Portland senior third baseman Jack Nichols is congratulated by sophomore catcher Cam King after scoring the Bulldogs’ first run in Monday’s 12-3 win over Kennebunk in a Class A South preliminary round playoff game.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
K- 110 100 0- 3 7 0
P- 040 530 x- 12 15 5
Coughlan singled to right-center, Wiggins scored.
Connors doubled to left-center, Jarowicz scored.
Fortin singled to left, Nichols scored. Knop tripled to right, Barnard and Fortin scored. Archambault hit sacrifice fly to center, Knop scored.
Jarowicz singled to center, Kosmala scored.
Fusco grounded out to shortstop, Knop scored. Joyce singled to center, Archambault scored. Barnard doubled to right, Williams scored. Fortin singled to right, Nichols and Hunnewell scored.
Archambault tripled to right, Tocci scored. Williams doubled to left, B. Stasium scored. Williams scored on wild pitch.
P- Archambault 3, Barnard, Fortin, Joyce, Nichols
K- Jarowicz, Kosmala, Wiggins
P- Knop, Nichols, Williams 2, Archambault, Barnard, Fortin, Hunnewell, B. Stasium, Tocci
K- Connors, Coughlan, Jarowicz
P- Fortin 3, Archambault, Knop 2, Barnard, Fusco, Joyce, Williams
P- Archambault, Barnard, Nichols, Williams
P- Archambault, Knop
P- Archambault, Williams
Left on base:
Aiken, Coughlan (3), Wiggins (5) and Jarowicz; Marzilli, Ruotolo (6), Griffin (7) and King
Aiken (L, 2-4) 2 IP 5 H 4 R 4 ER 1 BB 1 K
Coughlan 2 IP 7 H 5 R 5 ER 1 BB 3 K 1 HBP 1 WP
Wiggins 2 IP 3 H 3 R 3 ER 1 BB 1 K
Barnard (W, 4-3) 5.2 IP 5 H 3 R 0 ER 1 BB 3 K
Ruotolo 0.2 IP 2 H 0 R 0 BB 0 K
Griffin 0.2 IP 0 H 0 R 0 BB 0 K
PORTLAND—Portland’s baseball team has rediscovered its offense and that’s bad news for the rest of the Class A South playoff field.
Monday evening at Hadlock Field, the Bulldogs put a regular season-ending skid in the rearview mirror by virtue of a 15-hit attack that spelled a decisive win over Kennebunk in the preliminary round.
Portland, a regional finalist a year ago and a preseason favorite this spring, had became an afterthought heading into the postseason, thanks to a 2-5 stretch to end the year, but this group does its best work without expectations and the Rams learned that first-hand.
No. 12 Kennebunk scored unearned runs in the first and second innings, but the fifth-seeded Bulldogs got their bats going in the bottom of the second, as senior leftfielder Zach Fortin hit an RBI single, junior shortstop Jake Knop ripped a two-run triple to put Portland on top to stay and a sacrifice fly from junior centerfielder Nick Archambault made it 4-2.
The Rams got another unearned run in the fourth, but the Bulldogs broke the game open with five runs in the bottom half, thanks to an RBI ground out by senior designated hitter Joey Fusco, a RBI single from junior first baseman Tommy Joyce, an RBI double from senior starting pitcher Charles Barnard and a two-run single from Fortin to make it 9-3.
Portland ended all doubt with three more runs in the fifth, as Archambault crushed an RBI triple, senior John Williams, who replaced Joyce at first, hit an RBI double and Williams scored on a wild pitch.
The Bulldogs slammed the door shut from there and went on to a decisive 12-3 victory.
Portland rapped 15 hits and overcame five errors as it improved to 12-5, ended the Rams’ season at 6-11 and advanced to play at No. 4 Thornton Academy (12-4) in the Class A South quarterfinals Thursday at 4 p.m.
“Once one guy got a timely, clutch hit, the rest of us can hit and that’s exactly what happened today,” said Archambault, who nearly hit for the cycle. “I’m glad we got it going. I was looking at the scoreboard and saw we had 15 hits. It was contagious. We were all confident today. That’s the key, going up there with a good mindset.”
In the first half of the 2016 season, Portland resembled last year’s surprise regional finalist, winning every game (see sidebar below, for previous game stories). The Bulldogs then improved to 9-0 with a decisive 8-1 win at Cheverus, but went just 2-5 down the stretch, closing with losses at Gorham (1-0) and Scarborough (4-3), to wind up 11-5 and fifth in Class A South, necessitating Monday’s prelim.
