South Portland rallies for crucial victory at Portland

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South Portland senior Riley Hasson (5) is congratulated by pitcher Hunter Owen after scoring the tying run in the sixth inning of Saturday’s showdown at Portland. The Red Riots added three more runs and beat the Bulldogs, 4-1, to lengthen their lead in the Class A South Heal Points standings.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

South Portland 4 Portland 1

SP- 000 003 1- 4 4 2
P- 001 000 0- 1 2 4

Bottom 3rd
Barnard grounded into force out, Loranger scored.

Top 6th
J. Poole singled to left, Hasson scored. Owen singled to center, Johnson scored. Bolduc flew out to left, J. Poole scored.

Top 7th
Johnson grounded into force out, DiBiase scored.

Runs:
SP- DiBiase, Hasson, Johnson, J. Poole
P- Loranger

RBI:
SP- Bolduc, Johnson, Owen, J. Poole
P- Barnard

Stolen bases:
SP- Hasson, Johnson
P- King 

Left on base:
SP- 9
P- 7

Owen, Buckley (6) and Horton; Tocci and King

SP:
Owen (W, 5-0) 5 IP 1 H 1 R 1 ER 7 BB 7 K 1 WP 
Buckley (Save, 1) 2 IP 1 H 0 R 0 BB 0 K

P:
Tocci (L, 5-1) 7 IP 4 H 4 R  1 ER 2 BB 4 K 3 HBP

Time: 1:56

PORTLAND—It’s been a rough 24 hours for the Portland baseball team.

And rival South Portland has happily taken advantage.

Saturday morning at Hadlock Field, the top two teams in the Clasa A South Heal Points standings squared off with a lot at stake and the Red Riots saved their best for last to allow them to strengthen their hold on first place.

Portland, coming off a 6-3 home loss to Gorham Friday afternoon, and South Portland, winners of six straight, continued to trend in opposition directions.

The pitching duel between Bulldogs junior Donnie Tocci and Red Riots sophomore Hunter Owen lived up to billing, as neither allowed a run or a hit in the first couple innings, but in the bottom of the third, Owen lost his control, walking three straight batters. Portland took advantage, as junior shortstop Billy Barnard avoided a double play on a ground ball to allow junior leftfielder Jake Loranger to score the game’s first run.

While the Bulldogs couldn’t extend their lead, Tocci protected it until the sixth, when South Portland’s bats finally came to life.

After senior shortstop Riley Hasson reached on an error, senior third baseman Zach Johnson beat out a perfectly placed bunt and senior first baseman Jake Poole followed with an RBI single to tie the game. Owen then put the Red Riots on top with an RBI single and sophomore designated hitter Dillan Bolduc added a sacrifice fly.

South Portland got one more run in the seventh, taking advantage of a pair of Portland errors, and senior Connor Buckley slammed the door to earn the save and the Red Riots prevailed, 4-1.

“They’ve had our number lately, so it’s a big (conference) win over a cross-town rival,” said South Portland coach Mike Owens. “I’m proud of how the kids competed today.”

Renewing acquaintances

Portland and South Portland have set themselves apart most of the season.

The Red Riots enjoyed a 10-0 (five-inning) win at Massabesic to start the year, then downed visiting Kennebunk, 8-1, and Biddeford, 11-1 (in five-innings), before falling at Bonny Eagle (4-0) and at home to Scarborough (5-2). South Portland got back on track with a 3-2, come-from-behind victory at Marshwood, then handled visiting Gorham, 8-3, visiting Noble (7-0), host Cheverus (8-0), visiting Windham (3-0) and visiting Deering (10-0, in five-innings), making it 29 straight innings without surrendering a run.

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). Tuesday, Portland downed Deering, 11-1, in five-innings, to give longtime coach Mike Rutherford his 300th career victory and Wednesday, the Bulldogs handled visiting Westbrook, 8-2. Friday, Portland’s seven-game win streak ended with a 6-3 home loss to Gorham.

