Portland holds off Scarborough in home opener

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Portland senior second baseman Dom Tocci is congratulated by junior third baseman Will Snyder after scoring a run during the Bulldogs’ 3-2 home win over Scarborough Thursday night.

Joe Carpine / 365digitalphotography.com.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Portland 3 Scarborough 2

S- 001 001 0- 2 4 0
P-100 110 x- 3 4 0

Bottom 1st
Joyce doubled to right-center, Dom Tocci scored.

Top 3rd
Lamontagne grounded to second, Plummer scored.

Bottom 4th
Ruotolo singled to left, Snyder scored.

Bottom 5th
Knop doubled to left-center, Dom Tocci scored.

Top 6th
Pratt singled to center, Lamontagne scored. 

Runs:
S- Lamontage, Plummer
P- Dom Tocci 2, Snyder 

RBI:
S- Lamontagne, Pratt
P- Joyce, Knop, Ruotolo 

Doubles:
P- Joyce, Knop, Dom Tocci 

Stolen bases:
S- Lamontagne
P- Ruotolo 

Left on base:
S- 2
P- 5

Panyi, Clark (5) and Seymour; Ruotolo and King

S:
Panyi (L, 0-1) 4.1 IP 4 H 3 R 3 ER 6 BB 6 K 3 WP
Clark 1.2 IP 0 H 0 R 0 BB 1 K 

P:
Ruotolo (W, 1-0) 7 IP 4 H 2 R 2 ER 1 BB 4 K 

Time: 1:44

PORTLAND—The fortunes of the 2017 Portland Bulldogs will rise and fall with their defense.

In the Bulldogs’ opener earlier this week, a 5-3 loss at Biddeford, their defense betrayed them and a loss resulted.

Thursday night at Hadlock Field, in Portland’s home opener, the defense was flawless and as a result, the Bulldogs are in the win column for the first time.

Hosting a Scarborough team that was the feel-good story of the 2016 season, playing its first countable game of the new campaign, Portland gave the ball to senior Giovanni Ruotolo for his first varsity start and Ruotolo was terrific.

The Bulldogs grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when senior second baseman Dom Tocci doubled with one out and one out later, senior first baseman Tom Joyce doubled him in.

Ruotolo shut the Red Storm out until the top of the third inning, when the bottom of their order caused damage. With one out, sophomore second baseman Wyatt Plummer and freshman designated hitter Zach Alofs singled and sophomore rightfielder Nolan Lamontagne drove Plummer home with a ground ball.

Portland went back on top to stay in the fourth, as junior third baseman Will Snyder took two bases on a sacrifice bunt, then scored on an RBI single from Ruotolo.

In the fifth, Tocci walked with one out and senior shortstop Jake Knop sent him home with a double for an insurance run.

That proved pivotal, as after junior shortstop Morgan Pratt singled home Lamontagne with one out in the sixth, Tocci and Knop combined for a pretty double play to escape further damage and Ruotolo set Scarborough down in order in the seventh to bring the curtain down on a 3-2 victory.

The Bulldogs evened their record thanks to a solid team-wide effort and handed the Red Storm a frustrating defeat in the process.

“It’s nice to get a victory,” Knop said. “Biddeford was a tough loss. We were dominating them, but we broke down. We’ve stressed since the beginning of tryouts that for our team to be successful, we can’t make errors and that’s what we did tonight.”

Picking up where they left off

Last season, Portland went to Scarborough for the regular season finale and the Red Storm eked out a 4-3 decision.

Both teams would go on to the Class A South semifinals before losing.

Scarborough fell, 8-5, to South Portland, then graduated almost of all of their key contributors.

Portland was blanked, 5-0, by eventual regional champion Falmouth, then also lost some top players, especially on the mound.

The Bulldogs, who spent April vacation week scrimmaging in Florida, opened with a 5-3 loss at Biddeford Monday, letting a three-run lead slip away, thanks in large part to three errors. Sophomore Donnie Tocci was the hard-luck loser.

Portland was supposed to play at Sanford Tuesday, but that game was postponed by bad weather.

Scarborough, meanwhile, was scheduled to begin its season at home Tuesday against Deering, but that game was rained out.

Entering play, the teams had split 16 all-time meetings (see sidebar, below), but the Red Storm had taken seven of the past 10.

Thursday evening, after longtime coaches Mike D’Andrea and Mike Rutherford exchanged lineup cards, the Bulldogs and Red Storm produced another close contest.

Ruotolo had a solid first inning, getting Lamontagne to pop back to the mound, catching senior centerfielder Tim Carion looking at strike three and inducing junior shortstop Morgan Pratt to ground out to second.

In the bottom half, Red Storm junior starting pitcher Zoltan Panyi walked sophomore centerfielder Ben Stasium on five pitches, but Scarborough sophomore catcher Cam Seymour gunned down Stasium trying to steal. That loomed large, as Dom Tocci went the other way and doubled down the leftfield line. Knop then chased an outside pitch on a full count, but Joyce ripped a double to the gap in right-center and Tocci scored easily. Snyder kept the inning alive by walking on a full count, but rightfielder Donnie Tocci’s line drive was caught by Carion in center to end the inning with the score 1-0.