Kennebunk (which plays a Western Maine Conference regular season schedule, then moves up to Class A for the playoffs) went 6-10, but played some of the top Class B South teams very tough and came closest to handling Class A South top seed Falmouth a loss, letting a 1-0 lead slip away in the seventh inning in a 2-1 road setback May 25. The Rams earned the 12th and final seed for the Class A South playoffs.
Kennebunk and Portland don’t play in the regular season, but the programs do have some history, splitting two prior playoff meetings (see sidebar, below).
The Bulldogs entered play Monday night with a 10-2 all-time record against the Rams and after a slow start, put it all together and got their bats going to pull away for a victory.
The Rams scored an unearned run against Barnard in the top of the first.
After Barnard got his opposite number, senior pitcher Eric Aiken to look at strike three and freshman second baseman Derek Smith to ground out to second, junior third baseman Justin Wiggins reached on an error by Knop, the league’s Gold Glove winner. Wiggins then stole second and went to third when sophomore catcher Cam King’s throw was wild. That set the stage for senior shortstop Ryan Coughlan, who singled to right-center to score Wiggins with the game-s first run. Senior first baseman Zander Kosmala ended the frame with a fly ball to right, but Kennebunk had the jump.
In the bottom half, Knop, a first-team SMAA all-star this season, grounded out to short and junior second baseman Dom Tocci, another first-team all-star, struck out swinging, but Archambault, a second-team all-star, ripped a double into the gap in right-center and Fusco, a first-team league all-star, drew a walk. Joyce then hit the ball hard to center, but there was too much air under it and sophomore centerfielder Ian Connors ran it down to retire the side.
The visitors got another unearned run in the second.
Junior rightfielder Jack Kiley drew a walk leading off, but senior leftfielder Tom Wildes struck out and senior catcher John Jarowicz grounded into a third-to-second force play. Tocci tried to complete the double play, but his throw was wild and Jarowicz moved to second. That loomed large when Connors followed with a booming double to left-center to easily score Jarowicz. Barnard got Aiken to pop back to the mound, but Kennebunk was up, 2-0.
Portland then got its bats going in a big way in the bottom half.
Senior third baseman Jack Nichols, a second-team league all-star this spring, got things started with a double over the centerfielder’s head. Fusco then singled past short to put runners at first and third. Fortin delivered the first run with a single to left and after senior rightfielder Joe Clayton sacrificed the runners up, Knop delivered with a bang, crushing a triple down the rightfield line to score both runners for a 3-2 lead.
“We’ve been waiting for that big hit,” said Knop. “We’ve had runners on all year, but we haven’t been getting the timely hit. We changed our approach. We’re just trying to put the ball in play and move runners over. I knew it was going to come. I knew we’d get a big hit. Law of averages.”
Tocci was hit by a pitch and Archambault made it 4-2 with a fly ball to shallow center, which still was enough to allow the speedy Knop to race home.
“We came out a little jittery, I think, and that’s why we made a couple errors, but our poor play in the field might have sparked our bats,” Archambault said.
“The first two innings, we were flat,” said Portland coach Mike Rutherford. “We’ve been flat for three weeks. We haven’t come up with the big hit. We’ve gotten good pitching and except for today, our defense has been steady. Today, we got the big hit.”
With Fusco at the plate, Tocci was caught stealing to end the uprising.
Barnard gave up a leadoff single to Smith in the top of the third, but Wiggins’ sharp grounder up the middle took a fortuitous hop off the mound right to Tocci, who stepped on second base, then threw to first to complete the double play. Barnard then ended the frame by getting Coughlan to fly to left.
Coughlan replaced Aiken on the hill in the bottom of the third and got out of a huge jam.
Fusco led off with a single up the middle, Joyce singled to left and Nichols walked, but the Bulldogs squandered their chance to blow the game open as Barnard, Fortin and Clayton (after fouling off several pitches) all looked at strike three.
The Rams crept back with a run in the fourth and again, it was unearned.
Kosmala led off with a fly ball to right which Clayton dropped after a long run for an error. Kiley sacrificed Kosmala to second and he took third when Wildes grounded out to second. Jarowicz then came up with the key two-out hit, a single up the middle, and Kosmala came home to make it 4-3. Barnard prevented any further damage by getting Connors to fly deep to center.
