Portland senior Nick Archambault (34) gets a hero’s welcome after scoring a run in Friday’s 5-3 win over rival Deering.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
P- 001 020 2- 5 8 1
D- 000 000 3- 3 4 2
Joyce singled to center, Stasium scored.
Donnie Tocci singled to center, Archambault scored. Tocci scored on throwing error.
Donnie Tocci singled to left, Archambault scored. Loranger scored on wild pitch.
Lynch doubled to left-center, Harrison scored. Bartell singled to center, Lynch and Sinclair scored.
P- Archambault, Stasium, Donnie Tocci
P- Archambault 2, Loranger, Stasium, Donnie Tocci
D- Harrison, Lynch, Sinclair
P- Donnie Tocci 2, Joyce
D- Bartell 2, Lynch
P- Stasium 2, Archambault, Donnie Tocci
D- Dacey, Sinclair
Left on base:
Ruotolo, Joyce (7) and King; Sinclair, Dame (6) and Lynch
Ruotolo (W, 7-1) 6.1 IP 3 H 3 R 2 ER 4 BB 6 K 2 WP 2 HBP
Joyce (Save) 0.2 IP 1 H 0 R 0 BB 1 K 1 WP
Sinclair (L, 2-2) 5 IP 6 H 3 R 2 ER 5 BB 3 K 1 HBP
Dame 2 IP 2 H 2 R 2 ER 1 BB 3 K 1 WP
PORTLAND—A better than expected regular season had an ideal ending for Portland’s baseball team Friday evening when the Bulldogs put a cherry on their sundae by beating their oldest and fiercest rival.
Battling Deering at Hadlock Field on a night when every type of weather was on display, Portland did just enough to earn a bye into next week’s quarterfinals.
After both teams squandered bases loaded opportunities in the first inning, the Bulldogs went ahead to stay in the top of the third when senior first baseman Tom Joyce hit a clutch, two-out single to drive in sophomore centerfielder Ben Stasium.
Portland senior starter Gio Ruotolo held the Rams in check until his teammates produced two more runs in the fifth, sparked by senior leftfielder Nick Archambault.
Archambault, who suffered a devastating knee injury during football season and has only recently returned to top physical condition, led off with a gapper to right-center and beat it out for a double. One batter later, sophomore rightfielder Donnie Tocci singled to center and Archambault raced home to barely beat the throw. Tocci then came home on an error to make it 3-0.
The Bulldogs seemingly wrapped it up in the top of the seventh when Tocci singled in Archambault and sophomore Jacob Loranger scored on a wild pitch, but Deering refused to go quietly in the bottom half.
An RBI double from junior catcher Jack Lynch got the Rams on the board and after Ruotolo was replaced by Joyce, senior rightfielder Riley Bartell hit a two-run single to bring the tying run to the plate. Joyce was able to slam the door, however, with a strikeout and a ground out and Portland enjoyed a 5-3 victory.
Ruotolo earned his seventh win, Donnie Tocci had two hits and two RBI and Archambault had two hits, reached base four times and scored twice as the Bulldogs finished the regular season 12-4, dropping Deering to 7-9 in the process.
“It was relaxing that we didn’t need a win,” said Portland coach Mike Rutherford. “We were in the 4 hole no matter what, but it’s Deering, a crosstown rival, so it was big to win. The kids have played great baseball. I honestly believed if we won nine games and got in the playoffs this year, that would be great, but now, we’re getting greedy.”
Due to challenging weather and field conditions, Deering was forced into playing a doubleheader Friday. The Rams entered their game with Thornton Academy at .500.
Deering opened with a 1-0 home win over Sanford, then won at Thornton Academy, 4-2, and lost at home to Gorham, 10-1, and at Scarborough 12-3. After doubling up host Massabesic in a slugfest, 20-10, Deering fell at Biddeford, 3-1, and beat visiting Westbrook by a 3-1 score. After losses at Cheverus (7-0) and Windham (5-3), the Rams edged visiting Marshwood, 5-4. The back and forth continued with a 2-1 home loss to South Portland and a 3-2 (nine-inning) setback at Sanford, followed by wins over visiting Bonny Eagle (4-3, in eight-innings) and host Noble (4-1)
Friday afternoon, Deering dropped a 5-2 decision to Thornton Academy, falling behind 3-0 early, getting a run when senior James Sinclair came all the way around from second on a sacrifice bunt, and after the Golden Trojans went ahead, 5-1, the Rams got an RBI single from senior Colby Dame in the sixth, but it wasn’t enough.
