PORTLAND—Just about everything has gone right so far this spring for the Portland baseball team, as the return of one-time star player and former coach Mike Rutherford helped inspire a 3-0 start.

Saturday morning, however, the Bulldogs’ momentum ran into a red-hot pitcher and as so often happens in baseball, the pitcher won.

Hosting Thornton Academy at Hadlock Field, Portland had no answers for Golden Trojans’ junior starter Ben Lambert, who frustrated the Bulldogs from the start of the game all the way until the finish.

The Golden Trojans broke a scoreless tie with a run in the third inning and tacked on another in the fifth, but the Bulldogs, thanks to their daring baserunning, battled back to tie the score, 2-2, in the bottom of the fifth.

From there, Lambert matched zeroes with Portland junior starter Dan Marzilli and senior reliever Ryan Ruhlin until the top of the eighth when the visitors went ahead to stay.

With one out, sophomore catcher Brandon Hall atoned for an earlier error which allowed a run to score by crushing a triple to right-center, bringing home senior Mitch Jacques with the go-ahead run.

In the bottom of the eighth, Lambert put a punctuation mark on his gem by getting Bulldogs sophomore shortstop Jake Knop for his 13th strikeout and Thornton Academy prevailed, 3-2.

Lambert allowed just four runs, Hall had two RBI and the Golden Trojans improved to 3-1, dropping Portland to 3-1 in the process.

“We would have stolen that one if we somehow won,” Rutherford said. “Lambert was better than us. There’s nothing to hang our heads about. We didn’t have a lot of baserunners. I’m proud of how we came back down 2-0. We did get a little bit of momentum, but Lambert was dealing.”

New era, old era

The Rutherford Era began with a flourish, when Portland went to preseason favorite Marshwood and prevailed, 5-3. After a 4-2 win at Windham, the Bulldogs beat Massabesic in the home opener Thursday, 4-0.

Thornton Academy began with a 7-0 loss at South Portland, then won at Biddeford (3-1) and at home over Sanford (13-8).

Last year, Portland lost, 5-4, to the Golden Trojans in Saco.

Saturday, the Bulldogs looked to beat Thornton Academy for the first time since April 30, 2013 (6-3 at home), but instead, the Golden Trojans won at Portland for the first time since May 14, 2011 (7-4).

Lambert led off legging out an infield single on a ball hit to the right of Portland junior third baseman Zach Fortin. After Jacques, the third baseman, hit into a force play, Hall reached on a seeing-eye single just to the right of Bulldogs sophomore second baseman Dom Tocci. Senior shortstop Conor Purvis then hit the ball sharply, but right at Tocci, who threw to sophomore shortstop Jake Knop for the force at second and Knop threw on to junior first baseman John Williams to complete the double play.

In the bottom half, Knop led off and grounded out to third. Tocci then lined to center and Lambert ended his easy frame by fanning Ruhlin, who started the game as the catcher.

Marzilli was dominant in the top of the second, striking out sophomore first baseman Evan Balzano and junior rightfielder Devan Ruel before getting junior centerfielder Josh LePauloue to fly out to center.

In the bottom half, Williams swung at the first pitch and bounced out to third, junior designated hitter Joe Fusco struck out looking and junior leftfielder Charles Barnard also was caught looking, keeping the game scoreless into the top of the third.

There, Thornton Academy grabbed the lead thanks to some help from Portland’s defense.

Leading off, junior leftfielder Andy Coleman drew a walk. Junior second baseman Brogan Searle-Belanger then hit a grounder directly at Tocci that appeared to be another tailor-made double play ball, but Tocci bobbled it and was only able to get the force at second. Lambert then grounded a ball that got through Tocci for an error, putting runners at first and second. Marzilli struck out Jacques swinging, but Hall hit a shot to right-center that junior rightfielder George Chaison-Lapine appeared to have a bead on, but it fell in for an RBI single, scoring Searle-Belanger for a 1-0 lead. Marzilli got Purvis to ground to second to end the inning.

In the bottom half, junior third baseman Zach Fortin led off with the Bulldogs’ first hit, a sharp single to center, but sophomore centerfielder Nick Archambault and Chaison-Lapine both struck out swinging and after Fortin stole second, Knop grounded meekly back to the mound.