Seymour led off the top of the second and hit the ball hard, but it was right at Joyce, who caught the line drive. Panyi then grounded out to second and sophomore third baseman Noah Frink looked at strike three.

Ruotolo struck out on a full count pitch to start the bottom half. Senior designated hitter Dylan Wike couldn’t hold up on an 0-2 pitch and struck out and junior catcher Cam King fanned as well.

Scarborough drew even in the top of the third.

After Ruotolo caught senior leftfielder Matt Cook looking at strike three, Plummer produced the Red Storm’s first hit, a single to right. Alofs then grounded a ball through the hole between first and second that Tocci couldn’t quite reach. Plummer took off for third and despite a strong throw from Donnie Tocci, he reached safely with Alofs moving up to second. Lamontagne then grounded out to Dom Tocci at second, but Plummer came home to tie it, 1-1. Carion then flew out to left to end the inning.

Portland had its chances in the bottom half, but a huge defensive play helped Panyi escape.

Stasium walked again and moved to second on a wild pitch, but after D’Andrea came out to confer with Panyi and after Dom Tocci twice failed to get a bunt down, Panyi threw to Pratt to pick Stasium off. Tocci then grounded to first. Knop drew a walk and also moved up on a wild pitch, but Joyce grounded out to second to end the inning with the score still tied.

In the top of the fourth, Pratt lined out softly to Knop, but Seymour walked on four pitches. That brought up Panyi, who lined the ball to Dom Tocci at second. The ball deflected off Tocci’s glove into the outfield, but it still led to an out, as after Seymour dove back into first base, Donnie Tocci got the ball and threw the ball to Knop for the rarely seen 4-9-6 force out. Frink then lined to left to end the frame.

In the bottom half, Snyder led off with a walk on four pitches and when Donnie Tocci sacrificed to Frink at third, Snyder didn’t stop and raced all the way to third base. Ruotolo then showed great patience, waiting on an inside pitch before steering it into the hole between short and third for a single which scored Snyder for a 2-1 lead.

“Mike and I have coached against each other for many years,” said D’Andrea. “He likes to steal and bunt and take the extra base. They do it well. Our third baseman made a nice play to get the out. I’m pleased with that. If he didn’t make that play, it would have been a three or a four run inning.”

It wound up being just one run, as after Ruotolo stole second, Wike couldn’t hold up on a 2-2 pitch and struck out and King looked at strike three.

Unlike in the third inning, the bottom half of Scarborough’s order couldn’t work any magic in the fifth, as Cook grounded softly back to Ruotolo, Plummer hit a sharp grounder to Dom Tocci at second and Alofs looked at strike three.

Portland added to its lead in the bottom half and chased Panyi in the process.

After Stasium grounded out to first with Panyi covering, Dom Tocci walked on four pitches and Knop crushed a double to the gap in left-center and Tocci came all the way around to make it 3-1. 

“I was just looking fastball,” Knop said. “In my earlier at-bats, I just missed and fouled off two fastballs. I knew I’d get another one.”

That did it for Panyi, who was pulled for sophomore Jack Clark, who closed out the inning by getting Joyce to strike out and Snyder to pop foul to first.

Lamontagne gave Scarborough life to start the sixth by blooping a single to center, but Donnie Tocci made a nice sliding catch in foul territory along the rightfield line to retire Carion. After Lamontagne stole second, Pratt grounded a single up the middle. Lamontagne scored and when the ball eluded Stasium, Pratt had an opportunity to get into scoring position, but he didn’t take the extra base and that loomed large.

“That was an unfortunate play, but I’m proud of him because going back to first base is the right thing to do because he can steal a bag,” D’Andrea said. “He missed the bag, but he was heady enough to go back.”

Seymour was next and he grounded the ball to the right of the second base bag. Tocci scooped it up, tossed to Knop and Knop, despite Pratt bearing down, was able to make a nice throw to first to complete the inning-ending double play.

“I didn’t make any plays all day because everything they hit was to Tocci,” Knop said. “I started cheating more and more to second base. He got the ball to me and I was standing right there. I had plenty of time to set my feet and made a good throw.”

“That was a clutch double play,” said Ruotolo.

“I think we have the best defensive team around,” Rutherford added. “Knop and Tocci are all-league players. Snyder can play. Joyce is a good first baseman. We have speed in the outfield. That’s our strength. Our weakness is scoring runs and we’ll figure out how to do that.”

In the bottom half, Clark set Portland down in order again, as Donnie Tocci grounded out to second, Ruotolo was out on a deep fly to center and sophomore pinch-hitter Ben Sawyer grounded out to second.

