PORTLAND—In recent years, the Portland baseball team hasn’t responded well when it falls behind early.
But Thursday afternoon at Hadlock Field, the Bulldogs dug a deep hole, then managed to respond with a vengeance.
Hosting rival Cheverus, a team Portland hadn’t beaten in six years, the Bulldogs were down, 5-1, after an inning-and-a-half, thanks in large part to the heroics of Stags senior Charlie Mull, who produced a highlight-reel, three-run, inside-the-park home run.
But on a day in which its bats finally came to life, Cheverus was done in by its defense.
The Bulldogs roared back to tie the score with a four-run third inning, which was kept alive by a critical error, before the tying run came across on a base hit from senior second baseman Evan Gallant.
Portland senior Travis Godbout, who had come on in relief to start the third inning, even though he’s more accustomed to working short stints, kept the Stags in check and in the bottom of the fourth, three more unearned runs gave the Bulldogs an 8-5 advantage.
After Cheverus got a run in the fifth, Portland answered in its half, as a clutch two-out single from Godbout plated Gallant and after the Stags scored twice in the sixth, Godbout slammed the door and the Bulldogs held on for a much-needed 9-8 victory.
Godbout surrendered just two unearned runs in five innings of relief, while Gallant paced the offense with three hits and Portland improved to 6-3, dropping Cheverus, which made five errors, to 4-4.
“We gutted it out,” said Bulldogs coach Tony DiBiase. “We fell behind, but this year, we’ve been able to come back and make enough big plays to hang in there and get the win. We’ve been swinging the bats pretty well. We play well when games are tight, but sometimes when we fall behind, the kids press. They don’t give up, but they press. Today, they relaxed and hung in there and had confidence. That was a good sign.”
Western Class A is as balanced as it’s ever been and every team but one (South Portland) has at least two losses.
Right in the thick of things have been Cheverus and Portland.
The Stags, who lost to Westbrook in last year’s Western A quarterfinals, began by handling host Gorham, 11-1, and visiting Noble, 13-0, in five innings, but then lost at Marshwood, 4-3. Cheverus rallied past visiting Biddeford, 6-3, but were blanked at home by Scarborough ace Ben Greenberg, 2-0, and after a 2-1 victory at Bonny Eagle, lost at South Portland and its ace, Henry Curran, Tuesday by a 2-0 score.
The Bulldogs, who were also ousted by eventual champion Westbrook last spring, in the semifinals, began the 2014 campaign with a 1-0 home loss to Sanford, but then avenged their playoff setback with a 2-1 victory at Westbrook and downed visiting Gorham, 7-3. A 5-4 loss at Thornton Academy was followed by a 5-4 home win over Marshwood. Portland’s up-and-down play continued with a 4-2 win at Noble, a 6-4 setback at Biddeford and Tuesday’s 8-0 home win over Bonny Eagle.
Last spring, host Cheverus edged Portland, 7-6, in a nine-inning thriller. That victory was the Stags’ fifth in succession over the Bulldogs (see sidebar, below).
Thursday, on a very pleasant day for baseball, Portland beat the Stags for the first time since May 8, 2008 (4-0, at Cheverus).
Mull hinted at a big day to come and flashed his speed when he led off the game by grounding into the hole between short and third. Bulldogs freshman shortstop Jake Knop fielded the ball, but his throw to first was too late. Cheverus freshman catcher Logan McCarthy was next and he rapped a single to left. Portland senior starter Owen Pence then got Stags senior first baseman Chris Tinsman to hit a sharp ground ball to short, which appeared ticketed for a double play, but first Knop momentarily bobbled the ball and after throwing to second for an out, Gallant couldn’t make a clean transition to his throwing hand and his relay to first was just late, preventing the double play. That brought del Vecchio to the plate and he grounded to senior third baseman Dan Kane. Kane threw to Gallant for the force, but del Vecchio beat the relay to score Mull with the game’s first run. Pence worked out of further trouble by fanning senior designated hitter Ethan Jordan on a 3-2 pitch.
In the bottom half, the Bulldogs drew even without benefit of a hit.
Godbout drew a walk leading off and when Jacobs threw wildly on a pickoff attempt, Godbout took second. Kane walked as well and after senior centerfielder Joey Apon struck out, sophomore designated hitter Joe Fusco hit a sharp ground ball at Tinsman, but the ball went through his wickets, Godbout came around to score and Kane raced to third. But just when it appeared the Stags’ defense was absent, Powers came up huge, trapping a hard hit ball off the bat of senior first baseman Ryan Dixon and starting a 4-6-3 double play to keep the game tied, 1-1.
