Portland passes biggest test yet, wins at Cheverus to stay unbeaten

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Portland senior John Williams (29) is congratulated by senior Jack Nichols after scoring the tying run in the fourth inning of Thursday’s 8-1 win at Cheverus, the Bulldogs’ ninth in a row to start the year.

Chris Lambert photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Portland 8 Cheverus 1

P- 000 312 2- 8 8 0
C- 100 000 0- 1 4 2

Bottom 1st
Fletcher reached on fielder’s choice, Casale scored.

Top 4th
Fusco reached on fielder’s choice, Williams scored. Barnard singled to left, Stasium scored. Fortin stole home.

Top 5th
Williams doubled to right-center, Tocci scored.

Top 6th
Barnard singled to right, Pasquali scored. Joyce singled to left, Fortin scored.

Top 7th
Fusco singled to right, Archambault scored. Barnard hit sacrifice fly to center, King scored.

Multiple hits:
P- Barnard 3
C- Casale 3

Runs:
P- Fortin 2, Archambault, King, Pasquali, Stasium, Tocci, Williams
C- Casale

RBI:
P- Barnard 3, Fusco 2, Joyce, Williams
C- Fletcher

Double:
C- Casale

Stolen bases:
P- Williams 2, Archambault, Clayton, Fortin, Pasquali, Ruotolo, Tocci

Left on base:
P- 6
C- 8

Barnard and King; Fletcher, Brooks (6), Hase (6) and McCarthy

P:
Barnard (W, 3-0) 7 IP 4 H 1 R 1 ER 3 BB 3 K 1 HBP

C:
Fletcher (L, 1-1) 5 IP 3 H 4 R 4 ER 3 BB 10 K 2 HBP
Brooks 0.1 IP 3 H 2 R 2 ER 1 BB 0 K 1 WP
Hase 1.2 IP 2 H 2 R 2 ER 1 BB 1 K 1 HBP

Time: 2:03

PORTLAND—Even wearing the bulls-eye, the 2016 Portland baseball team keeps finding a way to win.

After cruising through the first half of the season with relative ease and an unblemished record, the Bulldogs expected to get a stern test when they traveled to Kevin McDonald Memorial Field to battle rival Cheverus Thursday afternoon.

And for three innings, Portland struggled against Stags freshman flamethrower Tre Fletcher, but as was the case a year ago, these Bulldogs don’t panic and save their best for the later innings.

Cheverus took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, when Portland senior starting pitcher Charles Barnard walked three batters and the hustle of Cheverus junior catcher Logan McCarthy prevented an inning-ending force out to allow junior centerfielder Jack Casale to come home.

While Portland’s bats were dormant, the Bulldogs turned to the legs of senior first baseman John Williams to spark the offense in the fourth.

Williams walked leading off the inning, then stole second and third base before coming home on a fielder’s choice off the bat of senior designated hitter Joe Fusco. Barnard then helped himself with an RBI single and senior leftfielder Joe Fortin came home with a third run when Barnard got caught in a rundown and was tagged out after Fortin scored, at least in the umpire’s view.

Barnard only got stronger as the game went on and he and his teammates kept the offense coming.

In the fifth, with two outs, junior second baseman Dom Tocci walked and stole second and Williams followed with a ringing double to right-center for a 4-1 lead.

In the sixth, Barnard and junior pinch-hitting wizard Tommy Joyce had RBI hits and in the seventh, Fusco drove in junior centerfielder Nick Archambault with an RBI single and Barnard hit a sacrifice fly.

Barnard then slammed the door in the bottom of the seventh and Portland prevailed, 8-1.

Barnard allowed just one run on four hits and had three hits and three RBI on the offensive side and the Bulldogs stole eight bases as they improved to 9-0, handing Cheverus its third loss in a row and dropping the Stags to 4-4 in the process.

“We ran the bases to score runs and had timely hits,” said Portland coach Mike Rutherford. “We’re playing good baseball.”

Proving ground

Thursday’s game figured to be one of the better contests of the regular season, as both squads have largely lived up to billing this spring

Portland opened by rallying late to edge visiting Biddeford, 4-3. The Bulldogs then downed visiting Westbrook (6-2) and Gorham (14-8) and won at Massabesic (6-3), Windham (3-2) and Noble (10-3) and topped visiting Sanford, 7-1, and Marshwood (3-0).

