Portland rediscovers offense, downs Kennebunk on Senior Night

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Portland junior Ben Sawyer is congratulated after scoring a run in Monday’s 9-2 home victory over Kennebunk.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Portland 9 Kennebunk 2

K- 001 010 0- 2 4 2
P- 104 202 x- 9 9 0

Bottom 1st
Tocci grounded out to short, Stasium scored.

Top 3rd
Hoffman grounded out to short, R. Connors scored.

Bottom 3rd
Stasium scored on error. King singled to center, Snyder scored. Kilbride singled to center, King and Sawyer scored.

Bottom 4th
Snyder flew out to left, Stasium scored. King grounded out to short, Barnard scored.

Top 5th
Hoffman grounded out to short, Gere scored.

Bottom 6th
Stasium and Tocci scored on error.

Repeat hitters:
P- Stasium 3, Kilbride

Runs:
K- R. Connors, Gere
P- Stasium 4, Barnard, King, Sawyer, Snyder, Tocci

RBI:
K- Hoffman 2
P- Kilbride, King, Snyder 2, Tocci

Double:
K- D. Smith

Stolen bases:
K- D. Smith 2, I. Connors, R. Connors
P- King, Stasium 2, Kilbride, Sawyer, Tocci

Left on base:
K- 7
P- 6

Grady, D. Smith (4) and Lazos; Graffius, Villani (4), Pasquali (7) and King

K:
Grady (L,2-2 ) 3 IP 5 H 5 R 4 ER 3 BB 1 K 2 WP 1 HBP
D. Smith 3 IP 4 H 4 R 2 ER 1 BB 0 K 1 WP

P:
* Graffius 3+ IP 2 H 1 R 1 ER 4 BB 3 K
Villani (W, 2-1) 3.2 IP 2 H 1 R 1 ER 1 BB 3 K 1 HBP 
Pasquali 0.1 IP 0 H 0 R 0 BB 1 K

* Graffius faced one batter in the 4th.

Time: 1:50

PORTLAND—Portland’s offense still might be a work in progress, but there was enough of it Monday evening at Hadlock Field for the Bulldogs to produce a victory on Senior Night.

Portland grabbed a 1-0 first inning lead against visiting Kennebunk, as junior centerfielder Ben Stasium reached on a single, stole second, moved to third on a passed ball, then came home on a ground out from junior rightfielder Donnie Tocci.

The Rams drew even in the top of the third on an RBI ground ball from senior first baseman Cooper Hoffman, but in the bottom half, Stasium sparked another rally with a walk and stolen base, then came home with the go-ahead run on a throwing error. Senior catcher Cam King added an RBI single and an unlikely hero, senior second baseman Jack Kilbride, broke things open with a two-run single to make it 5-1.

In the fourth, the Bulldogs got two more runs on a sacrifice fly from senior third baseman Will Snyder and a ground out from King.

Hoffman drove in another run for Kennebunk on a ground ball in the top of the fifth, but in the bottom of the sixth, a throwing error allowed Portland to put it away and senior Charles Graffius, junior Jackson Villani and senior Vinnie Pasquali combined on a four-hitter as the Bulldogs prevailed, 9-2.

Portland mustered nine hits and didn’t commit an error as it improved to 11-4, dropping the Rams to 4-11 in the process.

“We swung a little better today than we have,” said Bulldogs coach Mike Rutherford. “It’s coming. I think the kids have come together and they’re having fun again. They were pressing, but it’s just baseball.”

Return to form

Portland looked dominant for 10 games, winning nine, then its offense took a hiatus and three consecutive losses resulted. 

The Bulldogs started with a 7-1 win at Noble, then rolled at preseason favorite Thornton Academy (8-1). After a 2-1 loss at Windham, Portland rallied for a thrilling 9-8 home win over Marshwood. After eking out a 7-4, eight-inning victory at Falmouth, the Bulldogs doubled up host Scarborough, 4-2, blanked host Biddeford (4-0) and downed visiting Sanford (8-2). Portland downed Deering, 11-1, in five-innings, to give Rutherford his 300th career victory, then handled visiting Westbrook, 8-2. Portland’s seven-game win streak ended with a 6-3 home loss to Gorham and the Bulldogs then lost at home to South Portland, 4-1, before falling at Cheverus by a 4-1 score. Thursday, Portland got back in the win column, 3-2, at Massabesic.