Cheverus then opened things up in the top of the second.
Pence fanned junior rightfielder Alex Libby to start the frame, but junior third baseman Chris Billings served a ball just past a diving Kane and down the leftfield line. By the time Godbout tracked it down, Billings steamed into third with a triple. Senior leftfielder Brad Carney drew a walk and that brought Mull to the dish.
Mull lined a shot to center, which, off the bat, appeared catchable for Apon, but the ball carried over his head and landed in deep centerfield before rolling to the wall. Billings came home easily, but Carney, who got a late start, soon found Mull hot on his heels. Carney rounded third and headed for home and Cheverus coach Mac McKew didn’t hesitate to keep his right arm waving and Mull followed suit, sliding in well ahead of the throw for a three-run, inside-the-park home run.
The Stags weren’t finished, as McCarthy doubled over Godbout’s head and Tinsman beat out an infield single, putting runners at the corners. That brought up del Vecchio, who, for the second time, plated a run without producing a hit, as his fly ball to center was deep enough to score McCarthy with a sacrifice fly. Pence’s day then ended with a strikeout of Powers, but Cheverus had a 5-1 advantage.
After junior catcher Ryan Ruhlin grounded out to short to start the bottom of the second, Gallant singled up the middle, with Powers knocking the ball down to no avail. Gallant took second on a wild pitch and went to third when senior rightfielder Justin Zukowski grounded to short, but he was stranded there when Knop grounded back to the mound.
Godbout came on in to pitch in the third, with senior Nick DiPalma replacing him in left, and stemmed the tide. He walked Jordan to start the frame, but got Libby to ground slowly to second (with Jordan taking second), fanned Billings and induced Carney to ground out to second.
Portland then roared back in its half of the third, with some help from the Stags.
Godbout got the trouble started by beating out an infield single off Billings’ glove.
“I just tried to do what I could to help,” Godbout said. “Getting on base is what I could do.”
Kane followed by hitting a ball which kicked off the lip of the grass and took a bad hop past Billings for a single. Apon was then hit by pitch, bringing the tying run to the plate int he form of Fusco.
Fusco hit a sharp ground ball that appeared ticketed for rightfield, but Powers again made a stellar play, sliding to make the stop, then throwing out the hitter. Godbout scored, but it could have been more. When Jacobs fanned Dixon swinging, Cheverus was on the verge of escaping the inning, but Ruhlin hit a grounder to Billings and his throw was off target, allowing Kane and Apon to scamper home and Ruhlin to move to second.
That was huge, as Gallant followed with a solid single to center, just past the head of Jacobs, and Ruhlin came home with the tying run. Gallant moved up to second on the throw and advanced to third on a wild pitch, but Zukowski ended the uprising with a grounder to short.
Godbout rode the momentum in the top of the fourth, getting Mull to pop to short, McCarthy to line out to right and Tinsman to ground out to short.
The bottom of the fourth was similar to the third as Portland went ahead to stay.
Knop reached on an error by del Vecchio and after Godbout and Kane both walked, McKew came out to visit Jacobs. It didn’t help, as Jacobs walked Apon and Knop came home to make it 6-5.
That was it for Jacobs, who was replaced by senior Peter Dutton, who got Fusco to ground to Powers, who flipped to del Vecchio for one out before del Vecchio threw on to first for a double play. Godbout came home on the play. When Dixon hit a sharp grounder to short, it appeared Cheverus would escape further damage, but del Vecchio couldn’t handle a tough hop and Kane came home. Ruhlin grounded out to short, but the Bulldogs enjoyed an 8-5 lead.
The visitors got a run back in the top of the fifth and did so with two down.
After del Vecchio lined out to center and Powers hit a liner to right, Jordan reached on a throwing error by Knop. Libby then cued one down the leftfield line. DiPalma dove for naught, the ball got behind him for a double and Jordan came home. After Libby moved to third on a wild pitch, Billings hit a ball into the hole, but Knop atoned for his error, making a strong throw to end the frame with Portland still ahead, 8-6.
In the bottom half, the Bulldogs got a much-needed insurance run, courtesy the game’s two biggest stars.
Leading off, Gallant, who had already produced a clinic going up the middle, decided to hit one the other way, and lined a single through the hole between short and third.
“(Evan) has a good reputation in the league,” said DiBiase. “I was happy to see him hit the ball well. He’s hit the ball hard this year, but he hasn’t had any luck. He’s legitimately one of the better players in the league. He’s hung in there confidence-wise. Things are coming along for him.”
