PORTLAND—Portland and Deering’s softball teams are both hoping for bigger and better things this spring and in Wednesday afternoon’s season opener at Kiley Field, it’s clear that both squads have reason for optimism.

The Bulldogs took advantage of early Rams’ mistakes to open up a 7-0 lead after four innings, but Deering roared back with four runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth and came inches away from tying it up. Then, in the bottom of the sixth, Portland scored two unearned runs and freshman pitcher Sydney Gilbert did the rest as the Bulldogs went on to a 9-6 victory.

Gilbert earned the win in her varsity debut, second baseman Taylor Crosby had a huge day (three hits, two runs, two RBI and two steals) and third baseman Maddie Kennie crushed a two-run home run as Portland started its season in style, while the Rams have something to build on.

“We’re just not used to winning yet,” said first-year Bulldogs coach Robbie Ferrante. “We were up 7-0 and then we relaxed. We gave them four or five outs an inning and they didn’t quit. They have a good team over there. The key was we stayed ahead 7-6 and then we got a couple runs.”

Slow climb

Both programs were perennial contenders for decades before struggling over the past several seasons. Both believe they’re on their way back to contention.

Portland made the playoffs every season between 1982 and 2008 and captured eight Class A championships, but won just six games total between 2009-13 before managing a 5-11 mark last spring, just missing the playoffs. Ferrante (who coached the Bulldogs between 2003-08 and led them to the 2004 Class A championship) then replaced Kelly Libby as coach.

Deering only missed the playoffs three times between 1985 and 2009 and won four championships in that span, but starting in 2010, the Rams fell out of contention and would lose 50 consecutive games before edging Marshwood in last year’s finale, 10-9, providing some hope heading into the 2015 campaign under new coach Anthony DiBiase.

The Deering-Portland rivalry has been streaky of late (see sidebar, below). From 2005-2011, the Rams won eight in a row, including a preliminary round playoff victory in 2008. The Bulldogs entered play Wednesday having won the past three, averaging over 11 runs per contest in those wins.

This time around, Portland appeared en route to an easy win, but Deering made sure things were very interesting down the stretch.

Gilbert’s first varsity inning comprised all of six pitches and lasted less than two minutes.

Leading off, on the first pitch, Rams third baseman Gabby Alveraz tried to bunt, but Bulldogs catcher Molly Rickett pounced on the ball in front of home plate and threw to Crosby for the out. After pitcher Kaylee Helmick grounded out to Kennie, Gilbert finished the speedy first inning by getting first baseman Cassidy Coyne to bloop the ball toward second base, where Crosby made a quick play, throwing to first baseman Isabelle DiMillo to end the frame.

Portland then took the lead for good in the bottom of the first.

Shortstop Morgan Boyle led off and reached on a throwing error, moving to second after the ball got away. Crosby followed with a bloop single to left and after Crosby stole second, DiMillo bounced back to Helmick, who threw to first base for the out as Boyle came home with the game’s first run, while Crosby took third on the play. Kennie then crushed a pitch over the head of Deering centerfielder Kaitlyn DiBiase and she circled the bases to make it 3-0. Helmick settled down and got Rickett to line to center and leftfielder Olivia Gilbert to pop out, but the damage was done.

Sydney Gilbert worked out of trouble in the top of the second.

After she got shortstop Cierra Burnham, a former Bulldog, to pop out to short, Gilbert walked second baseman Siobhan Densmore, who stole second. Densmore moved up on a sacrifice bunt by DiBiase and catcher Jade Jordan walked to bring the tying run to the plate, but leftfielder Gabby Legaspi grounded out to Crosby to extinguish the threat.

Portland, again aided by the Deering defense, added to its lead in the bottom of the inning.

Rightfielder Mabel Pence led off by popping out to third, but centerfielder Kit Rosmus singled to center. Sydney Gilbert laid down a bunt in front of the plate, but Jordan’s throw was awry, putting runners at the corners. After a Gilbert steal, Boyle grounded out to third with Rosmus scoring. Crosby then tripled to right, scoring Gilbert for a 5-0 lead.

“I kept my weight back and kept my eye on the ball,” Crosby said.

DiMillo struck out to end the inning.

Gilbert walked rightfielder Taylor Kelly to start the third, but got Alveraz to hit into a force play and after Alveraz stole second, Helmick grounded out to first and Coyne struck out.

Helmick had her best inning in the bottom of the third, getting Kennie to ground out to third, Rickett to pop out to short and after Olivia Gilbert singled to left, inducing Pence to ground into a force play.