The Bulldogs opened with a 5-3 loss at Biddeford, then downed visiting Scarborough (3-2) and Massabesic (10-2). After falling at Sanford (5-4), Portland hit its stride, winning eight in a row by downing visiting Bonny Eagle (9-4), host Marshwood (14-13), host South Portland (5-2), visiting Windham (5-0), host Bonny Eagle (5-2), host Westbrook (8-1), visiting Cheverus (3-1) and visiting Biddeford (3-1). After falling at Gorham (2-0), the Bulldogs rallied to beat visiting Noble (7-6) and Wednesday, fell at home to Thornton Academy (16-6).
Last spring, Deering snapped a five-game skid at the hands of Portland with a 7-2 win, which cut the Bulldogs’ all-time series lead in regular and countable postseason games to 99-89 dating to 1919.
Friday, Portland went out and made it 100 victories.
The Bulldogs came oh so close to scoring against Sinclair in the top of the first, but they left the bases loaded.
Stasium led off by fouling off numerous pitches before lining a single to right-center. Stasium stole second and senior second baseman Dom Tocci then got ahead in the count, 3-0, but Sinclair came back to strike him out a full count pitch and then blew strike three past senior shortstop Jake Knop. With Archambault at the plate, Stasium stole third. Archambault drew a walk to bring up Joyce, who worked a walk on a full count pitch to load the bases. That set the stage for Donnie Tocci, who hit a sharp ground ball that appeared ticketed for centerfield, but Deering sophomore shortstop Luke Hill made a tremendous stab and after a split second when he realized he didn’t have a play at second, Hill threw to first to retire Tocci by a whisker to keep the game scoreless.
Ruotolo started smoothly in the bottom half, getting junior centerfielder Luc Harrison to pop out to second and Lynch to fly out deep to left, but he then hit Sinclair with a pitch and Bartell followed with a sharp single to the gap in left-center with Sinclair going all the way to third. Dame was hit by a pitch as well to bring up Hill, the defensive hero of the top of the inning, who couldn’t deliver the key hit, grounding out to third.
Junior third baseman Will Snyder led off the top of the second with a hard hit ground ball to the left of senior second baseman Jacob Gikas, but Gikas got to the ball with a lunge, then threw out the runner. Junior catcher Cam King then hit the ball to the almost identical spot, where this time, Dame stabbed it with a backhand and threw to Sinclair covering for the out. That left the inning up to Ruotolo, who grounded out to third.
In the bottom half, Ruotolo got senior designated hitter Spencer Todd to chase strike three and Gikas to pop out to second, but he walked senior leftfielder Rob Dacey and Dacey stole second. Ruotolo then got Harrison to watch strike three to end it.
Stasium got the trouble started in the top of the third, singling past Rams junior third baseman Alex McGonagle. After Dom Tocci sacrificed him over. Sinclair caught Knop looking at a third strike on the outside corner. Archambault drew a walk and Joyce delivered the game’s first run with a solid single to center. When Harrison bobbled it, Archambault moved to third, but Donnie Tocci went the other way and lined out to left to end the inning with Portland in front, 1-0.
In the bottom half, Ruotolo got Lynch to ground to third on the first pitch and Sinclair to hit a deep fly ball to left that Archambault camped under, but Bartell drew a walk. Dame then squibbed the ball to third for the final out.
Snyder led off the fourth with a fly ball to shallow right, which Gikas ran down. King then grounded sharply back to Sinclair. After Ruotolo beat out an infield single to deep short, Stasium walked on a full count pitch and Dom Tocci was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Knop, who hit a sharp ground ball up the middle which Sinclair managed to make a terrific stab on before throwing to first to keep the deficit at one.