Kennebunk won just four of its first 14 games, but half of the Rams’ losses came by one run or two.

Entering play Monday, the Bulldogs had won 11 of 13 previous meetings. Under chilly skies (55 degrees at first pitch), Portland went out and made it 12 of 14.

Graffius, one of five seniors, got the nod to start and he fanned sophomore rightfielder Ryan Connors to open the game, then got sophomore third baseman Elliot Gere to fly to right. After junior centerfielder Derek Smith and Hoffman drew walks, junior second baseman Alex Champagne chased strike three to end it.

The Bulldogs got their offense going in the bottom half against Rams senior starter Chris Grady, as Stasium reached on an infield hit to third and after junior shortstop Billy Barnard lined out to right, Stasium stole second, then moved up to third on a passed ball. Tocci grounded out to Kennebunk sophomore shortstop Nick Teguis, but on the play, Stasium came home with the run. Snyder singled to left, but King popped to first to keep the score 1-0 after one inning.

Graffius started the top of the second by striking out senior leftfielder Ian Connors. Sophomore designated hitter Matt Smith was then robbed by Snyder at third, who dove for a sharp ground ball before throwing out the runner. After Teguis got a fly ball to left to drop for a single, sophomore catcher Tommy Lazos flew out to left for the third out.

In the bottom half, junior first baseman Ben Sawyer flew out to center and Pasquali, the designated hitter, struck out swinging, but Kilbride singled to left for his first varsity hit, then stole second base and moved to third on a wild pitch. Kilbride would be stranded, however, as junior leftfielder Jake Loranger grounded back to the mound.

Kennebunk drew even in the top of the third.

Ryan Connors led off by beating out an infield single to short, then took second on Gere’s slow ground out to Snyder at third. After Derek Smith drew a walk and the runners executed a double steal, Hoffman’s ground ball to short scored Connors to make it 1-1. Smith moved up to third on the out, but was stranded there, as Graffius got Champagne to ground out to third.

Portland then put up four runs in the bottom of the frame, with a little help, to take control of the game.

Stasium drew a walk leading off and stole second base. After Barnard flew out to left, Tocci drew a walk as well. Snyder was next and he grounded the ball to Teguis at short, who stepped on second for a force out, but his throw to first to complete the potential inning-ending double play got away and Stasium scored, with Snyder going to second. A wild pitch moved Snyder to third and King grounded a single to center to score another run. After King stole second, Sawyer drew a walk and after the runners each stole a base, Pasquali was hit by a pitch to load the bases. That brought up Kilbride, who came up huge, lining a single to center to score two more runs for a 5-1 lead.

“I was down 0-2 and was just looking for a fastball and I got it and just focused on the pitch,” said Kilbride.

Loranger grounded out to third to end the frame, but the damage was done.

Graffius started the top of the fourth by walking Ian Connors and that was it for his evening, as he was replaced by Villani, who was greeted by a first pitch single to right off the bat of Matt Smith. Teguis flew out to right and after a double steal, Villani caught Lazos looking at strike three and got Ryan Connors to ground into a third-to-second force out.

Derek Smith replaced Grady in the bottom half and Portland kept the pressure on, scoring two more runs.

Stasium led off by beating out an infield hit to shortstop and Barnard followed with a single to left. After Tocci walked to load the bases, Snyder hit a fly ball to deep left and the sacrifice fly brought home Stasium, with Barnard taking third. Barnard then scored on a ground out to short by King. Sawyer lined out to center, but the lead was up to 7-1.

Villani hit Gere leading off the fifth and Derek Smith doubled to left to put runners at second and third. Hoffman grounded out to short with Gere coming home, but senior pinch-hitter Chris Taggart flew out to left and Ian Connors grounded out to short to keep the score 7-2.

The Bulldogs went quietly in the bottom half, as Pasquali grounded back to the mound, Kilbride popped to second and Loranger grounded out to third.

Villani remained strong in the top of the sixth, getting senior pinch-hitter Caj Gibson to chase strike three, Teguis to pop out to short, then working back from a 3-0 count to catch Lazos looking on a full count offering to retire the side.

Portland ended any remaining doubt in the bottom half with two more unearned runs.

Stasium once again got things started with a single to left.

