South Portland Red Riots Spring Sports Preview

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Junior Cooper Mehlhorn projects to score a lot of goals this spring for a South Portland boys’ lacrosse team chasing a Class A state title.

File photos.

More photos below.

BASEBALL

Coach: Mike Owens (eighth year, 82-45 overall record)

2017 record: 13-5 (Lost, 14-4, in six innings, to Portland in Class A South quarterfinal)

Top returning players: Connor Buckley (Senior), Riley Hasson (Senior), Zach Johnson (Senior), Jake Poole (Senior), Caden Horton (Junior), Hunter Owen (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: April 26 @ Falmouth, May 3 SCARBOROUGH, May 12 @ Cheverus, May 17 DEERING, May 19 @ Portland, May 22 @ Thornton Academy

Coach’s comment: “I like our team a lot. This is probably the deepest team I’ve had in my eight years and that’s exciting. We’ll rely on some younger guys this year. The league is deep and I think we’ll be right in the mix. I think Hunter can be special. We hope to go deep in the playoffs again.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: While South Portland’s streak of three straight trips to the semifinals or better came to an end last spring, the Red Riots did manage to post a winning record for the fourth consecutive year and more success awaits this season.

While first-team all-star Sam Troiano will be missed, this South Portland edition could be as good as any in recent seasons. On the mound, Owen, a left-hander, could be one of the very best in the league and Johnson was a second-team league all-star a year ago. Buckley and Hasson (an honorable mention all-star last spring) will also see time on the hill. Horton is back behind the plate. He’s one of the better catchers in the league. On the infield, Poole plays first, Hasson will be at shortstop when he doesn’t pitch and Johnson will play third when he’s not throwing. Hasson, Johnson and Poole will be top hitters. Sophomores Dylan Bolduc, Anthony Perron and Anthony Poole will see time in the outfield, as will Owen, when he doesn’t pitch.

Class A South features several strong teams, but when all is said and done, the Red Riots could be as good as any. If the pitching is as strong as expected and if South Portland can generate consistent offense, it will post a strong record and have a high playoff seed. Perhaps this is the year that the Red Riots are the last team standing.

SOFTBALL

Coach: Ralph Aceto (seventh year, 96-17 overall record, one state championship)

2017 record: 8-10 (Lost, 6-0, to Portland in Class A South quarterfinal)

Top returning players: Maeve Kelley (Senior), Grace Rende (Junior), Kaylee Whitten (Junior), Ashlee Aceto (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: April 30 @ Gorham, May 2 MASSABESIC, May 7 PORTLAND, May 9 @ Noble, May 11 SCARBOROUGH, May 16 @ Thornton Academy, May 25 BIDDEFORD

Coach’s comment: “I have a good group of girls, but there are a lot of questions. We’re starting all over again. We’re a work in progress with only one senior. We all know who we’re gunning for. Our goal is to get better and to make the playoffs and do some damage. We’ll have a good time.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: It’s back to the future this spring for the Red Riots, who welcome Aceto back as coach. Aceto led the program from 2009-14 and produced 96 wins, two regional crowns and South Portland’s lone Class A state title in 2010. Aceto inherits a squad that made nice strides a year ago and could be back in the upper echelon in no time.

After last year’s pitcher, Stephanie Aceto, graduated, this spring, the Red Riots will turn to sophomore Hattie Tetzlaff and freshman Julia Connors to hold the opposition at bay. The new hurlers will be aided by the steady presence of Ashlee Aceto behind the plate. Freshman Samantha Hillier should see some innings at catcher as well. The infield features Kelley (a senior captain and reigning second-team all-star) at first base, junior Courtney Luce or freshman Chloe Grant at second and Rende (honorable mention all-star in 2017) and Whitten on the left side. South Portland has some holes to fill in the outfield, so the opportunity is there for unheralded players to make a mark.

The Red Riots will be a work in progress this spring, but by season’s end, they could be quite dangerous. Ralph Aceto boasted a magic touch in his first stint as coach. It won’t be long in his second go-round before South Portland is on the short list of title contenders again.

BOYS’ LACROSSE

Coach: Tom Fiorini (11th year, 91-47 overall record, one state championship)

2017 record: 11-4 (Lost, 13-10, to Thornton Academy in Class A South semifinals)

Top returning players: Jack Vose-Gimble (Senior), David Fiorini (Junior), Cooper Mehlhorn (Junior), Quinn Watson (Junior)

Pivotal games: April 25 @ Cheverus, April 28 BRUNSWICK, May 2 SCARBOROUGH, May 9 @ Falmouth, May 18 @ Cape Elizabeth, May 23 THORNTON ACADEMY, May 30 @ Scarborough, June 1 CHEVERUS

Coach’s comment: “I”m excited. Pretty much my whole team is back. Our defense is solid, our goalie is good, our faceoff guy is good and our offense is solid. We’re inexperienced at midfield, but we’ll get experience. I think we’ll be in the mix. In my mind, there’s no reason to be anything less than a 3 seed. I think we’ll be tough to beat.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: South Portland has now posted double-digit victories in four of the past five seasons and has reached the semifinal round of the playoffs or better five years running. Look for those positive trends to continue this spring, even though Class A South has gotten dramatically tougher.