In the bottom half, with the clouds looking more and more ominous, Hill popped out to center leading off, but Todd drew a walk and was replaced by junior pinch-runner Bobby Ridge. Ruotolo then caught Gikas looking at strike three and got Dacey to line out to Archambault, who made a nice running catch, to make the game official.
Portland added to its lead in the fifth, thanks in large part to the vastly improved legs of Archambault, who lined a double to the gap in right-center leading off. After Joyce flew out to center, Donnie Tocci singled to center and Archambault raced home and barely beat the throw to score the run.
“Movement-wise, I think I’m back to 100 percent,” Archambault said. “I’m still working on building my strength and I’ve been going to (physical therapy). When I’m out there, it’s pretty much all instinct. My instinct is to go 100 percent all the time. That’s what I was trying to do on that single. I was just happy I was safe.”
“Nick is getting better and better each day,” Rutherford said. “We took baby steps with him and with him healthy, we basically have three centerfielders when Gio pitches.”
After Snyder flew out to center, Tocci stole second and King walked. Sinclair then threw wildly to first on a pickoff throw and Tocci came home with King going all the way to third. Ruotolo popped out, but the Bulldogs had a 3-0 advantage.
In the bottom half, Ruotolo caught Harrison and Lynch looking at strike three and Sinclair followed with a hard ground ball which Snyder dove to stop before throwing out the runner to end it.
Dame came on to pitch in the top of the sixth and struck out Stasium and got Dom Tocci to pop out to third. Knop grounded to McGonagle at third, who bobbled the ball momentarily before recovering to throw out the runner.
In the bottom half, Bartell led off by lining out to right. After Dame drew a walk, Hill hit a pop fly down the rightfield line which Dom Tocci ran down from his second base position for the second out. That loomed large as Todd followed with a sharp single down the leftfield line. After junior Keegan Stanton came on to run for Todd, Gikas grounded out to third to end Deering’s final threat.
The Bulldogs opened it up further in the top of the seventh with two more runs.
Archambault again got things started by singling through the hole. After Joyce walked on a full count pitch and was replaced by Loranger, Donnie Tocci singled to left and Archambault raced home to make it 4-0 with both runners moving up on the play.
After Snyder struck out swinging, a wild pitch brought home Loranger, but Tocci was thrown out after making the turn at third. King then struck out to end it.
In the bottom half, the Rams made things very interesting before falling just short.
After Dacey grounded out to third, Harrison reached on an error by Knop and moved up to second on a wild pitch.
Lynch brought in Deering’s first run with a solid double to left-center and he moved up on another wild pitch. Sinclair then drew a walk, which ended Ruotolo’s evening.
Joyce was then greeted by a ringing single to center by Bartell, which scored Lynch and Sinclair and just like that, the deficit was 5-3.
Dame came to the plate as the tying run and after Joyce’s wild pitch moved Bartell to second, Dame struck out swinging.
Rutherford came out to ensure that his charges knew what to do in the eventuality of another hit.
“I told the outfielders no doubles and to keep the tying run off second base,” Rutherford said. “You assume they’ll know that, but I wanted to make sure. One thing I’ve learned in high school baseball is to not make assumptions.”
Hill was the Rams’ last chance and he grounded slowly to third. Snyder’s throw got Hill by a split second and after a grueling 2 hours, 5 minutes, Portland had a hard-fought victory.
“It was a little more exciting than we wanted it to be, but I had faith,” Archambault said. “I had faith in Gio, I think he would have worked his way out of it, and we have faith in Joyce coming in to get the save and he did. We didn’t know what our pitching would be like this year, but to have guys like Joyce step up, it’s been helpful.”
“Everybody thought we wouldn’t be that good, but we knew we had good players,” Joyce said. “We have nine baseball players on the field at once and that’s big. Even if they’re unproven, we know they can play.”
“Our strength is defense,” Rutherford added. “We have to play perfect to win. Snyder made some nice plays, we made plays in the outfield.”
Archambault had his best game to date, posting two hits, scoring twice and stealing a base.
“Archambault, Knop and Tocci have started three years,” said Rutherford. “They finished number one in the Heals, 12-4, as sophomores. Last year, they were 10-6 and fifth. This year, they’re fourth. That’s a testament to their leadership.”