Cheverus has been very competitive as well, but does have a few blemishes. After downing host Windham in the opener, 9-1, the Stags lost at Thornton Academy, 3-2. Shutout wins over visiting Sanford (7-0), visiting Marshwood (3-0) and host Massabesic (5-0) followed. After a 1-0, eight-inning home loss to South Portland Friday, Cheverus let a 4-0 lead slip away Tuesday at Bonny Eagle and lost, 9-5.

The rivalry has been streaky in recent seasons.,

Portland won six of seven meetings between 2004 and 2008, but starting in 2009, the Stags rattled off five straight victories. Each of the past two seasons, however, the Bulldogs have rallied late to win at home, 9-8 in 2014 and 7-6 a year ago.

Thursday, on another beautiful spring day (69 degrees with a 15 mile per hour wind out of the south at game time), Portland made it three straight in the series and stayed undefeated.

Fletcher was unhittable early, as he fanned Bulldogs junior shortstop Jake Knop, Tocci and Williams, all swinging.

Barnard was nowhere near as sharp in the bottom of the first and the Stags got the jump.

Casale drew a walk leading off and senior third baseman Chris Vallee sacrificed him to second. Senior first baseman Jensen LaPoint then grounded out to Knop, with Casale taking third. Barnard’s struggles continued, as he walked junior designated hitter Jared Brooks on four pitches and McCarthy on a full count pitch to load the bases.

That brought up Fletcher, who fell behind 0-2, then hit a sharp grounder at Knop, who threw to second, but Tocci was shaded farther off the bag than anticipated and McCarthy’s hustle got him to the base before Tocci caught the throw, allowing Casale to score for a 1-0 lead.

“The first inning could have been worse,” Rutherford said. “We had three walks and a communication mistake. It wasn’t Knop’s fault. Tocci didn’t let him know he was cheating to the first base hole.”

Barnard avoided further damage by getting senior rightfielder Pat Sullivan to ground out to third.

Fletcher started the second by getting Archambault to look at strike three. After Fusco drew a walk on a full count pitch, senior third baseman Jack Nichols watched strike three. Fortin then became the first Bulldog to make contact, but he grounded out weakly to third to end the frame.

Barnard started the bottom half by getting senior leftfielder Josh Veroneau to ground out to Knop at short and he followed that by striking out sophomore shortstop Griffin Watson. Casale kept the inning alive with a double down the leftfield line, but Vallee popped out foul to Williams at first for out number three.

Barnard got Portland’s first hit leading off the third, as he singled down the leftfield line, but he was picked off by McCarthy, who threw to LaPoint, who applied the tag. Senior rightfielder Joe Clayton then struck out looking. Knop reached in painful fashion, as he was hit by a pitch on his backside, but Fletcher registered his seventh strikeout, getting Tocci swinging, to end the frame.

In the bottom half, Barnard made quick work of Cheverus, getting LaPoint to chase strike three with a checked swing, Brooks to pop out to second and McCarthy to ground out to short.

In the fourth, the Bulldogs finally got their offense going and soon went on top to stay.

Williams got things started by walking on a 3-2 pitch.

He then stole second base.

And then stole third.

“I feel stealing third is much easier than stealing second,” Williams said. “Once I get to second, I think about taking another base. I love stealing. It’s my favorite part of baseball. I got a good jump today, so I just went for it.”

Fletcher struck out Archambault swinging, but with the infield in, Fusco’s sharp grounder was stabbed by a diving LaPoint, but Williams easily beat his throw home to tie the score and Fusco reached first on the play. Fusco was replaced by senior Nick Stasium, who stayed at first when Nichols lined to right. A Fletcher curveball then didn’t break properly and hit Fortin in the back. That set the stage for Barnard, who lined a single past shortstop, scoring Stasium for a 2-1 lead and putting runners at the corners.

“I knew we’d get to (Fletcher) eventually,” Barnard said. “He’s a good pitcher. We knew that coming in, but I know our offense. We’ll keep grinding. The more we saw him, the easier he was to hit.”

With Clayton at the plate, Barnard took off for second and got himself in a rundown and Fortin broke for home. Barnard was eventually tagged out by Stags senior second baseman Jon Bernier. The question remained whether or not the tag came before Fortin crossed the plate and while most on hand felt it did, Fortin was ruled to have scored and while the inning was over, Portland’s lead was 3-1, not 2-1.

Barnard remained sharp in the bottom of the fourth, getting Fletcher to fly out to right, Sullivan to ground out to second and Veroneau to pop out to short, with Knop making a nice over the shoulder grab.

The Bulldogs added to their lead with some two-out magic in the top of the fifth.