Portland then broke it open in the bottom half.
Knop was hit by a pitch to get things started. Tocci sacrificed him to second and Archambault beat out an infield single to put runners at the corners. With Kennebunk’s infield playing in, Fusco hit a ground ball to Smith at short, but Knop took off on contact and Smith threw to first base instead for the out, as Knop scored to make it 5-3.
The fun was just beginning.
Joyce followed with a single to center to score Archambault.
“I love watching Tommy hit,” Knop said. “His only approach is smacking the ball. He comes up big in clutch situations. Big-time players have big-time hits.”
After Joyce was replaced by Williams, Nichols singled to center and Barnard followed with a double to score Williams and put runners at second and third. Fortin then came through with a single to right, scoring Nichols and senior courtesy runner Jake Hunnewell to open up a commanding 9-3 lead.
“When it was 4-2 and we left the bases loaded, it was still a game, then they made it 4-3,” Rutherford said. “All year long we haven’t put teams away. The last few weeks, we would have died. The next inning, the same hitters came up and got hits and it changed. It’s not a coach’s ‘rah rah’ talk, someone had to come out and get a hit. It’s not a lack of batting practice, it was someone coming up in the clutch.”
Senior George Chaison-Lapine grounded out to short to end the frame, but Portland had finally hit its offensive stride.
In the fifth, Barnard gave up a single up the middle to Aiken, but Smith lined out to center and Wiggins’ sharp grounder up the middle went right to Knop, who stepped on second for one out, then threw to first for the double play.
In the bottom half, against Wiggins, who came in to pitch, the Bulldogs struck again.
Knop flew out to right leading off, but Tocci reached on a single to center and Archambault crushed a pitch to deep right that rolled to the wall. Tocci came all the way around to score on the triple and the lead was 10-3.
“Nick smacked the ball around today and I was glad to see him do it,” Knop said.
Fusco then grounded to short and Archambault broke for home, but he was thrown out. Williams kept the inning alive with a double down the leftfield line, scoring pinch-runner Ben Stasium. Williams then stole third and scored on a wild pitch.
“I give John credit,” Rutherford said. “He sat today, coach’s decision, and he came in and had a double down the line and now he’s right back in the lineup.”
Nichols popped out foul to Wiggins, but Portland took a commanding 12-3 advantage to the sixth.
There, Barnard got Coughlan to ground to Nichols, who made a nice long throw across the diamond, leading off. Kosmala then hit a grounder to Knop, but his throw was wide and Williams’ diving stretch couldn’t retire the batter as he failed to hold on to the ball. Senior Nate LaPointe pinch-hit and struck out looking ending Barnard’s outing.
Junior Giovanni Ruotolo came on to face Wildes, who singled to left, but Jarowicz hit a high foul near the plate which Ruotolo caught to end the frame.
The Bulldogs had a chance to end the game via the mercy rule in the bottom half, but after Ruotolo walked, sophomore pinch-hitter Vincent Pasquali struck out looking and Chaison-Lapine’s line drive was right at second base and resulted in a double play.
Sophomore pinch-hitter Cole Huffman’s excuse me swing resulted in an easy grounder to Williams at first to start the seventh inning. Aiken then singled down the leftfield line to end Ruotolo’s outing. Senior Ben Griffin came on to close it out and got Smith to fly deep to center and Wiggins to fly to right to end the Bulldogs’ 12-3 triumph in an even two hours.
“The end of the regular season was a wakeup call,” Archambault said. “We were the number one seed last year and we were hoping to be top four this year. The fact that we are number five and had to play this preliminary game was a jolt to us that we had to clean it up and play better. We realized this was it and we had to get the job done.”
“We hit to all parts of the park and once we got rolling, there was no stopping us,” Knop said. “Playoffs is a whole new deal. We’re trying to forget about the regular season.”
Portland’s offense was balanced and potent, as nine different players had hits and six of the 15 hits were for extra bases.
Archambault led the way with a single, double and triple. Barnard, Fortin, Joyce and Nichols all had two hits.
“Archambault had a huge hit,” Rutherford said. “Jack Nichols, a huge hit. Jake Knop, a triple down the line. Joe Fusco, a big RBI single. Zach Fortin too.”
Knop, Nichols and Williams all scored twice. Archambault, Barnard, Fortin, Hunnewell, Stasium and Tocci each touched home once. Fortin had three RBI, Archambault and Knop both drove in two runs and Barnard, Fusco, Joyce and Williams had one RBI apiece.