A year ago, the Bulldogs won at South Portland, 5-2, in the regular season, then exploded for a 14-4 (six-inning) home victory in the Class A South semifinals, to take a 17-9 lead in the series (including a 5-1 postseason mark) since the start of the 2002 season.

Saturday, the Red Riots snapped a three-game skid at the hands of their rivals and beat Portland at Hadlock Field for the first time since May 15, 2013.

Tocci retired sophomore Anthony Poole to start the game thanks to a sweet scoop on a sharp grounder by sophomore first baseman Griffin Buckley. After hitting senior second baseman Noah McHugh with a pitch, Tocci got Hasson to line out to center and Johnson to sky to center.

In the bottom half, after junior centerfielder Ben Stasium swung at the first pitch and grounded out to short, Barnard drew a five-pitch walk. Tocci then flew out to right, where Anthony Poole made a nice running catch, and with senior third baseman Will Snyder at the plate, Owen caught Barnard breaking for second, threw to Jake Poole at first and Poole threw on to McHugh at second to record the out.

Tocci made quick work of the Red Riots in the top of the second, fanning Jake Poole on three pitches, getting junior catcher Caden Horton to fly nearly to the warning track in rightfield, where junior Ben Sawyer ran it down, and Owen to ground to short, where Barnard made a nice backhanded stab before throwing on to first for the out.

Owen had a 1-2-3 bottom half, getting Snyder to look at strike three, senior catcher Cam King to line to center and Sawyer to ground out sharply to second.

South Portland threatened in the top of the third, as Bolduc drew a walk and was sacrificed to second by sophomore centerfielder Anthony Perron, but Anthony Poole grounded to second (moving Bolduc to third) and McHugh lined to right, where Sawyer made a nice running catch to retire the side.

Owen struggled with his location in the bottom of the frame and Portland took advantage.

After striking out Buckley swinging, Owen walked Loranger and junior second baseman Henry Westphal to bring Stasium to the plate. After getting ahead 0-2, Owen threw three balls, including a wild pitch, then walked Stasium to load the bases for Barnard, who grounded to second. McHugh threw to Hasson for a force out and Hasson threw on to first, but Barnard beat the throw by a half-step, bringing Loranger home with the game’s first run. Tocci then struck out to end the inning.

The Red Riots had a chance to get the run back in the top of the fourth, but couldn’t come up with a key hit. Hasson led off and reached on an error by Westphal at second,. After Johnson lined out to center, Hasson stole second and moved to third when Jake Poole flew out to center, but he was stranded there as Horton popped out to second.

In the bottom half, after fanning Snyder, Owen issued two more walks, to King (who stole second base) and Sawyer, but Buckley chased strike three and Loranger fanned as well.

South Portland finally got in the hit column in the top of the fifth, but remained frustrated when it came to runs.

Owen led off with a grounder to second, but Bolduc walked for the second time. After Perron flew out to right, Anthony Poole singled sharply to center and Bolduc moved to third. McHugh couldn’t deliver the run, however, grounding out to Snyder at third.

Owen started the bottom half by striking out Westphal, but Stasium lined Portland’s first hit, a single down the rightfield line, and Barnard drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch. That brought up Tocci, who hit a ground ball up the middle, but Hasson was there to snare it, step on second for one out and throw on to first to complete the double play.

The Red Riots then came alive in the top of the sixth.

The uprising started when Hasson hit a sharp grounder to Buckley at first, who couldn’t handle it, allowing Hasson to reach. Johnson then laid down a perfect bunt single down the third base line and one pitch after crushing the ball just foul deep down the leftfield line, Jake Poole singled to left, bringing home Hasson to tie it. 