Clayton grounded out to first leading off and Knop struck out swinging, but Tocci walked and stole second and Williams went the other way, slapping a double into the gap in right-center for a 4-1 lead.

“(Fletcher’s) a great pitcher, a great baseball player, and he’s pretty intimidating,” Williams said. “We hadn’t seen a pitcher like him before, so we had to adjust. We had to make him throw us strikes and wait for our pitches.”

After Williams moved up to third on an errant pickoff throw, Fletcher recorded his final out, fittingly, with a strikeout of Archambault to keep the deficit at three.

In the bottom half, Barnard struck out senior pinch-hitter Jack Whaley and after Casale’s third hit, a single to center, Barnard got Vallee to fly deep to left and LaPoint to fly out deep to center.

Portland kept the good times rolling in the top of the sixth against new pitcher, junior Jared Brooks.

Brooks got Fusco to ground out to first with the pitcher covering, but Nichols singled to right and sophomore pinch-runner Vinny Pasquali stole second. After Fortin walked, a wild pitch moved the runners up. Barnard then singled to right, scoring Pasquali. Joyce, who has already created quite a reputation as a stellar pinch-hitter, went the other way and singled to left to score Fortin for a 6-1 lead.

That was it for Brooks, who was replaced by junior Nik Hase, who struck out Knop and got Tocci to ground back to the mound as Hase threw home to McCarthy to tag out junior pinch-runner Giovanni Ruotolo for the final out.

Cheverus made a little noise in its half of the sixth, but was left frustrated.

Hase flew out to right leading off, but Barnard hit McCarthy with a pitch and Fletcher lined a single to right. Senior Matt LaPoint pinch-hit and grounded out slowly to the mound to move the runners up, but a deep fly ball from Veroneau nestled in Archambault’s glove to end the threat.

The Bulldogs tacked on two more runs in the seventh.

Archambault reached on a leadoff single to center, then stole second and went to third on a wild throw by McCarthy. With the infield in, Fusco’s chopper got over the head of Bernier at second and Archambault came in on the single. Sophomore catcher Cam King came in to run and when Nichols grounded out to second, King ran all the way to third. Fortin walked on a full-count pitch and Barnard’s fly to centet was caught on the run by Fletcher, but King came in for Portland’s final run. Fortin was gunned down trying to take third and the game went to the bottom of the seventh.

There, Bernard got Watson to fly out deep to center leading off. After Casale drew a walk, Vallee flew out to right and LaPoint’s liner was caught by Nichols at third to put the finishing touches on the Bulldogs’ 8-1 win, a victory that took 2 hours and 3 minutes to produce.

“We knew we’d have a tough game today,” Williams said. “We just played our game like we always do. We picked each other up. We have the attitude that we’re the best team and we’re showing it. We proved our point.”

“We knew it would be a challenge coming in, but we’re late inning heroes,” Barnard said. “Team chemistry is a big part of it. Coach does a great job implementing confidence. He keeps us going.”

Portland’s offense was paced by three hits and three RBI from Barnard. Fortin scored twice, while Archambault, King, Pasquali, Stasium, Tocci and Williams all touched home once. Fusco had two runs batted in, while Joyce and Williams each had one.

The Bulldogs finished with eight steals, as Williams had a pair and Archambault, Clayton, Fortin, Pasquali, Ruotolo and Tocci had one apiece.

Portland stranded six runners.

Barnard, who left his last start with a blister on the middle finger of his throwing hand, went all the way this time, as he improved to 3-0 by allowing just one earned run on four hits and three walks. He struck out three batters and hit one.

“I had to cover up the blister a little bit, but it didn’t limit me,” Barnard said. “I felt good. I was overthinking things in the first. I had to get the ball down. I was trying to do too much early on.”

“(Charles is) amazing,” Williams said. “He’s my best friend. He’ll be my roommate next year at Endicott (College). I’m really proud of him.”

“After the first inning, Charles pitched great,” Rutherford added. “He’s a senior. He’s a horse. I expect that from him.”

Rutherford credited pitching coach Ian Boyle with helping Barnard to settle in.

“Ian Boyle is one of the best pitching coaches,” Rutherford said. “I don’t like communicating with pitchers. I hire a pitching coach and he talks to the pitchers. He does a great job.”

In the postgame, Rutherford also credited another assistant.

“Mike Fullerton is my offensive coach,” he said. “I don’t flash signs. He does bunting, hit-and-runs, stealing. The kids are receptive and they do a good job.”

