Portland holds off Falmouth in another extra inning thriller

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Portland junior Ben Sawyer is congratulated by sophomore Sam Knop after scoring on a wild pitch in the Bulldogs’ 7-4, eight-inning win at Falmouth Saturday.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Portland 7 Falmouth 4 (8 innings)

P- 210 000 04- 7 10 1
F- 000 003 01- 4 9 3

Top 1st
Stasium scored on error. Barnard scored error.

Top 2nd
Sawyer scored on wild pitch.

Bottom 6th
Ga. Aube homered to center, Aube scored. Douglas scored on Kiely’s infield single. Gr. Aube scored on Tracy squeeze bunt.

Top 8th
Stasium singled to left, Loranger scored. Barnard singled to center, Brooks and Stasium scored. Tocci doubled to right, Barnard scored.

Bottom 8th
Manganello grounded out to second, Kiely scored.

Repeat hitters:
P- Stasium 4, Barnard 3
F- Ga. Aube, Gr. Aube, Kiely

Runs:
P- Barnard, Stasium 2, Brooks, Loranger, Sawyer
F- Ga. Aube, Gr. Aube, Douglas, Kiely

RBI:
P- Barnard 2, Stasium, Tocci 
F- Ga. Aube, Kiely, Manganello, Tracy

Doubles:
P- Sawyer, Tocci

Home run:
F- Ga. Aube (1)

Stolen bases:
P- King 2, Barnard, Sawyer, Snyder, Stasium 
F- Ga. Aube

Left on base:
P- 9
F- 8

Tocci, Riley (8) and King; Tracy, Ga. Aube (8) and Kiely

P:
Tocci (W, 3-0) 7.2 IP 9 H 3 R 3 ER 1 BB 4 K 1 WP
Riley 0.1 IP 0 H 0 R 0 BB 0 K

F:
Tracy (L, 2-1) 7.1 IP 7 H 5 R 3 ER 7 BB 2 K 1 WP 1 Balk
Ga. Aube 0.2 IP 3 H 2 R 2 ER 0 BB 0 K

Time: 2:04

FALMOUTH—When Portland and Falmouth’s baseball teams square off, nothing comes easily.

For either squad.

And it tends to take more than seven innings to achieve resolution.

Saturday afternoon at John M. Croker Memorial Field, in the teams’ first-ever regular season encounter, the Bulldogs got off to a fast start, appeared poised for an easy victory, then barely escaped a Yachtsmen rally before putting it away in an extra frame.

Portland scored twice in the top of the first inning on Falmouth errors, then added a third run in the second on a wild pitch, but the Bulldogs squandered opportunities to break it open and the score remained 3-0 heading to the bottom of the sixth.

There, senior shortstop Garret Aube led off with a home run for the Yachtsmen and that sparked a three-run rally, which included an RBI infield single from sophomore catcher Ike Kiely and a game-tying squeeze bunt from Falmouth’s junior starting pitcher Garrett Tracy. The Yachtsmen nearly took the lead when sophomore pinch-hitter Nate Rogers ripped a shot to the gap in right-center, but Portland junior centerfielder Ben Stasium made a running catch to keep the contest tied, 3-3.

After both teams left runners on in the seventh, the game went to an eighth inning, where Stasium, who had a game-winning, bases loaded double in Thursday’s come-from-behind home victory over Marshwood, came through in the clutch again, lining a go-ahead, two-out RBI single to put the Bulldogs on top for good.

Junior shortstop Will Barnard added a two-run single and Portland junior starting pitcher Donnie Tocci drove in another run with a double, but again, Falmouth refused to go quietly.

In the bottom of the eighth, the Yachtsmen pushed across another run, but this time, the Bulldogs were able to close it out and they held on for a 7-4 victory.

Portland got four hits from Stasium, three from Barnard and improved to 4-1 as it dropped Falmouth to 3-3 in the process.

“It’s fun playing against these guys,” said Stasium. “It’s always a good contest, but we just don’t quit.”

Well acquainted

While Saturday’s game marked the first between the teams in the regular season, they know each other well from squaring off in the playoffs the past three years (see sidebar, below).

Last spring’s Class A South semifinal was an epic, as Falmouth eked out a 4-3, nine-inning decision. The Yachtsmen eventually returned to the state final, only to drop an agonizing extra-inning decision to three-time Class A champion Bangor. 