“Stasium has been swinging really well,” Rutherford said.

After Stasium moved up on a wild pitch, Barnard flew out to center, but Tocci’s fly ball to right fell for a single behind Ryan Connors, putting runners on the corners. After Tocci stole second, Snyder hit a ground ball to Teguis at short, but he couldn’t field the ball and both Stasium and Tocci came home for a 9-2 lead. King grounded into a force play and sophomore pinch-hitter Griffin Buckley grounded out to short to retire the side.

Villani got Ryan Connors to ground out to third leading off the seventh. Junior pinch-hitter Panagiotis Lazos then bounced back to the mound on a 3-2 pitch. Villani was then replaced by Pasquali, who brought his teammates to their feet by getting sophomore pinch-hitter Benson Furber to watch strike three to bring an end to the Bulldogs’ 9-2 victory.

“We’ve dealt with some adversity and it was nice to get out of that rut,” Stasium said. “They weren’t exciting hits, but we found a way to win and get back on track. I didn’t touch the ball in center and it was easy for the defense with the pitchers throwing strikes.”

“We were supposed to win, but you still have to win,” Rutherford said. “The defense was great. We’ve shored up some lapses.”

Stasium sparked the offense with three hits, four runs scored and two stolen bases.

“We’ve been getting better jumps in practice and that paid off today,” Stasium said.

Kilbride had a memorable Senior Night, producing two hits, two RBI and a stolen base.

“It was nice to see Jack Kilbride come through,” Rutherford said. “It’s his third or fourth start. I think those were his first hits and RBI. That’s why he got the game ball.”

Barnard, King, Sawyer, Snyder and Tocci also scored runs, while King and Snyder each had two RBI and Tocci finished with one.

King stole two bases and Sawyer and Tocci each had one.

The Bulldogs left six runners on base.

Graffius didn’t get a decision, as he only went three-plus innings (facing one hitter in the fourth). Graffius allowed one run on two hits and four walks and he struck out three.

Villani improved to 2-1, giving up one run on two hits in 3.2 innings of relief. Villani walked one, struck out three and hit one batter.

“Villani has really come on,” Rutherford said. “He pitched great against Cheverus and lost. He threw well in relief today.”

Pasquali struck out the only batter he faced to end it.

Kennebunk got runs from Gere and Ryan Connors. Hoffman drove in both runs.

Derek Smith stole two bases, while Ian Connors and Ryan Connors each stole a base.

The Rams stranded seven runners.

Grady fell to 2-2 after giving up five runs (four earned) on five hits in three innings. He walked three, hit a batter, struck out one and threw a pair of wild pitches.

Derek Smith gave up four runs (two earned) on four hits in three innings of relief, walking one and throwing a wild pitch.

Finale

Kennebunk (15th at press time in the Class A South Heal Points standings, where only 12 teams qualify) closes at Marshwood Tuesday, while Portland (currently third behind South Portland and Gorham) finishes with a home game versus Bonny Eagle.

The Bulldogs are hoping to win to remain in the top four in the region and avoid a preliminary round contest and they figure to get their hands full from a Scots’ team that has to win to leapfrog Deering to get into the postseason.

“This gives us a boost going into tomorrow,” Kilbride said. “We’ll play that game like it’s a playoff game. We want to finish off the season strong and get to the state championship game. That’s our goal. We need to play good defense and get timely hits. We can make a run.”

“If we win tomorrow, we’ll stay out of a prelim and finish 3 or 4,” Rutherford said. “Anybody in this league will have a hard time winning five games. It’s hard enough to win four. For us to win it, we have to play perfect defense, get really good pitching and some quality at-bats. I’m not afraid of anybody in this league, but I’m afraid of everybody. You want to stay away from the extra game. If you avoid a prelim, you face the other team’s number two pitcher. That’s a huge advantage.” 

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

Portland senior starter Charles Graffius delivers a pitch.

Portland senior third baseman Will Snyder charges a bunt.

Portland senior rightfielder Donnie Tocci fields the ball.

Portland senior Jack Kilbride takes a lead off third base. Kilbride had two hits and two RBI.

Portland junior shortstop Billy Barnard fields the ball.

Portland junior Donnie Tocci breaks up a double play attempt as Kennebunk’s Nicholas Teguis goes airborne.

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