For Cheverus, Casale was most of the offense, as he doubled once, singled twice, walked and scored the lone run. Fletcher had an RBI.

The Stags stranded eight runners.

Fletcher, despite his strong start, fell to 1-1 after allowing four earned runs on three hits and three walks in five innings. He hit two batters.

“Portland ran their pitch count up, which may have been their strategy,and (Tre) elevated his own pitch count by going to full counts,” said Cheverus coach Mac McKew. “He just turned 15-years-old. He’s obviously very talented, but he’s still figuring things out. There’s a lot to the mental side of the game he has to work on. He’s probably the hardest thrower in the league.”

“Fletcher came out and struck out seven in three innings,” Rutherford said. “We hadn’t seen a slider. We’ve seen guys throwing 75 and he was throwing 82, so it looked like 90. The second time around, we worked the count, got baserunners and he didn’t like throwing from the stretch. His velocity went down. He might have been throwing 83, 84 the first time through, then he was down around 80. He’s talented though. He’s going to be good.”

Brooks gave up two earned runs on three hits in one-third of inning. He walked one and threw a wild pitch. Hase surrendered two earned runs on two hits and a walk in 1.2 inning. Hase also hit a batter.

“Our pitching has been fantastic all year, but we had very poor at-bats today,” McKew said. “We had 2-0 counts and got jammed. We should have hit the ball hard somewhere and we didn’t swing. We didn’t have a good approach. We just didn’t hit. We were lucky to have a run.”

More showdowns

Cheverus (seventh in the Class A South Heal Points standings at press time) looks to end its skid Saturday when Westbrook pays a visit. Next week brings trips to Scarborough, Noble and Deering. Home games against Thornton Academy, Biddeford and Gorham and a trip to Sanford also loom.

“There isn’t a lot of time in baseball to wallow in misery, so it’s back to the drawing board,” McKew said. “It’s on to the next game Saturday. The league is tough. Every game is a battle.”

Portland’s brutal stretch continues Saturday at Bonny Eagle and Tuesday at Thornton Academy, where the Bulldogs (third in Class A South at press time) expect to face Golden Trojans’ ace Ben Lambert. After hosting South Portland in a regional final rematch, Portland is home with Deering (that game has been rescheduled for May 23 at 7 p.m.), home with Massabesic, then closes at Gorham and Scarborough.

” It’s exciting,” Williams said. “We can’t wait to face Deering. Lambert is dealing for TA. Bonny Eagle gave us a scare last year. I think it’ll be tough, but I think we’ll do pretty good.”

“After a win like this, we’ll be confident playing the tougher teams,” Barnard said.

“We’re supposed to be good and we play like it,” Rutherford added. “We don’t get too high or too low. Every game is the same. If we play to our strengths, we have a good chance to win every game. We’re a confident team and we play like it.”

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

Portland senior starting pitcher Charles Barnard throws a strike. Barnard improved to 3-0 with a four-hitter and got it done offensively as well, ripping three hits and driving in three runs.

Cheverus’ lone offense of the game came in the bottom of the first, when with two outs and the bases loaded, junior catcher Logan McCarthy beat Portland junior second baseman Dom Tocci to second base, allowing a run to score.

Portland junior shortstop Jake Knop fields the ball. Knop had another flawless game in the field.

Portland senior rightfielder Joe Clayton lines a hit.

Portland senior first baseman John Williams catches a pop up.

Portland senior Charles Barnard is tagged out by Cheverus senior second baseman Jon Bernier after a rundown in the fourth inning. Barnard appeared to be tagged out for the third out of the inning before senior Zach Fortin crossed the plate, but Fortin’s’ run was allowed to stand.

Portland senior John Williams steals third base in the fourth inning, right after he stole second.

Recent Cheverus-Portland results

2015
@ Portland 7 Cheverus 6

2014
@ Portland 9 Cheverus 8 

2013
@ Cheverus 7 Portland 6 (9)

2012
@ Cheverus 3 Portland 2

2011
Cheverus 8 Portland 0 (played in OOB)

2010
Cheverus 12 @ Portland 0

2009
Cheverus 7 @ Portland 2

2008
Portland 4 @ Cheverus 0

2007
Cheverus 4 @ Portland 3

2006
Portland 7 @ Cheverus 4

2005
@ Portland 11 Cheverus 2
Portland 13 @ Cheverus 5

2004
Portland 24 @ Cheverus 1
@ Portland 11 Cheverus 1

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