This season, Portland started with a 7-1 win at Noble, then rolled at preseason favorite Thornton Academy (8-1). After a 2-1 loss at Windham, the Bulldogs rallied for a thrilling 9-8 home win over Marshwood Thursday evening, as they erased a 7-2 deficit.

Falmouth started with wins over visiting Westbrook (14-4, in five-innings) and host Bonny Eagle (11-8). After a 5-2 loss at Noble, the Yachtsmen beat host Cheverus, 3-1, then Friday, they gave up 10 first inning runs and were ultimately defeated at Gorham, 15-5, in five-inning mercy rule decision.

Saturday, under very pleasant 66 degree skies with a 13-mile-per-hour wind, Portland got out to a fast start and had a chance to deliver an early knockout blow, but Falmouth wouldn’t buckle and wound up making things very interesting.

Stasium got things going immediately for the visitors with a single to left, then he promptly stole second. After Barnard walked on a 3-2 pitch, Tocci grounded out to Coffin at second, who threw to Aube for a force out. Aube then tried to complete the double play with a throw to first, but the ball got away for an error and Stasium easily scored with Barnard taking second.

Senior third baseman Will Snyder was next and he bounced out to third. Barnard took off for third on the play and the throw from senior first baseman Griffin Aube went awry and Barnard scored as well. Senior catcher Cam King grounded out to third, but the damage was done and the Bulldogs held a 2-0 lead.

“We’re coming off a game where we obviously didn’t play our best and we started out the same way,” lamented Falmouth coach Kevin Winship. “We’ve struggled with slow starts.”

Garret Aube led off the bottom of the first with an infield single and Coffin sacrificed him to second, but after fouling off several pitches, senior first baseman Griffin Aube bounced out to first, with Garret Aube moving to third, and freshman centerfielder Sam Kidder grounded out to third to end the threat.

Portland added another run in the top of the second.

Junior first baseman Ben Sawyer led off with a double down the rightfield line and junior leftfielder Jake Loranger sacrificed him to third. Tracy then threw a wild pitch and Sawyer trotted home for a 3-0 advantage. After junior designated hitter Sonny Villani bounced out to short on a full-count pitch, sophomore rightfielder Sam Knop popped up to first, but Griffin Aube dropped the ball and Knop was safe at first. Stasium followed with his second hit, a single to left, and Barnard followed with a single to left to load the bases. The Bulldogs couldn’t add to their lead, however, as Tocci grounded out to second.

Tocci bounced right back to set Falmouth down in order in the bottom half, getting Kiely to fly to left, Tracy to watch strike three and junior designated hitter Sam Manganello to ground out to third.

Snyder opened the third with a walk and after King bounced into a third-to-second force play, King stole second and Sawyer walked as well. King and Sawyer then pulled off a double steal, but Portland couldn’t convert, as Loranger watched strike three and Villani grounded out to third.

In the bottom half, Tocci got sophomore rightfielder Will Bopp and sophomore third baseman Josh LaFevre to both ground out to third and after Garret Aube reached on an error by Barnard at short, Coffin popped out to short to send the game to the fourth.

There, Knop led off with a walk, but he was picked off by Tracy. Stasium then made an out for the only time all day, popping out to third, but Barnard singled to center and stole second on a pickoff attempt before Tocci popped back to the mound.

In the bottom half, Griffin Aube led off with an infield single, but Kidder grounded into a force, Kiely flew out to right and Tracy grounded back to Tocci to end the inning.

The Bulldogs went quietly in the top of the fifth, as Tracy got Snyder to fly to right on the first pitch, King to pop to short on the first pitch and Sawyer to take strike three on a full count pitch.

Falmouth went meekly in its half as well, as Manganello watched strike three, Bopp did the same and LeFevre flew out to right.

Portland had another chance to gain separation in the sixth, but again failed to do so, leaving the door ajar.

Loranger walked leading off and Tracy balked him to second. Senior Jack Kilbride hit for Villani and sacrificed Loranger to third. That brought up Knop, who attempted to lay down a squeeze bunt, but he popped it up to Tracy, who recorded the second out, then threw to LeFevre to complete the inning-ending double play.

The Yachtsmen then roared to life in the bottom of the sixth, scoring three times and nearly tacking on more.

