PORTLAND – Portland, which has struggled to score for the last two seasons, finally broke out when it needed to the most — in the playoffs, as the No. 8-seeded Bulldogs scored all of their runs in one inning to beat No. 9 South Portland 8-0 in a Western Maine Class A preliminary baseball game Tuesday afternoon at Hadlock Field.

Portland’s reward for winning — a date with top-ranked Scarborough on Thursday in the quarterfinals.

For the 14 seniors listed on the Portland roster, this was their first playoff game in baseball. Last year, they entered the season expecting to be contenders, but went 5-11 and missed the playoffs.

This season they were 8-8 in an up and down regular season, but as they pointed out: When the weather warms up they seem to play better. That’s certainly been true in American Legion baseball for this group during the summer.

Nate Smart pitched a three-hitter and struck out seven in improving his record to 4-3.

“We start playing when the weather gets nicer out,” said Smart, a senior.

“I kept the ball down and my fielders made all the plays. Coach has been telling us the playoffs are what we have been waiting for since we played Babe Ruth baseball. We finally made the playoffs and it’s a whole new season,” he said.

South Portland (6-11) beat Portland during the season, 10-3.

The Red Riots, a young team with only three seniors on the roster, got runners to first and third with two outs in the second inning, but Smart struck out the next batter.

South Portland put runners on second and third with one out in the third, but Portland centerfielder Tim Rovnak made a nice catch on a sharp line drive by Nick Whitten for the second out and Smart got Adam Helmke on a fly ball to left.

The Bulldogs sent 10 men to the plate in the bottom of the third and eight of them scored.

Caleb Fraser drove in the first run with a line shot over the leftfielder’s head that rolled to the wall.

Smart helped his cause by dumping a single into left-center for another run. Mike Scala had an RBI single while Rovnak and Nick Volger finished off the explosive half inning with a pair of two-run RBI singles.

“We had good swings the whole game and we exploded that inning,” said Fraser.

On his second hit of the game that brought across the first run. Fraser said, “He threw me a curve ball the first pitch. I knew he would be coming with a fast ball and he left it up and I drove it.”

And his team’s penchant for playing better when the weather gets warm like in legion baseball?

“The last couple of years, we catch fire in the summer. Maybe it’s the weather. Our bats come alive. This definitely gives us a lot of confidence going into the Scarborough game knowing we’ll see a top pitcher,” he said.

The Red Storm will face Fraser who has a 4-1 record. Scarborough will likely throw Ben Greenberg.

Nick Volger led off the bottom of the third with a bloop single that should have been caught. Volger stole second and the next batter, Joe Apon, walked. Fraser then drilled his liner to left field. Four more hits, a walk and an error ensued.

“That was key for us,” Portland Coach Tony DiBiase said of the bloop single.

“After that we had some really good, hard hits. Nate pitched great. He came through when he needed to. That’s two straight games, he has pitched well,” he said.

Smart beat Biddeford in the last regular season game, which enabled the Bulldogs to secure eighth place in the rankings and host a home prelim.

“Beating Biddeford was a key for me,” he said.

 

Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at:

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Twitter: TomChardPPH