In the top of the fourth, Marzilli got Balzano to ground out to second, Ruel to ground out to first unassisted and LePauloue to ground out to second.

Tocci led off the bottom half with a single up the middle, but he was thrown out trying to steal. Ruhlin then looked at strike three and Williams grounded out to third on a close play.

In the top of the fifth, Coleman led off with a double that barely stayed fair down the third base line and eluded a diving Fortin. Searle-Belanger grounded out to third, but Coleman gambled and moved up to third on the throw. Lambert then helped himself by blooping a double down the rightfield line for a 2-0 lead. After Jacques struck out swinging, Marzilli got Hall to ground out to short.

In the bottom half, Lambert got Fusco to flail at strike three, but he then threw four straight balls to Barnard. With Fortin at the plate, junior pinch-runner Joseph Clayton stole second and on the next pitch, Fortin singled to center, putting runners at the corners. With Archambault up, Fortin stole second. Hall’s throw went through and Clayton headed for home after a moment’s hesitation. The throw back from Searle-Belanger was in time to get Clayton, but Hall dropped it and Portland was on the board.

“That was completely my fault,” Hall said. “I went up the line to get the throw. I tried to bring the tag down too quick and the ball popped out.”

Archambault then lined a single to right, putting runners at the corners again. Archambault then took off for second and when the throw went through, Fortin raced home to tie the score. Lambert wound up striking out the side as he got both Chaison-Lapine and Knop to chase strike three, but the Bulldogs had drawn even.

“We had to scrap for our two runs,” Rutherford said. “We had to do a couple double steals to get them, but we got back to even.”

In the top of the sixth, Purvis popped out to first, Balzano hit a little flare to left which Barnard raced in to stab and Ruel popped out foul to third.

In the bottom half, Tocci struck out on a 3-2 pitch, Lambert’s 10th K, Ruhlin stuck out as well and Williams grounded out to second.

Ruhlin replaced Marzilli to start the seventh (senior Patrick Sheils came in to catch) and walked LePauloue leading off. Senior Tourner Moseley pinch-hit for Coleman and after failing to get a bunt down, looked at strike three. Searle-Belanger then lined a shot that appeared headed to left-center, but Knop timed his jump perfectly, snared the ball, then threw back to first to complete the double play.

Lambert kept the game going in the bottom half by getting Fusco to ground to short, Clayton to ground out to third on a bang-bang play and Fortin to pop to short.

Thornton Academy then retook the lead.

Lambert led off the top of the eighth by grounding a slow roller past Ruhlin, but Knop made a nice throw to get him by a step. Jacques walked on a full count. Hall then ripped a shot over the head of Chaison-Lapine and didn’t stop until he reached third with a triple as Jacques easily scored.

“That’s the first time in my life I hit a triple,” Hall said. “I’m not the fastest kid in the world. (Ruhlin) put it thigh-high. I like the inside fastball. I turned on it well. I let the bat do the work and I just ran. I just heard (my first base coach) yell, ‘Get on your horse.'”

“If I had to do it all over again, I might have walked him and set up a force with a righty on deck,” Rutherford said. “That’s my mistake. I’m kind of rusty. I didn’t pay attention to the guy on deck. There were three walks in the game today and they all scored. Two for them and one for us. That’s high school baseball.”

Purvis grounded out to Knop with Hall holding for the second out. Balzano then struck out looking to end the inning.

Lambert slammed the door in the bottom half.

Archambault led off with a bouncer in front of the plate, but Lambert threw him out. Junior Jack Nichols pinch-hit for Chaison-Lapine and struck out looking and Knop looked at strike three as well to bring the game to an end after eight innings and 106 minutes.

Thornton Academy 3 Portland 2.

“(Portland) beat Marshwood and we know Marshwood is worth a lot of Heal Points,” Hall said. “Portland’s a good team and they’ll win a lot of games. This will help us.”

Lambert was the story, as he allowed just four hits and one walk in eight innings, striking out 13.

“I thought my curveball was good today,” Lambert said. “When I needed to elevate one, I chucked it as hard as I could. I felt just as good at the end. My team’s done well in the field all year. I know they’ll make plays behind me.”