The Rams had a chance to get on the board in the fourth.

After Burnham popped out to third, Densmore walked for a second time and DiBiase reached on a throwing error by the pitcher. DiBiase stole second, but Jordan struck out and Legaspi ended the threat by grounding back to the mound.

The Bulldogs added two more runs in the fourth to seemingly open up a safe lead.

After Rosmus reached on a bloop single, Sydney Gilbert sacrificed her second. Boyle popped out to short, but Crosby came through with an RBI single to center and after Crosby stole second, DiMillo followed with an RBI hit, scoring Crosby to make it 7-0. Kennie reached on an error, but Rickett grounded out to end Helmick’s time on the hill.

Deering was hitless entering the fifth, but finally came to life, with a little help.

Kelly led off with a walk and was sacrificed to second by Alveraz. After a wild pitch, the speedy Helmick beat out an infield hit to score Kelly and get the Rams on the board. Coyne grounded into a force play, then stole second. Burnham singled to left to put runners at the corners. A Gilbert wild pitch then scored Coyne and Rickett’s errant throw moved Burnham to third. After Densmore walked again and stole second, DiBiase blooped a base hit which scored both runners and just like that, Deering only trailed, 7-4. Lillian Frazier pinch-ran for DiBiase and moved to second when Jordan reached on an error. A wild pitch moved the runners up a base, but Legaspi grounded out to Crosby to end the inning.

DiBiase, a lefty, came on to replace Helmick in the bottom of the fifth. After Olivia Gilbert reached on a throwing error, Pence struck out and Gilbert was caught off the base and was picked off. Rosmus then grounded out to end a fast inning.

The Rams drew even closer in the sixth and almost tied it up.

Sydney Gilbert struck out Kelly to start the inning, but Alveraz beat out an infield single and stole second and third. Helmick then had another infield hit RBI. She moved up to second on a wild pitch and scored on Coyne’s double to center, cutting the deficit to 7-6. Burnham grounded out to short, moving the tying run to third, but Densmore’s bid for a hit, a liner up the middle, was snared by the pitcher, and Portland held on to a one-run lead.

Int he bottom half, the Bulldogs regained some breathing room.

Leading off, Sydney Gilbert drew a walk. Boyle followed with a walk and a wild pitch moved the runners into scoring position. Crosby then hit a sharp ground ball at Alveraz, but with the runners holding, the ball got through her legs and both came home to score, giving Portland a 9-6 advantage. Crosby tried to get to second, but was thrown out. The damage was done, however. DiBiase then got DiMillo to line to center and Kennie to ground to third.

In the seventh, Sydney Gilbert closed it out, with some help from her defense.

After DiBiase grounded back to the mound, Jordan crushed a ball to right. She rounded second and tried for third, but Pence’s throw to Crosby was followed by a dart from Crosby to Kennie at third, who applied the tag for out number two. Legaspi kept hope alive with a single, but Gilbert caught Kelly looking at strike three to close it out.

Portland 9 Deering 6.

“Once Taylor made that play, I knew we only needed one more out,” said Sydney Gilbert. “I was getting tired, but I wanted to finish it out.”

“I think we might have settled down a little bit too much, but we found a way to win,” Crosby said. “We had to fight for it.”

Portland’s offense was paced by three hits from Crosby and a pair from Rosmus. Boyle, Crosby, Sydney Gilbert and Rosmus all scored twice and Kennie touched home once. Crosby, DiMillo and Kennie had two RBI apiece and Boyle drove in one run. Crosby stole two bases and Sydney Gilbert swiped one.

Gilbert won her debut by allowing six runs (just two earned) on eight hits in seven innings of work. She walked six, struck out four and threw four wild pitches.

“It was a little nervewracking at first, but once I settled down I was fine,” Gilbert said.

“I was going to make a move (to a reliever) if they got two on in the (seventh), but it was her game,” Ferrante said. “She’s played a lot of softball. That makes a difference.”

For Deering, Helmick was the lone repeat hitter. Alveraz, Burnham, Coyne, Densmore, Helmick and Kelly all scored. Helmick drove in two runs, while Coyne and DiBiase each had an RBI. Alveraz stole three bases, Densmore had two steals and Coyne, DiBiase and Jordan each finished with one.

Helmick took the loss after giving up seven runs (only two earned) on eight hits in four innings. She didn’t walk a hitter and fanned one. DiBiase gave up two unearned runs in her two innings of hitless relief. She walked two, struck out one and threw a wild pitch.