“We have a good mix of youth and veterans and some of those veterans are in the middle of the order and they’ve come through time after time,” Owens said. “When one guy gets going, it allows everyone to relax. Zach has been struggling, but he’s one of our best hitters. He laid down a beautiful bunt and you could feel the energy rise from there. We know Tocci is a very good pitcher and he did a good job mixing it up, but I thought we had very good swings. We just missed a couple and we hit a couple right at them. I kept telling the guys to keep grinding away.” 

Tocci then hit Horton with a pitch to load the bases and Owen followed by helping himself, lining a single just out of the reach of a diving Stasium to score Johnson for the lead.

“I knew we’d get the offense going eventually,” Owen said. “I just stayed back on it and tried to hit it.”

Bolduc, who had walked twice, then worked the count full before flying out to left with Jake Poole racing home on the sacrifice fly.

“I just did what I had to do, hitting a sacrifice fly,” Bolduc said. “I just tried to do my job and get the ball to the outfield. I saw the ball great. I knew we’d break through, the way we roll. We always get going. Zach’s bunt got us fired up. Jake came through and hit a monster foul ball, then came through.”

“Dillan came through, which was good to see,” Owens said. “He looked confident at the plate, putting a nice swing on for a sacrifice fly.”

Perron fanned for the second out and Tocci caught Anthony Poole looking at strike three, but the damage was done.

Owen was replaced by Connor Buckley in the bottom of the sixth. Buckley got Snyder to fly out to left, but King beat out an infield single to the hole. Sawyer then lined to short and it appeared South Portland would turn another double play, but Jake Poole dropped Hasson’s throw. That proved a moot point, as Griffin Buckley squibbed the ball in front of the plate and Connor Buckley made a nice play to come off the mound, collect the ball and throw him out to retire the side.

The Red Riots then added to their lead, again with some help from the Bulldogs, in the top of the seventh.

McHugh led off with a grounder to short and on the throw to first, Griffin Buckley stumbled. The throw was low as well and got away for an error, which allowed McHugh to take second. After senior Jimmy DiBiase came on to run, Hasson grounded to second and Westphal couldn’t come up with it for another error, putting runners at the corners. Johnson grounded into a short-to-second force out, but DiBiase came home with another run for a 4-1 lead. After Johnson stole second, Tocci fanned Jake Poole on a 3-2 pitch and after hitting Horton with a pitch, Tocci got Connor Buckley to ground back to the mound to avoid further damage

In the bottom of the seventh, Portland got a little life when junior pinch-hitter Jackson Villani reached on a Hasson throwing error, but senior pinch-hitter Jack Kilbride popped to short, Stasium grounded out to Johnson on a full count pitch, with Johnson making a great play going to his left before throwing to second for the force out, and Barnard ended it with a grounder to first with Buckley covering to close out the 4-1 South Portland victory.

Owen improved to 5-0 after surrendering just one earned run on one hit in five innings. He struck out seven, but walked seven and threw a wild pitch.

“I just tried to put the ball in play and my teammates played great defense behind me,” said Owen, who is nicknamed ‘”Yeti” by his teammates. “I just tried to adjust.”

“The story of Hunter right now is control,” Owens said. “He’s 16-years-old and I think he has the stuff to be the best pitcher in the league. He has a lot of confidence. He makes big pitches in big spots We just need to clean him up a little bit so he doesn’t make so many pitches. He struggles to find a rhythm at times, but he’s such a good competitor.”

Buckley earned his first save with two scoreless innings. He allowed just one hit.

“I made the change because of pitch count, but Connor was going to pitch anyway,” said Owens. “We have a lot of confidence in him. He doesn’t throw the hardest, but he competes more than anyone in order lineup.”

DiBiase, Hasson, Johnson and Jake Poole all scored runs, while Bolduc, Johnson, Owen and Poole had RBI. Hasson and Johnson stole bases.

The Red Riots stranded nine runners.

Portland got a run from Loranger and an RBI from Barnard. King had a stolen base.

The Bulldogs left seven runners on.