Stasium and Donnie Tocci also had two hits.
Loranger, Stasium and Donnie Tocci also scored runs.
Donnie Tocci had two RBI and Joyce also drove in a run.
Stasium stole two bases and Donnie Tocci had one as well.
The Bulldogs stranded nine base runners.
Ruotolo improved to 7-1 after giving up three runs on three hits in 6.1 innings. He walked four, struck out six and threw two wild pitches and hit two batters.
“Gio had his C-minus stuff, but he had a one-hitter into the sixth inning,” Rutherford said. “He didn’t have his best stuff, but he still won and Joyce got the save.”
Joyce allowed one hit in his short stint. He struck out one and threw a wild pitch.
“When I’m out there, it’s a whole different mindset than playing the field,” Joyce said. “It’s one-on-one and I don’t think about anything else but throwing strikes. It feels great to win, especially since I transferred from Deering freshman year. I grew up with all these guys and I’m still friends with them.”
For Deering, Sinclair took the loss and fell to 2-2 after giving up three runs (two earned) on six hits in five innings. He walked five, struck out three and hit one batter.
Dame gave up two runs on two hits in his two innings. He walked one, fanned three and threw one wild pitch.
Bartell paced the offense with two hits.
Harrison, Lynch and Sinclair all scored runs.
Bartell had two RBI and Lynch finished with one.
Dacey and Sinclair stole bases.
The Rams left nine runners on.
“It was an interesting day,” Deering coach Josh Stowell said. “We’ve dealt with adversity all season long and I’m proud of how the guys fought through it. It hasn’t been easy. We technically played nine games in 11 days and I’m pretty sure no one’s had to do that. We did enough earlier this week to get in the playoffs and that was our goal. I had a lineup set up for yesterday and I kept the same lineup today. We had plenty of opportunities to get some more runs across, but it just didn’t happen today. I’m happy we fought to the end.”
Deering will be at No. 7 Biddeford (7-9) for the preliminary round Tuesday. The Rams lost, 3-1, at the Tigers May 9. Deering has won six of eight prior playoff meetings, including an 11-1 (five-inning) triumph in the 2008 Western A semifinals, the most recent encounter.
“It’s a new season now,” Stowell said. “We have to turn the corner. Anything can happen from here on out. We went down there earlier and had them on the ropes. They made some great plays to beat us. These guys like the fact they get to go down and get another shot at them. I think we have as good a shot as anyone to make noise when the playoffs start.”
Portland will have a bye into Thursday’s quarterfinals where it will host either No. 5 South Portland (12-4) or No. 12 Bonny Eagle (5-11). The Bulldogs beat the visiting Scots, 9-4, May 3 and downed the host Red Riots, 5-2, six days later. Portland is 2-1 all-time against Bonny Eagle in the playoffs, with a 7-3 victory in the 1994 Western A semifinals the most recent, and is 8-3 against South Portland, with a 2-1 loss in the 2015 Western A Final the most recent.
“We have to play perfect defense and get timely hits,” Joyce said. “We have to continue that.”
“We had low expectations and we enjoyed being under the radar,” Archambault said. “We’ve crept up on people. We feel great. We think we can beat anybody. When we have Gio or Donnie going, we feel like we can win a state championship. That’s a good feeling going into playoffs.”
“We know if we get South Portland, they’re a great team,” Rutherford added. “We’ll have to play an A-plus game. We’re not afraid of the teams ahead of us. We’re confident.”
Portland senior starter Gio Ruotolo throws a pitch. Ruotolo earned his seventh win of the season.
Deering senior James Sinclair throws a strike.
Deering junior third baseman Alex McGonagle takes the throw too late as Portland sophomore Ben Stasium steals third in the first inning.
Portland sophomore centerfielder Ben Stasium comes home with the game’s first run in the top of the third inning.
Portland sophomore rightfielder Donnie Tocci lines one of his two RBI base hits.
Deering sophomore shortstop Luke Hill stretches out with the backhand to stop the ball.
Portland senior Nick Archambault slides in safely a split second before Deering junior catcher Jack Lynch applies the tag.
Portland 12 @ Deering 4
Western A quarterfinals
@ Portland 4 Deering 3
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)