Archambault and Williams registered stolen bases.
The Bulldogs stranded six runners, but it didn’t matter.
Barnard, a second-team league all-star this season, improved to 4-3, as he allowed three unearned runs on just five hits in 5.2 innings. Barnard walked one and struck out three.
“Charles is a fiery guy,” Archambault said. “He’s as much a competitor as we have on this team. He doesn’t get down on the fielders, which I appreciate. When we don’t get the job done, it would be easy for him to get mad, but he keeps his cool and he did a great job tonight.”
“(Charles has) picked us up all year,” Knop said. “There have been multiple times when someone makes an error and he grinds and gets us out of it. He did a great job today.”
“(Charles) made pitches when he had to,” Rutherford added. “He’s such a competitor and he knew he needed to make better pitches. He won’t blame it on a teammate.”
Ruotolo allowed two hits in 0.2 scoreless innings. Griffin closed it out with 0.2 scoreless innings.
Kennebunk got two hits from Aiken, runs from Jarowicz, Kosmala and Wiggins and RBI from Connors, Coughlan and Jarowicz. Wiggins stole a base.
The Rams left six runners on base.
Aiken fell to 2-4 after allowing four earned runs on five hits in two innings. He walked one and struck out a batter. Coughlan surrendered five earned runs on seven hits in two innings, walking one, fanning three, hitting a batter and throwing a wild pitch. Wiggins gave up three earned runs on three hits in his two innings. He walked one and struck out one.
Arguably Portland’s most frustrating loss this spring came May 17 in Saco when the Bulldogs let a 4-2 seventh inning lead slip away in a 5-4 nine-inning loss to the Golden Trojans. The Bulldogs had ample opportunity to blow the game open, couldn’t do so, then fell short in agonizing fashion.
Portland and Thornton Academy aren’t exactly June strangers.
The Bulldogs won all three prior playoff meetings: 1-0 in the 1979 semifinals, 12-4 in the 1998 quarterfinals and 10-0 in the 2004 quarterfinals.
Beating the Golden Trojans again again won’t be easy, especially with their ace, Ben Lambert on the mound, but Portland, behind senior southpaw and second-team league all-star, Dan Marzilli, will be ready.
“Last year, we had a great season and came out of nowhere and there was no pressure on us, but this year, we’ve had a bulls-eye on our back all year,” Archambault said. “People have expected a lot of us and I don’t know if we’ve lived up to expectations. Now, we can be more loose and I think that helps us play better. Lambert is one of the best pitchers in the state. We should have won that first game, but we let it slip away. We couldn’t close it out. We know we can play well enough to beat them. We’re really relishing the opportunity.”
“Everyone is talking about Thornton, Scarborough and SoPo because we haven’t been getting the big hit, but I think everybody knows, once we get our bats going, we’re dangerous,” Knop said. “I believe in us. We’ll go there confident. We can’t make five errors. We have to clean up on defense and get the bats going like we did today and hopefully, it turns out well.”
“We hit Lambert pretty good last time,” Rutherford added. “We had good swings on him. We had him on the ropes. He was voted all-SMAA Pitcher of the Year, so he’s a competitor. If he’s on, it’ll be a 1-0, 2-1 game. Marzilli has pitched great. He needs to pitch his ‘A’ game and we can’t make errors. We need some timely hits. We’d love to play Falmouth in the semifinals again.
“The way we’ve played the last three weeks, we haven’t earned the right to be talked about as a favorite, but we can be loosy-goosy. Maybe we’ll play better as the underdog.”
Portland senior starter Charles Barnard delivers a strike. Barnard didn’t allow an earned run and helped the Bulldogs extend their season.
Portland junior second baseman Dom Tocci, left, and senior rightfielder Joe Clayton converge on a fly ball.
Portland junior Tommy Joyce lines an RBI single.
Kennebunk junior Justin Wiggins steals second base as Portland junior second baseman Dom Tocci takes the throw.
Portland junior shortstop Jake Knop slides home with a run.
Portland senior third baseman Jack Nichols lines a hit.
Portland senior Zach Fortin (35) is congratulated by senior Charles Barnard after scoring in the third inning.
Previous Kennebunk story
1997 Western A quarterfinals
Portland 10 Kennebunk 3
1990 Western A quarterfinals
Kennebunk 11 Portland 8