Zukowski stared at strike three, but Knop grounded out slowly to short, allowing Gallant to move up. That set the stage for Godbout, who didn’t disappoint, singling just past shortstop to score Gallant for a 9-6 lead. Kane then popped out to short to end it.
Cheverus kept battling in the sixth.
Leading off, Carney reached on an error. Mull then came through again, driving the ball over DiPalma’s head for a double as Carney raced around the bases to score. McCarthy then singled to left and when DiPalma couldn’t field the ball cleanly, Mull came home to score to make it 9-8 and McCarthy, the tying run, took second. Godbout wouldn’t allow the Stags to complete the rally, however, as he fanned the dangerous Tinsman looking, got del Vecchio to hit a line drive right at Zukowski and after intentionally walking Powers, caught Jordan looking at strike three.
The Bulldogs hoped to add to their lead in the bottom of the inning, but squandered an opportunity.
Leading off, Apon beat out an infield hit and Fusco followed with a deep double to center, which sent Apon to third. Dutton prevented the runners from scoring, as he caught Dixon staring at strike three, fanned Ruhlin, then, after walking Gallant intentionally to load the bases, he got some big-time help from Mull. Sophomore pinch-hitter John Williams lined a shot that appeared ticketed for the left-centerfield gap and three runs, but Mull, racing to his right, dove full extension, and made a splendid catch to end the inning and give his team one final chance.
Godbout wasn’t about to give the Stags life, however, and he set the visitors down 1-2-3.
After starting Libby 3-0, Godbout battled back and got him to ground to the mound. After he struck out Billings, Godbout got Carney to ground to short and although Knop’s throw was low, Dixon made the scoop and that ended it.
Portland 9 Cheverus 8.
“We have the heart and we came back and got it done,” Gallant said. “There was no panic. The past couple games, we’ve been down and came back. We have good team chemistry. We don’t get down on ourselves and we stay up. We stayed relaxed at the plate. We were really calm. I felt really good at the plate, but it was a team effort. We ended up getting the win. That’s all that matters.”
“The team’s coming together,” said DiBiase. “It’s a big win. We’ve had some big wins. The kids are feeding off the wins. We have so many rivals. It’s Deering and South Portland and Cheverus, even Westbrook’s become a big rival. Portland’s always a game teams circle and teams who come to Hadlock tend to play their best game. They love playing here. We have to have our best game ready to go or else we’ll get beat.”
The Bulldogs managed to make the most of the extra outs Cheverus gave them. Gallant had three hits and Godbout had two.
“We brought our bats today,” Godbout said. “Eight hits was great, especially against quality pitchers.”
Godbout scored three times, Kane twice and Apon, Gallant, Kane and Ruhlin all touched home plate once.
Apon, Fusco, Gallant and Godbout each produced an RBI.
On the hill, Godbout improved to 1-0 thanks to his clutch relief pitching. Godbout allowed just two unearned runs on three hits, two walks and a wild pitch in five innings. He fanned four.
“Usually I just throw one or two innings,” Godbout said. “I knew I had to come in, do my best and try to shut them down.”
“He was amazing, like he always is,” Gallant said. “We had faith in Trav.”
“Travis pitched great,” added DiBiase. “He saved our bacon, no question about it. We had nobody else. It’s a four-game week. A lot of our young kids are down with JVs. We’re pretty spent here. We have one pitcher left for Saturday.”
Pence gave up five earned runs on seven hits and a walk in his two innings of work. He struck out three.
Half of Cheverus’ 10 hits were of the extra base variety, as Mull homered and doubled, Billings tripled and Libby and McCarthy doubled. McCarthy and Mull finished with three hits apiece. Mull scored three runs, Carney had two and Billings, Jordan and McCarthy each touched home once. Mull had a game-high four RBI, while del Vecchio drove in two runs and Libby had one RBI. The lone stolen base of the game came courtesy del Vecchio.
Jacobs fell to 1-2 after giving up eight runs (only one earned) on four hits and two walks in three innings. He struck out two batters, hit one and threw two wild pitches. In three innings of relief, Dutton surrendered one run on four hits and a walk while fanning three.
Ultimately, five errors doomed the Stags.
“Neither team played stellar defense,” said McKew. “We hit and pitched pretty well, but you have to play defense and we didn’t. We were tentative. We had a don’t-hit-the-ball-to-me attitude. We had a lack of killer instinct. If we could all put in the effort that Charlie Mull does on every at-bat and every play, we’d be a lot better off. “
Both teams are now in the second half of their schedules and have a lot of work to do to not just make the playoffs, but earn a home game or two.