The Red Riots will be paced offensively by Mehlhorn, a second-team league all-star a year ago who is coming off a 44 goal, 40 assist season, and Fiorini, an honorable mention selection after scoring 36 goals and adding 38 assists. Other potential scorers to watch include senior Aidan Schifano (the hockey standout), junior Logan Doucette, sophomore Alex Stephens and freshman Nick Tolan. Junior Josh Doan replaces Jack Tierney as South Portland’s faceoff specialist. He’s joined in the midfield by sophomores Harrison Mayone and Isaac Sobe and senior Charlie Cronin, the soccer standout, who is playing lacrosse in high school for the first time this spring. Defensively, Vose-Gimble has experience and is joined by juniors Ryan Loring and Shippen Savidge in front of Watson, who is back for a third year in goal.

The Red Riots have a great upside and are equipped to handle a very challenging schedule. With Cape Elizabeth and Kennebunk now in Class A South and Scarborough and Thornton Academy still in the region, the road to a title is that much more challenging. South Portland might not be viewed as a team to beat, but by June, the opposition will be wise to take the Red Riots very seriously.

GIRLS’ LACROSSE

Coach: Leslie Dyer (fourth year, 21-19 overall record)

2017 record: 5-8 (Lost, 15-4, to Marshwood in Class A South quarterfinal)

Top returning players: Kaya Backman (Senior), Abby Darling (Senior), Paige Fleming (Senior), Jena Leckie (Junior), Molly Walker (Junior), Lauren DiBiase (Sophomore), Mackenzie Farnham (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: April 25 MARSHWOOD, May 1 PORTLAND, May 3 @ MGA, May 9 MASSABESIC, May 22 KENNEBUNK, May 24 @ Thornton Academy, May 31 @ Cheverus

Coach’s comment: “We’ll be stronger this year. We have really good team chemistry. The girls are working hard. We have great leadership with our nine seniors. To be competitive against the top teams this year, we have to move the ball faster. We have an even more competitive schedule this year, but we have big goals. We want to make the playoffs and win some games.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: South Portland has been to the playoffs nine years running and a 10th trip appears likely for a squad which boasts an abundance of athletes ready to turn heads and perhaps be a darkhorse in a loaded Class A South.

Leckie was a first-team league all-star as a sophomore. She’ll be a top scoring threat this season, along with Backman, Fleming (an honorable mention all-star last spring) and Walker. The midfield features senior Amelia Pappalardo, a transfer from Gorham, who will take draws (as will Fleming). Defensively, Darling (an honorable mention all-star in 2017), DiBiase and Farnham return in front of sophomore Maya Ellington, who is the full-time goalie this season.

The Red Riots project to score a lot of goals this spring. If they can tighten up the defense, they’ll be able to contend even against the powerhouses that litter their schedule. South Portland is a team that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The Red Riots will only get stronger and more confident as the season progresses and when June rolls around, they’ll be capable of making some serious noise.

OUTDOOR TRACK

Coaches:

(Boys) Dave Kahill (11th year)

(Girls) Karen Reardon (seventh year)

2017 results:

(Boys) 18th @ Class A State Meet

(Girls) 6th @ Class A State Meet

Top returning athletes:

(Boys) Zach Dyer (Senior), Josh Hyssong (Senior), Patrick Martin (Senior), T.J. Nakummun (Junior), Clifford Robbins-Sennewald (Junior), Ben Sivik (Junior), Drew Lewis (Sophomore), Ethan McCarthy (Sophomore), Liam Piper (Sophomore), Oscar Sullivan (Sophomore)

(Girls) Juliana Selser (Senior), Olivia Sivik (Senior), Madison Smith (Senior), Rhode Niangasa-Phambu (Junior), Isabelle Chase (Sophomore), Mary DiSanto (Sophomore), Anna Folley (Sophomore), Jordyn Hulsey (Sophomore), Rebekah Hunnewell-Dunphe (Sophomore), Kaleisha Towle (Sophomore)

Coach Kahill’s comment: “We go into the season with exceptional energy, enthusiasm and work ethic and it is our largest team in a decade, about 50 athletes. The returning upperclassmen should provide leadership and talent for the regular season and a solid base for the championship meets. As a large portion of the team is made up of newcomers, developing depth and talent will be a key to the our season and hopefully we will develop potential for future seasons. This year, we look forward to the challenge of a top five finish at the SMAA championship.”

Coach Reardon’s comment: “We should be a fun team to watch. We have a mix of veterans who will blend well with some of our up-and-coming sophomores. I expect some nice development over the course of the season in a number of events from our throwing crew to the jumps. We have a nice mix of runners to put together some good relays and challenge teams as we progress through the season.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: South Portland’s track teams are hoping to build on last season and produce some top-notch performances in the weeks ahead.