Garret Aube led off and for the second year in a row, he got all of a Tocci offering, crushing a fastball to deep center and while Stasium was able to race back to the fence, he couldn’t catch the ball and it cleared the wall for a home run to put Falmouth on the board.

“The momentum changed when they tried the squeeze and we got a double play, then Garret hit the home run,” Winship said.

“If we put that squeeze down, it’s over, but we didn’t and momentum changed,” said Portland coach Mike Rutherford. “We woke them up by not executing and we can’t seem to ever get Aube out.”

Coffin followed with a single to center. Sophomore Brady Douglas replaced Coffin as a runner and took second when Griffin Aube blooped a single down the rightfield line. Kidder then sacrificed the runners into scoring position. Kiely was next and he grounded the ball up the middle for Barnard to field, but his throw to first was a split second late and the infield single scored Coffin to cut the deficit to 3-2. Douglas took third on the play. Tracy then laid down a bunt just a few feet in front of the plate. King pounced on the ball and tried to tag the runner coming home, but Douglas swerved and touched home to tie the score. With runners at first and second, Manganello laid down a sacrifice bunt to bring up Rogers, who appeared to give the Yachtsmen the lead when he ripped a shot to right-center, but Stasium got a great jump, raced over and stabbed the ball on the fly to end the eventful frame with the game still tied, 3-3.

“(Ben) got a great jump, so give our defense some credit,” Rutherford said.

Portland nearly went back on top in the top of the seventh, but a hard-hit ball didn’t go in its favor.

Stasium led off with an infield single up the third base line and moved to second on Barnard’s sacrifice bunt. Tocci grounded out to second to move Stasium to third and after Snyder was intentionally walked and stole second, King hit a line drive the other way, but it went right into Coffin’s glove to retire the side.

LeFevre led off the bottom of the inning with bloop down the leftfield line, which bounced off the glove of junior second baseman Henry Westphal for a single. That brought the ominous specter (from a Bulldogs perspective) of Garret Aube to the plate. This time, Tocci won the battle, getting Aube to ground to short for a force out.

“You have to have a short memory as a pitcher,” Tocci said. “I knew I wouldn’t throw a no-hitter, so I had to shake it off. He hit a home run off me last year too. I was nervous, but I was trying to keep it outside and got him to ground out.”

Coffin sacrificed Aube to second and Griffin Aube was walked intentionally to bring up Kidder with a chance to play the hero. Kidder worked the count full and with the runners going, he struck out swinging to send the game to an eighth inning.

Where Portland finally put it away.

Sawyer grounded out to second leading off, but Loranger singled to center and Kilbride drew a walk and was replaced by junior Cameron Brooks.

That ended Tracy’s outing, as he was replaced by Garret Aube, with junior Jack Kidder taking over at third base.

Senior Vinnie Pasquali pinch-hit for the Bulldogs and on a 3-2 pitch, he lined out to left.

That brought up Stasium in another big spot and he came through again, grounding the ball just to the right of LeFevre at third into leftfield and Loranger raced home for the lead as the runners moved up to second and third.

“The first couple games I didn’t know what was going on,” said Stasium. “I wasn’t hitting the ball hard, but I took some (batting practice) and listened to the coaches. I wanted to be up, especially after being up last game in a clutch situation. I didn’t hit it as hard, but it got through and we got the lead.”

“The first two games, (Stasium) was not good,” Rutherford said. “Going into our third game, I was going to drop him down to the nine spot, he was swinging so badly. Now, he’s on base all the time.”

Portland wasn’t done.

Barnard was next and he delivered a clutch single to center to score Brooks and Stasium.

That brought up Tocci, who laid into an Aube offering for a double to right-center and Barnard came all the way around to make it 7-3.

“Going 0-for-4 before that at-bat, I thought I’d try new batting gloves and a new bat and it did the trick,” Tocci said.

Snyder grounded out to Aube, who ran to first to record the out, but the damage was done.

Not surprisingly, Falmouth didn’t go meekly in the bottom half and at the very least, it forced a pitching change.

Kiely left off with a single to left, then moved to second on a wild pitch. Tracy flew out to right with Kiely moving to third and Manganello drove in the run with a ground out to second. That put Tocci over the 110-pitch pitch limit and he was replaced by sophomore Brian Riley, who brought an end to the 2-hour, 4-minute struggle by getting Bopp to ground back to the mound and Portland celebrated its 7-4 victory.

