogs were considered a year away all spring, meaning that 2019 could be a memorable campaign.
“We have sophomores and juniors coming back and our pitchers coming back and they have to learn from this disappointment,” Rutherford said. “We’ll be one of the favorites, if not the favorite. We have to find a way to win when Tocci doesn’t pitch. Riley and Villani are back. We have to replace King. Little Tocci (freshman Dante Tocci) will catch. We have our work cut out for us.”
Portland junior starter Sonny Villani delivers a pitch.
Gorham senior Nolan Brown steals second base as Portland junior second baseman Henry Westphal takes the throw.
Portland junior Donnie Tocci takes off out of the batter’s box.
Portland junior shortstop Billy Barnard catches the ball.
Portland junior Billy Barnard and Gorham junior starting pitcher Jake Sladen get to first base at the same time in the second inning and Barnard is called out, depriving the Bulldogs of a run.
Portland sophomore Max Brown takes a swing while senior catcher Cam King takes a lead off third base. Brown would ground out to score King in the top of the sixth inning.
Portland junior second baseman Henry Westphal forces Gorham senior Ben Nelson and throws on to first to complete a fourth inning double play.
Portland senior catcher Cam King (7) is congratulated by his teammates after scoring an early run.
Portland coach Mike Rutherford collects himself after a tough call goes against the Bulldogs.
Gorham senior Nolan Brown (10) and junior Trevor Loubier celebrate after scoring on senior Will Prescott’s third inning double.
Gorham senior Ben Nelson, right, is congratulated by senior Brogan McDonald after scoring an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth inning.
2007 Western A semifinals
Portland 9 @ Gorham 1
2006 Class A South Final
Portland 7 Gorham 3