The girls’ squad will be led again by the standout Selser, who will compete in her final high school season before attending the University of Masschusetts-Lowell, where she’ll run track and play soccer. Selser is the reigning Class A outdoor champion in the 800 and the mile. Don’t be surprised if she bows out with a couple more titles and lowers her times in the process. Selser is joined in the distance races by Folley, who is coming off a strong indoor season, and freshmen Marina Brandao, Rachel Kingsley and Molly Woodhouse. Sivik and Smith are veteran racewalkers. Woodhouse will also compete in that event. Chase is the top sprinter. She’s joined by freshmen Tianna Greaves, Fiona Stawarz and Isabelle Stocks. The hurdles feature Towle (fifth in the 100 hurdles last spring), Hulsey and Stawarz. On the field side, Towle (seventh in last year’s long jump), Chase, Greaves, Hulsey, Stawarz and freshmen Chloe Marble and Faith Sacre will take part in the jumps. The throws feature Hunnewell-Dunphe (second in the shot put indoors), DiSanto, Folley, Niangasa-Phambu, Brandao, Greaves, Marble, Stawarz and Stocks. Hulsey and Sacre look to score in the pole vault. The SMAA once again features several strong teams, including defending state champion Cheverus, perennial powerhouses Scarborough and Thornton and contenders Bonny Eagle and Noble, but South Portland has enough top-end talent and depth to be very competitive throughout the regular season and to make a bid for a top five finish at the state meet.

On the boys’ side, Sivik is the lone returning scorer from last year’s state meet (he was sixth in the 200). He’ll be a top sprinter and will be joined by Martin, McCarthy and freshmen Nic Borelli and Jayden Wallace-Mainit. Dyer, Lewis (second in the 55 hurdles indoors), McCarthy, Sullivan, Borelli, junior Joseph Emery and freshmen Van Ishimwe and T.J. Vose will all compete in the hurdles. In the middle-distance, keep an eye on Dyer, Emery, Ishimwe and Sullivan. Hyssong, Piper, Robbins-Sennewald, Vose and freshman Jacob Costin will lead the distance contingent. South Portland has long been strong in the racewalk and while defending Class A champion Steven Smith has graduated, the tradition will be carried on by Robbins-Sennewald (who just missed scoring in that event a year ago), Costin and Sullivan. In the field events, jumpers to watch include Borelli, Emery, Martin, McCarthy and freshman Clifford David, who also throws. Costin, David, Ishimwe, Naukummun and Wallace-Mainit all compete in the pole vault. South Portland has enough athleticism to be a force all year and to turn heads in the postseason.

BOYS’ TENNIS

Coach: Tom Hyland (10th year)

2017 results: 3-9 (no postseason)

Top returning players: Andy LeBlanc (Senior), Michael Feely (Junior)

Coach’s comment: “We have a few returning players who could do quite well this season. Both Andy and Micheal have worked hard on their skills and their hard work will pay off. They are natural team leaders and are fine young men and excellent mentors to the younger players. Beyond these players, we are a young but hardworking group. We will improve over time and be ready to compete.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: South Portland missed the playoffs last spring for the first time in three years, but hopes that was an aberration. This year’s team could return to form.

The 2018 Red Riots are led by Leblanc, who will play first singles, and Feely, who will be in the No. 2 singles spot. Sophomore Ian McCutcheon is moving from doubles to third singles. Sophomore Max Saffer-Meng and newcomer Elliot Cronin will be in the doubles mix.

South Portland has the talent to compete against most of the teams in the league and should win its share of matches. If the Red Riots are able to get back to the playoffs, they’ll be a tough out.

GIRLS’ TENNIS

Coach: Elizabeth Scifres (19th year)

2017 results: 5-8 (Lost, 4-1, to Deering in Class A South preliminary round)

Top returning players: Lilliana Brandao (Senior), Erica Glidden (Senior), Lyndsey Green (Senior), Andrea Trieu (Senior), Sarah Weden (Senior), Abby Trieu (Junior)

Coach’s comment: “We have a large group of enthusiastic athletes on the team this year. We have historically been very strong in doubles and I expect that to continue this season. This is a great group of girls, hard-working, fun and supportive of each other.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: South Portland has qualified for the postseason every year this millennium and this year’s squad has the pieces in place to continue the success.

Abby Trieu, Andrea Trieu and Weden project to be the singles players. Captains Brandao and Green will make up the first doubles squad. Glidden, another captain, is in the mix for the second doubles team.

Look for this group to show steady improvement in the weeks to come and to be in position to enjoy postseason success.

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

Senior Riley Hasson will be a sparkplug for a South Portland baseball team that is on the short list of Class A South favorites this spring.

Senior Zach Johnson will be one of the Red Riots’ top hurlers this season.

Sophomore Hunter Owen is another top arm for South Portland.

Senior Connor Buckley is another key returner for the Red Riots.

Senior Jake Poole will be at first base this spring.

South Portland junior David Fiorini is a top returner for South Portland’s boys’ lacrosse team this spring.

Senior Jack Vose-Gimble is a top returning defender for South Portland.

Junior Quinn Watson is back for a third season in goal for the Red Riots.

Senior distance standout Juliana Selser is back for one more high school season before taking her talents to the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

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