Tocci suffered his first loss in six decisions after giving up four runs (just one earned) on four hits in a complete game effort. Tocci walked two and fanned four. He also hit three batters.

“Donnie pitched great today,” Rutherford said. “We had a lot of opportunities to score runs on Owens. He put guys on base, but he’s a hard guy to square up. We had the right guys in the right spots all game to lengthen the lead, but we let them hang around and they got the key hits at the right time. Hunter is the best pitcher in the state. We could match up with them in the (regional) championship, but we have to come up with hits. You won’t go to the state championship unless you score off him. 

“We didn’t play great defense. They were hard-hit balls, but they were makeable plays. We thought it would be a one-run, two-run game. Give South Portland credit. They’re well-coached and play great baseball.” 

Race to the top

Portland (second in Class A South) looks to get back on track Tuesday, when it travels to Cheverus. After playing at Massabesic Thursday, the Bulldogs close at home versus Kennebunk and Bonny Eagle.

“We were without a few players today for discipline issues and we had to move some people around because of it,” Rutherford said. “It’s a wakeup call. We’ll see what we’re made of.”

South Portland still has some tough games to come, as it plays at Thornton Academy Tuesday and Falmouth Wednesday. After hosting Sanford Thursday, the Red Riots close at Westbrook May 29.

“We’ll keep playing and see where we wind up,” Owen said. “Homefield advantage is important, so this is a big win. We’ll keep doing what we do.”

“This gives us a lot of confidence,” said Bolduc. “It would be amazing to have a top seed.”

“It doesn’t seem to get easier,” Owens added. “Thornton, then Falmouth. It never eases up in this league, but if we stay focused, this will help propel us to where we want to go. At the end of the day, it’s just another win, but we know we can compete with Portland and everyone else in the league. The league is wide open. We’re just as vulnerable as anyone else. We have to be ready to face anybody.”

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

South Portland sophomore pitcher Hunter Owen goes into his delivery. Owen earned the victory to improve to 5-0.

Portland junior starter Donnie Tocci throws a strike.

Portland junior Jake Loranger gets back to second base on a pickoff attempt as South Portland senior shortstop Riley Hasson takes the throw.

Portland junior Billy Barnard takes a swing.

South Portland senior Riley Hasson steals second base as the ball gets away from Portland junior second baseman Henry Westphal.

Portland junior rightfielder Ben Sawyer makes a running catch.

South Portland senior shortstop Riley Hasson forces Portland junior Billy Barnard before throwing on to first to complete a double play.

Portland junior Jake Loranger celebrates after scoring the game’s first run.

South Portland senior Jake Poole comes home with the Red Riots’ third run.

Recent South Portland-Portland results

2017
Portland 5 @ South Portland 2
Class A South quarterfinal
@ Portland 14 South Portland 4 (6)

2016
@ Portland 5 South Portland 4 (8)

2015
@ South Portland 2 Portland 0
Western A Final
South Portland 2 Portland 1 

2014
Portland 3 @ South Portland 0

2013
South Portland 10 @ Portland 3
Western A preliminary round
@ Portland 8 South Portland 0

2012
Portland 6 @ South Portland 1

2011
South Portland 7 @ Portland 0

2010
@ South Portland 2 Portland 0

2009
@ South Portland 6 Portland 5
@ Portland 2 South Portland 1

2008
@ Portland 6 South Portland 2

2007
Portland 7 @ South Portland 4

2006
@ Portland 11 South Portland 0 (5)

2005
@ Portland 7 South Portland 0
Western A quarterfinals
@ Portland 6 South Portland 5

2004
South Portland 7 @ Portland 2
@ South Portland 8 Portland 3
Western A semifinals
Portland 5 @ South Portland 4 (11)

2003
@ Portland 4 South Portland 0
Portland 14 @ South Portland 2 (5)

2002
@ Portland 7 South Portland 1
@ South Portland 6 Portland 0
Western A semifinals
Portland 4 @ South Portland 3

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