“We let them stick around and we’ll work on that and try to get better at it, but this shows we don’t give up,” Tocci said. “There’s no give-up in Portland kids. We never say die and continue to work every inning.”

“We earned a valuable lesson today without losing,” Rutherford said. “They made five errors yesterday against Gorham and they made more today. They were on wobbly legs like a boxer. One more jab and it’s over. They were ready to die. You could see them come alive when we didn’t put it away. Give them credit. They’re very young. I honestly don’t think they’re in our league on paper, but you don’t play on paper.”

Stasium continued his recent excellence with four hits, two runs scored and an RBI.

Barnard had three hits, scored twice and had two RBI.

Brooks. Loranger and Sawyer also scored.

Tocci also drove in a run.

King had two of Portland’s six stolen bases. Barnard, Sawyer, Snyder and Stasium had the others.

The Bulldogs left nine runners on base.

Tocci improved to 3-0 after giving up three runs on seven hits in 7.2 innings. He walked one, struck out four and threw a wild pitch.

“Donnie battled all the way through,” Rutherford said. “You can’t teach his competitiveness. He’s not really a pitcher. He’s an athlete who pitches.” 

“Tocci is one of the best pitchers in the state, so to tie it up, credit to us,” Winship said. “He’s tough. He’s a competitor.”

Riley retired the only batter he faced.

Falmouth got multiple hits from Garret Aube, Griffin Aube and Kiely.

Garret Aube, Griffin Aube, Douglas and Kiely scored runs.

Garret Aube, Kiely, Manganello and Tracy had RBI.

Garret Aube stole a base.

The Yachtsmen stranded eight runners.

Tracy fell to 2-1 after giving up five runs (three earned) on seven hits in 7.1 innings. He walked seven, struck out two, threw a wild pitch and committed a balk.

Garret Aube surrendered two earned runs on three hits in two-thirds of an inning. 

“We had routine catching and throwing mistakes, but I’m proud of the guys,” said Winship. “We could have put our heads down, but we fought and we turned it into another great  rivalry game. ‘Rudy’ and I are good friends. We scrimmage a lot and we combine for (American) Legion. The kids know each other and they don’t want to lose to each other. It was the typical Falmouth-Portland game. Whoever got the big hit and made the big play would win. Credit to those guys. We battled, they battled. It was a great high school game.” 

Another tough week

Falmouth goes to Thornton Academy Tuesday, hosts Marshwood Thursday, then visits Scarborough Saturday.

“What we’re trying to do is learn from our mistakes,” said Winship. “We’re young, but we have older guys too. Inexperience is more the word. Right now doesn’t matter, what matters is June. We need to get in (to the playoffs) and make something happen. I think we’ll be OK.”

Portland stays on the road next week, as it visits Scarborough Tuesday and Biddeford Thursday before returning to Hadlock Field Saturday to face Sanford.

“We have to keep working hard every day in practice,” said Tocci. “Work harder than all the other teams.”

“We do it with different guys every game,” Rutherford said. “We’re good, but we’re still young. King and Snyder are our only seniors. We’re not polished veterans. These guys are coming into our own. Us and Gorham are the only one-loss teams left. 

“There are no easy games. Anytime you play Mikey D (Scarborough coach Mike D’Andrea), it’s tough. My guess is we’ll see their lefty on Tuesday. Anytime we play Biddeford, we struggle, no matter where we play them. Then, we get Gorham and South Portland back-to-back. Not easy.”

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

Portland junior starter Donnie Tocci throws a pitch.

Falmouth junior Garrett Tracy throws a strike.

Falmouth senior shortstop Garret Aube tries to turn a double play as Portland junior Will Barnard looks on.

Falmouth sophomore second baseman Connor Coffin throws out Portland junior Donnie Tocci.

Portland junior shortstop Will Barnard lines one of his three hits.

Portland junior leftfielder Jake Loranger eyes a pitch.

Portland junior pitcher Donnie Tocci (20) is congratulated by junior first baseman Ben Sawyer, left, and junior shortstop Will Barnard after escaping a jam.

Previous Falmouth-Portland results

2017 Class A South semifinals
@ Falmouth 4 Portland 3 (9)

2016 Class A South semifinals
Falmouth 5 Portland 0

2015 Western A semifinals
Portland 4 Falmouth 0

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