GORHAM — Both coaches had their key players in place.

Gorham shortstop Ben Nelson moved to the mound, with the bases loaded, two outs in the sixth inning, and the Rams leading 7-6.

Portland sent Donnie Tocci to the plate.

“I’ll take Tocci up seven days a week and twice on Sunday,” Portland Coach Mike Rutherford said. “They have their best player on the mound and he made a nice pitch, a little sinker.”

Tocci grounded out to second. Gorham escaped the jam, scored some insurance runs and beat Portland 9-6 Saturday morning in a Class A South semifinal.

The second-seeded Rams (14-4) play in the South title game Tuesday at St. Joseph’s College, against No. 4 Cheverus (13-5). The teams met in last year’s semifinals. The Stags won, 5-1.

No. 3 Portland is done at 13-5.

When Tocci came to bat in the sixth inning, Gorham Coach Chuck Nadeau initially wanted to re-enter starter Jake Sladen, but because Sladen came out of the game, he could not go back in. So, Nadeau went to Nelson.

“When things get very, very difficult for us, I’m happy to send Ben out there,” Nadeau said. “To win or lose it with Ben, I can walk away and feel good.”

Nelson entered after three straight walks.

“Had to come in, throw strikes and let my teammates make plays,” Nelson said.

Making plays wasn’t a strong point for either team. Every Portland run was unearned, with Gorham making three key errors. The Bulldogs made six errors, including a brutal third inning in which four errors fueled a four-run rally.

“We haven’t made four errors in three weeks,” Rutherford said. “Just played poor defense in an inning. It works both ways. They made some big errors, too.

“Give Gorham credit. Every time we scored, they answered.”

Portland took a 2-0 lead in the first inning on an infield error and three hits, including Cam King’s two-run single.

Gorham answered with three runs – a Nolan Brown RBI fielder’s choice and Trevor Loubier’s two-run single.

In the third inning, Portland had runners on second and third when Sladen’s errant pickoff throw to third scored two runs, for 4-3 Bulldogs lead.

“These types of games can create those types of mistakes,” said Nadeau, who then watched Sladen retire the next eight batters. “I was proud of him. Quite honestly, he looked more competitive and more confident after that moment.”

He was that and more.

“I was mad,” Sladen said. “But I thought we were still going to win the game.”

Gorham regained the lead in the third. Two infield hits and two errors brought in two runs and Will Prescott’s two-out, two-run double made it 7-4.

Sladen walked the first batter in the sixth and was relieved by Joe Curesky. The Bulldogs scored twice with an error and three more walks. Nelson got Gorham out of the jam.

The Rams answered in the sixth with two insurance runs on RBI singles from Kyle King and Lucas Roop. Nelson walked one batter in the seventh but ended the game with a strikeout.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-7411 or:

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