South Portlander Griffin Kelley threw a six-strikeout shutout – his second shutout of the year already – at Westbrook on Thursday afternoon, April 28, as the Riots snuffed the Blazes 5-0.

“That’s what he always does, he throws strikes, changes speeds, gets guys to get out in front and roll over,” said South Portland head coach Mike Owens of Kelley. “He can throw any pitch at any count. He doesn’t overpower guys, but he has enough on his fastball – especially if he throws enough off-speed stuff – to almost pitch backwards at times.”

The Riots wasted no time getting on the board. Blazes starting pitcher Dylan Francoeur grazed South Portland’s No. 1 batter, Sam Troiano, giving him first. Troiano then took off for a steal during Ben Conti’s at-bat, and got more out of the play than he expected, advancing all the way to third when the Westbrook catcher Bailey Sawyer’s throw to second sailed high of the baseman. Conti flew out to right, but call it a sac play, because it gave Troiano plenty of time to tag up and score.

The Blazes couldn’t answer in the bottom of the first, going one-two-three on an infield fly, a 6-3 groundout and Kelley’s first K. It was an indicative stretch, and reflected Westbrook’s luck through most of the afternoon.

Owens praised the opposition, despite the day’s going against them.

“That’s a good team over there. Westbrook is always good; they pitched well and played good defense,” he said.

South Portland added two more in the top of the second. Francoeur walked Zack Johnson and Alex Livingston, the Riots’ six- and seven- hitters, and Aaron Radziucz grounded a single into right, pushing his teammates both 90 feet forward. Riley Hasson then flew out to center, but scored Johnson doing it, before the top of the order – that’s Sam Troiano, remember – rolled around again. Troiano connected to bring Livingston home. 3-0.

“We swung the bat really well today,” said Owens. “We hit a couple hard line drives right at them – Westbrook made a couple really nice plays. We swung it better than the score might’ve dictated; [Francoeur] did a good job keeping us off-balance.”

The Riots added their fourth in the third – Drew Abramson scored on a Matt Crockett single to center-right – but still the Blazes had no answer. Westbrook picked up their first two hits of the game, singles to center by DJ Henrikson and Corey Walker, in the bottom of the fourth, but the team couldn’t convert on either opportunity and left the bases loaded.

“Everybody made some good plays,” Owens said of his defense. “You get a couple in you, you get a little confidence, and that’s what we need. We’ve got a lot of new guys in new positions.”

The Blazes fended off South Portland through the fifth and the sixth – in the sixth, Radziucz and Hasson both tallied singles, but never crossed the plate – but gave up one more in the top of the seventh. Nick Troiano walked, stole twice and scored on a Zack Johnson single for the 5-0 final.

“We need to play good defense behind Griffin,” said Owens, “and I thought today was one of our best defensive efforts. Because he throws so many strikes, our guys are ready and into the game. He’s an excellent pitcher, and when he pitches, it’s quick innings and the guys are in and out.”

Kelley might be considered South Portland’s No. 1 pitcher this season, though Sam Troiano is also a mean thrower.

Elsewhere on defense, Livingston played particularly mean at third, knocking down more than one hard grounder for just-in-time throws to first. 

“I thought Alex played tremendous today,” said Owens. “He made all the routine plays, and he made a couple spectacular plays.”

South Portland jumped to 3-0 with the win. The Riots kicked off their schedule on a high note – namely, Kelley’s first shutout, a 3-0 W over Bonny Eagle. The team followed up with a 7-1 thumping of Sanford. 

South Portland hosted Noble on Saturday the 30th, winning 8-5, and traveled to TA on Tuesday the 3rd, after the Current’s print deadline. They welcome Gorham on Thursday, May 5.

It may still be early in the season, but the Riots defensive performance thus far – giving up just six through four games – bodes good things for the remainder of the Spring.

Westbrook slipped on the defeat to 0-2 in 2016, having fallen 6-2 to Portland in their opener – but they dropped in on Biddeford on Saturday and picked up their first win of the season, 10-7. The Blazes hosted Deering on Tuesday and visited Westbrook on Thursday. They travel to Gorham on Saturday the 7th.

Dylan Francoeur hurls a ball toward the plate for Westbrook in their matchup on Thursday with visiting South Portland.

Westbrook centerfielder Corey Walker gets underneath a South Portland flyball on Thursday.

South Portlander Zack Johnson slides into home for a run vs. Westbrook on Thursday.

South Portland’s Griffin Kelley picked up his second shutout in three games at Westbrook on Thursday.

Blaze Kyle Hebert takes a cut at the ball in his team’s Thursday home battle with South Portland.

Westbrook shortstop Keigan Sears hurls a ground ball toward first.

South Portland’s Alex Livingston, the team’s third baseman, played a standout defensive game at Westbrook on Thursday.

Riot Drew Abramson rounds third headed for home at Westbrook on Thursday.