“The girls battled back,” Anthony DiBiase said. “We can hit. It took a few innings, but we came alive and ran the bases well. Two innings we left girls on second and third. Both (Kaylee and Kaytlin) pitched well. It’s nice to Kaytlin later in the game. They don’t see lefties too often. We just didn’t get the breaks.”

Long road ahead

Deering sees another city foe Friday, when it goes to Cheverus. The Rams’ first home game is Monday versus Windham.

“We’re definitely stronger all around this year,” Anthony DiBiase said. “We’ll take confidence from this going forward. We have a big game versus Cheverus. We’ll see how that goes.”

Portland seeks its first 2-0 start since 2005 when it hosts defending regional champion Thornton Academy Friday. Monday, the Bulldogs go on the road for the first time, traveling to Noble.

“We have to learn to let bad plays go and keep our heads in the game,” Sydney Gilbert said. “I’m confident we’ll have a good season.”

“Last year gave us confidence,” Crosby said. “We don’t have as many returning players as we hoped, but with our chemistry, we feel good. It’s a good group.”

“The girls know what we expect out of them now,” Ferrante added. “They know where the program’s been. I want them to feel good about themselves. We’ll go after Thornton and see where we stand. We’ll evaluate ourselves at the end of the week.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at[email protected]. Follow him on Twitter:@foresports.

Deering starter Kaylee Helmick delivers a pitch.

Portland freshman Sydney Gilbert earned a win in her varsity debut.

Portland’s Olivia Gilbert takes a swing.

Deering’s Gabby Alvarez steals one of her three bases as Portland’s Morgan Boyle takes the throw.

Portland’s Mabel Pence makes contact.

Deering’s Cassidy Coyne slides home during a Rams’ rally which fell just short.

First-year Deering coach Anthony DiBiase looks on during Wednesday’s contest.

Recent Portland-Deering results

Portland 12 @ Deering 5 

@ Portland 13 Deering 9 

Portland 9 @ Deering 4 

@ Deering 14 Portland 6 

Deering 20 @ Portland 5 (5) 

@ Deering 8 Portland 4 

Deering 9 @ Portland 2
@ Deering 4 Portland 0 (Western A preliminary round) 

@ Deering 8 Portland 1 

Deering 3 @ Portland 0 

Deering 9 @ Portland 5 

Portland 2 @ Deering 1 

Sidebar Elements

Portland’s Taylor Crosby steals second as Deering’s Siobhan Densmore takes the throw during Wednesday’s season opener at Kiley Field. Crosby had three hits, two runs, two RBI and two steals in the Bulldogs’ 9-6 victory.

Joe Carpine/365digitalphotography.com photos.

More photos below.


Portland 9 Deering 6

D- 000 042 0- 6 8 5
P- 320 202 X- 9 8 3

Bottom 1st
DiMillo grounded out, Boyle scored. Kennie homered to center, Crosby and Kennie scored.

Bottom 2nd
Boyle grounded out, Rosmus scored. Crosby tripled to right, S. Gilbert scored.

Bottom 4th
Crosby singled to center, Rosmus scored. DiMillo singled to left, Crosby scored.

Top 5th
Helmick reached on infield single, Kelly scored. Coyne scored on wild pitch. DiBiase singled to center, Burnham and Densmore scored.

Top 6th
Helmick reached on infield single, Alvarez scored. Coyne doubled to center, Helmick scored.

Bottom 6th
S. Gilbert and Boyle scored on error.

Repeat hitters:
D- Helmick 
P- Crosby 3, Rosmus

D- Alvarez, Burnham, Coyne, Densmore, Helmick, Kelly
P- Boyle, Crosby, S. Gilbert, Rosmus 2, Kennie

D- Helmick 2, Coyne, DiBiase
P- Crosby, DiMillo, Kennie 2, Boyle

D- Coyne, Jordan
P- Crosby

Home run:
P- Kennie

Stolen bases:
D- Alvarez 3, Densmore 2. Coyne, DiBiase,  Jordan 
P- Crosby 2, S. Gilbert 

Helmick, DiBiase (5) and Jordan; S. Gilbert and Rickett

Helmick (L, 0-1) 4 IP 8 H 7 R 2 ER 0 BB 1 K
DiBiase 2 IP 0 H 2 R 0 ER 2 BB 1 K 1 WP

S. Gilbert (W, 1-0) 7 IP 8 H 6 R 2 ER 6 BB 4 K 4 WP