“His curveball was the filthiest I’ve ever seen it,” Hall said. “He buckled so many knees. It was nasty. When that pitch works for him, they get afraid and you bust a fastball in and they can’t hit it. They have good hitters, but he confused them. He was as strong in the eighth as he was in the first. He doesn’t like to lose. He’s a gamer.”

Offensively, Hall had three hits and two RBI, while Lambert had two hits and drove in a run. Coleman, Jacques and Searle-Belanger scored the runs. Hall and Jacques stole bases. Thornton Academy left five runners on base.

Portland had just one repeat hitter (Fortin). Clayton and Fortin had the Bulldogs’ runs. Fortin stole three bases, Clayton had two and Archambault finished with one. Portland left two runners on base.

Marzilli went six innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits and a walk. He struck out four and didn’t get a decision. Ruhlin took the loss after giving up one run on one hit and two hits in two innings. He fanned two.

“Overall, we had great pitching and defense today,” Rutherford said. “No balls were hit hard off Marzilli. We made our first infield error in four games. All of our games are going to be like this until our hitters learn how to hit. We’re babies. Except for Fusco and Ruhlin, the other hitters haven’t seen a curveball. These JV and Junior Legion kids are used to 78 mile per hour fastballs. Now they’re facing hard breaking balls in different counts. Good hitters will adapt. I can’t simulate a Lambert curveball. As they see those pitches, they’ll be better by the end of the year. We have really good athletes. We’re fast. We can run, but if we don’t get baserunners, what are we going to do?

“We’ve faced four teams so far with their number one pitchers and we’re 3-1. Marshwood had all nine starters back. We played really well. Windham’s down, but (ace Tanner) Laberge is one of the best pitchers. Massabesic has a bunch of older guys. Lambert’s one of the top guys in the state. If I have Ruhlin, Marzilli and Barnard pitching, we’ll be in every game. That’s all I can ask for.”

Bouncing back

Thornton Academy is back in action Tuesday when Bonny Eagle pays a visit. After going to Massabesic Thursday, the Golden Trojans visit Noble Saturday.

Portland hopes to return to form Tuesday when Scarborough visits Hadlock Field. After hosting Noble Thursday, the Bulldogs play at Gorham Saturday.

“I’d love to be greedy and be 4-0, but 3-1 is a great start,” said Rutherford. “It doesn’t get any easier. (Scarborough’s Nate) Wessel will be here Tuesday. He’s one of the best. Playing at Hadlock Field, we always see the other team’s number one. I’m happy with how we’re playing.”

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

Portland junior third baseman Zach Fortin makes a backhanded stop.

Portland junior designated hitter Joe Fusco takes a swing.

Portland sophomore shortstop Jake Knop gets a force out at second as Thornton Academy junior Andrew Coleman slides in to the base too late.

Portland senior catcher Ryan Ruhlin looks to make contact.

Portland sophomore Dom Tocci races out of the batter’s box after making contact.

Sidebar Elements

Portland junior pitcher Dan Marzilli throws a pitch past Thornton Academy junior Ben Lambert during the teams’ contest Saturday morning. Lambert had the last laugh, striking out 13 and helping the Golden Trojans to a 3-2 victory in eight innings.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.


Thornton Academy 3 Portland 2 (8)

TA- 001 010 01- 3 7 1
P- 000 020 00- 2 4 1

Top 3rd
Hall singled to right-center, Searle-Belanger scored.     

Top 5th
Lambert doubled to right, Coleman scored.  

Bottom 5th
Clayton scored on error. Fortin stole home.

Top 8th
Hall tripled to right, Jacques scored.

Repeat hitters:
TA- Hall 3, Lambert
P- Fortin                  

TA- Coleman, Jacques, Searle-Belanger
P- Clayton, Fortin

TA- Hall 2, Lambert

TA- Coleman, Lambert

TA- Hall

Stolen bases:
TA- Hall, Jacques
P- Fortin 3, Clayton 2, Archambault

Left on base:
TA- 5
P- 2

Lambert and Hall; Marzilli, Ruhlin (7) and Ruhlin, Sheils (7)

Lambert (W, 2-1) 8 IP 4 H 2 R 0 ER 1 BB 13 K

Marzilli 6 IP 5 H 2 R 1 ER 1 BB 4 K
Ruhlin (L, 1-1) 2 IP 1 H 1 R 1 ER 2 BB 2 K

Time: 1:46