That out was less noticeable than the player Portland had on deck, senior Nick Archambault, who suffered a major knee injury during football season. Archambault is available to pinch-hit and his imminent return bodes well for the Bulldogs.

“Nick can pinch-hit for a couple games,” Rutherford said. “He still needs to be cleared to run the bases. Once we can put him in the middle of the lineup, we’ll stretch the lineup and we’ll be in good shape.”

Panyi started the second with a little pop-up that Dom Tocci caught behind Joyce. Frink then grounded out to second. That brought up Cook and Ruotolo ended the evening by getting him to ground out to second, giving the Bulldogs a 3-2 victory in 1 hour, 44 minutes.

“Losing to Biddeford was tough,” Rutherford said. “We went to Florida and played six games down there and didn’t make an error. We made three errors in one inning at Biddeford. That was shocking. That’s a game we knew we kicked away. That’s why this was such a must-win game.”

Ruotolo improved to 1-0 by allowing just two runs on four hits in seven innings. He walked just one batter and struck out four.

“I  was fired up all day,” Ruotolo said. “I was sitting in school envisioning the game. I was a little nervous, but I got through it. I had a good fastball. Once the curveball settled down, I worked it outside. It feels good to get a win.”

“(Gio) had no varsity experience before this year,” Knop said. “He threw a gem in Florida. Tonight, he pounded the strike zone and allowed us to make plays. He was very confident. It’s awesome to see that.”

“Give Gio credit,” Rutherford added. “He took the ball and got a big hit. That’s why we gave him the game ball. It’s his first career start. He got a win in relief last year, but this was his first start at Hadlock Field and he was juiced up. I didn’t know what to expect. He was very confident. He pumped in strikes. The kids love playing behind him. I’ve found a number one and a number two and Knop will be our reliever. We just need to find a number three.”

Dom Tocci scored twice for Portland, while Snyder had the other run. Joyce, Knop and Ruotolo had RBI. Joyce, Knop and Dom Tocci all had doubles. Ruotolo stole a base.

The Bulldogs stranded five runners.

For Scarborough, Panyi took the loss and fell to 0-1 after surrendering three earned runs on four hits and six walks in 4.1 innings. Panyi struck out six, but threw three wild pitches.

“I loved the way Zoltan competed,” D’Andrea said. “He’s had better days. When he figures out his stuff’s good enough and he pounds the zone, he’ll be a top pitcher. He didn’t show that tonight, but he kept us in the game and that’s his job.”

Clark didn’t allow a hit in his 1.2 innings of work. He struck out one.

Offensively, the Red Storm got runs from Lamontagne and Plummer and RBI from Lamontagne and Pratt. Lamontagne also stole a base.

Scarborough left two runners on.

“We don’t expect to score a bunch of runs,” said D’Andrea. “We know we’ll have to play well defensively and do the little things. This felt like a preseason game. I just let them play tonight.”

Gearing up

Scarborough will finally play its home opener Saturday when Westbrook pays a visit. The Red Storm then host Deering in a makeup game Monday before going to Gorham Tuesday.

“We still have some work to do,” said D’Andrea. “We have a decent team. We have two freshmen in the lineup. We may have four sophomores in the lineup. We have young talent. Once we help them, they’ll do fine.”

Portland is home for two more games, versus Massabesic Saturday and Bonny Eagle Tuesday.

“It’s going to be awesome to play some games,” Knop said. “Saturday’s supposed to be 70 and sunny, so hopefully we’ll get a win.”

“We have tons of potential,” said Ruotolo. “We’re missing a couple of huge players from last year, but we have a ton of talent and we’re only going to get better.”

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

Portland senior Giovanni Ruotolo throws a strike. Ruotolo went the distance to earn his first win of the season.

Scarborough junior pitcher Zoltan Panyi shows his form.

Scarborough sophomore rightfielder Nolan Lamontagne takes a swing.

Portland junior Cam King fires to second base.

Portland sophomore Ben Stasium is caught stealing as Scarborough junior shortstop Morgan Pratt prepares to apply the tag.

Portland senior second baseman Dom Tocci throws out a runner.

Portland senior pitcher Giovanni Ruotolo catches a pop fly.

Previous Scarborough-Portland results

2016
@ Scarborough 4 Portland 3 

2015
@ Portland 3 Scarborough 0 

2014
@ Scarborough 7 Portland 5 

2013
Scarborough 9 @ Portland 2
Western A quarterfinals
Portland 5 @ Scarborough 4

2012
Scarborough 5 @ Portland 3
@ Scarborough 5 Portland 1

2011
@ Portland 6 Scarborough 1

2010
@ Scarborough 8 Portland 1

2009
Scarborough 1 @ Portland 0

2008
@ Scarborough 7 Portland 5
Western A preliminary round
@ Portland 5 Scarborough 4 (9)

2007
@ Portland 4 Scarborough 0

2006
Portland 4 @ Scarborough 0

2005
@ Portland 27 Scarborough 0 (5)

2004
Portland 15 @ Scarborough 1 (5)

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