The most inspirational story of resurgence this spring played out on the turf at Fitzpatrick Stadium, where Portland boys’ lacrosse team, a once-championship caliber program, which had won just twice in 2017, awakened the echoes with an 11-win regular season and advanced all the way to the Class A North Final.
The Bulldogs got superb seasons from many veteran players, but the architect of their success was their coach, who instilled belief, got the most he could out of those who took the field and the end result was something special.
For sticking with it through the tough times, believing better days were ahead and for leading Portland back to glory, Mike DiFusco is The Forecaster’s selection as our Portland edition Spring Coach of the Year, of a boys’ team.
DiFusco is no stranger to excellence in lacrosse, starring in high school at Cape Elizabeth and North Yarmouth Academy. He later played at Springfield College and Onondaga Junior College, where he won the 2006 national title.
DiFusco replaced Eric Begonia as Portland’s coach in 2013. The Bulldogs made the playoffs his first three years, but won just six total games in 2016 and 2017.
That all changed this spring.
Portland, sparked by a strong senior class and a goalie, Aaron Hoekstra, who was back to 100 percent physically, won its first nine contests (outscoring the opposition, 101-47) to serve notice it was back. The Bulldogs stumbled late at Windham (by a goal), but still earned the No. 2 seed in Class A North.
Portland earned a bye into the semifinals, then hosted Windham and advanced by virtue of a 12-6 victory. The Bulldogs finally met their match in the regional final, losing to Falmouth, but their 12-2 campaign was their best since 2010 and won’t soon be forgotten.
“When you have rough years, it’s tough, but when you start winning, the kids get motivated and they reap the benefits,” DiFusco said. “The senior class has been through it all, highs and lows. They came in this year hungry, confident and wanting to play for each other. They deserve it. I’m really proud of them.”
The fun is back at Fitzpatrick and one of the state’s premier programs is back on its accustomed perch. Mike DiFusco, our Portland edition Spring Coach of the Year of a boys’ team, pushed all the right buttons and returned the Bulldogs to glory.
2017 Mac McKew (Cheverus baseball)
2016 Jeff Madore (Waynflete tennis)
2015 Mike Rutherford (Portland baseball)
2014 Steve Virgilio (Cheverus track)
2013 Jeff Madore (Waynflete tennis)
2012 Deke Andrew (Cheverus lacrosse)
2011 Mac McKew (Cheverus baseball)
2010 Steve Kautz (Waynflete baseball)
2009 Eric Begonia (Portland lacrosse)
2008 Mike D’Andrea (Deering baseball)
2007 Mike D’Andrea (Deering baseball)
2006 Stephane Pejic (Waynflete tennis)
2005 Eric Begonia (Portland lacrosse)
2004 Mike D’Andrea (Deering baseball)
After going .500 during the regular season, little was expected of Portland’s girls’ tennis team when the playoffs began.
Nine days later, the Bulldogs were in the Class A South Final.
Despite Portland’s record, it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise that the Bulldogs would save their best for the biggest moments since they’ve been doing that for over a decade, since Bonnie Moran took over the program.
This spring, Moran got her charges to play their best tennis when it mattered most and her ability to keep Portland near the top of the heap year after year earned Bonnie Moran The Forecaster’s nod as our Portland edition Spring Coach of the Year, of a girls’ team.
Moran was also honored in 2009.
Moran, a New Jersey native, who attended Bonny Eagle High School, took over the Portland program in 2008 inheriting a group that included her youngest daughter, Mary.
By 2009, the Bulldogs were undefeated regional champions. In Moran’s first 10 years, Portland never won fewer than eight matches and played in five regional finals, also advancing to the state final in 2013.
This season, the Bulldogs had to win their finale against South Portland to avoid the program’s first sub-.500 season since 2001. Then, Portland caught fire, beating the Red Riots in the preliminary round, upsetting Cheverus in the quarterfinals and downing Thornton Academy in the semifinals, avenging regular season losses in the latter two rounds. The Bulldogs managed to score a point against perennial champion Falmouth in the regional final, but fell short, 4-1.
“It was such a rewarding season because the girls’ skills and confidence improved steadily as the season progressed,” said Moran. “Ending the season at 6-6 certainly didn’t reflect the ability and potential of our team and we showed it in the playoffs.”
With several top players returning in 2019, don’t be surprised if the Bulldogs make another run at that elusive state championship.
Bonnie Moran, our Portland edition Spring girls’ team Coach of the Year, has demonstrated that she wasn’t just capable of building a top-notch program, but that she knew how to get her girls to be at their best when it mattered most.
2017 Tim Eisenhart (MGA/Falmouth softball)
2016 Robbie Ferrante (Portland softball)
2015 Cameron McManus (Portland lacrosse)
2014 Maureen Curran (Cheverus softball)
2013 Jamie Chamberlain (Cheverus lacrosse)
2012 Cathie Connors (Waynflete lacrosse)
2011 Linda Cohen (Waynflete tennis)
2010 Robbie Ferrante (McAuley softball)
2009 Bonnie Moran (Portland tennis)
2008 Cathie Connors (Waynflete lacrosse)
2007 Jamie Chamberlain (Cheverus lacrosse)
2006 Jamie Chamberlain (Cheverus lacrosse)
2005 Rick Supinski (Cheverus softball)
2004 Cathie Connors (Waynflete lacrosse)