Cheverus (now 10th in the Western Class A Heal Points standings) looks to find its stride and will play its next three at home: Friday versus Windham, Tuesday of next week against Deering and Thursday of next week when Westbrook pays a visit. After going to Massabesic and Sanford, the Stags host Thornton Academy and Gorham, then close at Noble.
“We’re 4-4 and we’ll have to grind to get into the playoffs,” McKew said. “We haven’t been able to put it all together. No games are easy. We have to come right back tomorrow and get rid of this sting.”
Portland (which was fourth in Western A at press time) is scheduled to play at Scarborough Saturday, but that game is jeopardized by forecasted rain. Tuesday, the Bulldogs are at top-ranked South Portland. Home games against Windham, Massabesic and Westbrook and trips to Deering and Sanford also loom.
“This boosts our spirits,” said Godbout. “We have to enjoy this now and focus tomorrow on playing Scarborough Saturday. The league is wide open and it’s anybody’s game.”
“It’s a good feeling to beat Cheverus,” said Gallant. “Our confidence is through the roof. Now we don’t have any limits. This is a good win to build on.”
DiBiase doesn’t know what to expect in the weeks to come.
“It’s a very interesting league,” he said. “There are three quality pitchers in the league, Curran, Greenberg and Powers, and they’re legitimate number ones. Other than that, teams have good pitchers. When those quality pitchers go, those teams are favored to win. The question is depth. There’s lots of question marks up and down the league. There’s not a super team like there’s been for years.
“We just have to tighten things up and keep our confidence. Last year was a big confidence builder for us. We finally got to the semis and got a taste of it, then we had a really good summer. We’ll see what happens.”
Cheverus senior Charlie Mull dives into home to complete a three-run inside-the-park home run in the second inning.
Cheverus junior third baseman Chris Billings dives in vain in an attempt to stop a hit.
Cheverus sophomore starter Alex Jacobs throws a strike.
Cheverus senior shortstop Felix del Vecchio records an out on Portland sophomore Joe Fusco and pivots to throw to first to complete a double play.
Portland senior second baseman Evan Gallant makes the toss to first base for an out.
Portland senior third baseman Dan Kane makes a throw across the diamond.
Portland senior starter Owen Pence delivers a pitch.
Portland senior Justin Zukowski makes contact.
@ Cheverus 7 Portland 6 (9)
@ Cheverus 3 Portland 2
Cheverus 8 Portland 0 (played in OOB)
Cheverus 12 @ Portland 0
Cheverus 7 @ Portland 2
Portland 4 @ Cheverus 0
Cheverus 4 @ Portland 3
Portland 7 @ Cheverus 4
@ Portland 11 Cheverus 2
Portland 13 @ Cheverus 5
Portland 24 @ Cheverus 1
@ Portland 11 Cheverus 1
Portland senior Evan Gallant rips one of his three hits Thursday to help the Bulldogs to a 9-8 win over Cheverus.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
C- 140 012 0- 8 10 5
P- 104 310 x- 9 8 3
del Vecchio grounded to third, Mull scored.
Godbout scored on error.
Mull hit inside-the-park home run to center, Billings, Carney and Mull scored. del Vecchio hit sacrifice fly to center, McCarthy scored.
Fusco grounded to second, Godbout scored. Kane and Apon scored on error. Godbout singled to center, Ruhlin scored.
Apon walked, Knop scored. Fusco hit into double play, Godbout scored. Kane scored on error.
Libby doubled to left, Jordan scored.
Godbout singled to left, Gallant scored.
Mull doubled to left, Carney scored. Mull scored on error.
C- McCarthy, Mull 3
P- Gallant 3, Godbout 2
C- Mull 3, Carney 2, Billings, Jordan, McCarthy
P- Godbout 3, Kane 2, Apon, Gallant, Knop, Ruhlin
C- Mull 4, del Vecchio 2, Libby 1
P- Apon, Fusco, Gallant, Godbout 1
C- Libby, McCarthy, Mull
C- del Vecchio
Jacobs, Dutton (4) and McCarty; Pence, Godbout (3) and Ruhlin
Jacobs (L, 1-2) 3 IP 4 H 8 R 1 ER 2 BB 2 K 1 HBP 2 WP
Dutton 3 IP 4 H 1 R 1 ER 1 BB 3 K
Pence 2 IP 7 H 5 R 5 ER 1 BB 3 K
Godbout (W, 1-0) 5 IP 3 H 2 R 0 ER 2 BB 4 K 1 WP