Senior Donnie Tocci returns as the ace pitcher for a Portland baseball team hungry to win it all this spring.

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BASEBALL

Coach: Mike Rutherford (17th year, 244-78 overall record, one state championship)

2018 record: 13-5 (Lost, 9-6, to Gorham in Class A South semifinals)

Top returning players: Will Barnard (Senior), Jake Loranger (Senior), Ben Sawyer (Senior), Ben Stasium (Senior), Donnie Tocci (Senior), Sonny Villani (Senior), Henry Westphal (Senior), Sam Knop (Junior), Brian Riley (Junior), Dante Tocci (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: April 27 FALMOUTH, April 30 TA, May 11 @ South Portland, May 18 CHEVERUS, May 25 SCARBOROUGH, May 28 @ Deering

Coach’s comment: “We have a talented, senior-oriented group. The kids are confident. They’ve been together for four years. They just have to go out and do it. Replacing Cam King at catcher and Will Snyder at third base is key. It’s a decent league, but not as strong as it was last year. I feel good that we’ll score runs, play good defense and get good pitching. We have to be able to score runs off other teams’ aces.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland was right near the top of the league a year ago, thanks to its formula of good pitching, timely hitting and strong defense, but the defense abandoned the Bulldogs in their semifinal round playoff loss at Gorham. Portland returns most of their key players, but there are a few holes to fill. Regardless, this senior-laden squad is hungry to go out and win the program’s first title in 21 years and if everything comes together, a championship celebration could be the end result.

On the mound, the Bulldogs will be paced by Donnie Tocci (a first-team SMAA all-star in 2018), whom Rutherford considers the best all-around player in the league, Villani (who will be the designated hitter when he’s not pitching) and Riley. Replacing all-star catcher Cam King will be a challenge, but Portland will attempt to do so by using either Knop or Dante Tocci. The infield is experienced and will be a strength, as Portland emphasizes defense probably more so than any team. Sawyer (an honorable mention all-star last spring) plays first base, Westphal is at second, Barnard plays shortstop and either Dante Tocci or junior Cole Walter will step in to replace the graduated Will Snyder at third. Donnie Tocci plays rightfield when he doesn’t pitch. Stasium (a first-teamer last year) is a rock in center and Loranger is very good in leftfield.

The Bulldogs have the pitching and defense to succeed. If the hitting can produce in the biggest games, this team will finish where it hopes to. Atop the heap. Nothing comes easily in Class A South, but Portland has been building for this season and won’t settle for anything shy of a title.

SOFTBALL

Coach: Robbie Ferrante (fifth year, 40-31 overall record)

2018 record: 10-8 (Lost, 7-1, to eventual state state champion Scarborough in Class A South quarterfinals)

Top returning players: Grace Stacey (Senior), Laini Legere (Junior), Callie Watson (Junior)

Pivotal games: April 29 @ Noble, May 1 MASSABESIC, May 8 SOUTH PORTLAND, May 9 @ Scarborough, May 15 @ TA, May 17 BIDDEFORD

Coach’s comment: “We have some turnover this year, but the kids are working hard. The kids coming back are excited. They know our winning ways and hope to pass it on. If we win games we should win early on, that will tell us how good we can be. I think we’ll be in the middle of the pack.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: It’s a new era for the Bulldogs, who graduated two pitchers, not just two-time Spring Female Athlete of the Year Jess Brown, but Sydney Gilbert as well. Portland does have some talent back and a few key newcomers should keep the Bulldogs in contention in Class A South.

Senior Jill Joyce, who comes over from the erstwhile Maine Girls’ Academy, is expected to see a lot of time on the mound. She’ll be a top hitter as well. Freshman Jordan King will also have an opportunity to hold the opposition at bay. Legere is back for her third season behind the plate. She wields a potent bat as well. Watson moves from first base to shortstop. Stacey at third base is another proven commodity. Both girls will help pace the offense also. Freshman Vanessa Connolly will play first base and could make an impact.

The program has lost a lot of talent to graduation over the past couple of seasons and while Portland isn’t rated as high as teams like Scarborough and Thornton Academy, it should be able to contend with just about everybody. If the new pitchers can hold their own, the Bulldogs will post another winning record and could be a dangerous out when the postseason begins.

BOYS’ LACROSSE

Coach: Mike DiFusco (seventh year, 33-44 overall record)

2018 record: 12-2 (Lost, 15-6, to Falmouth in Class A North Final)

Top returning players: Evan Bay (Senior), Cam Clifford (Senior), Nico Leavitt (Senior), Miki Silva (Junior), Ben Thompson (Junior), Max Cheever (Sophomore), Sam Gerber (Sophomore), Drew Leonard (Sophomore)

Pivotal games: May 10 @ York, May 24 WINDHAM

Coach’s comment: “We graduated leadership and talent at every position from last year, but we’ve got a talented group returning, looking to step up for the program. Our defense and midfield are strong, so moving forward, we’ll be counting on them to build around. On offense, our go-to guy is the open guy, so if we play unselfishly, we’ll have a lot of success. It’s a good group of kids with a lot of potential. Our goal by season’s end is to be a confident and hungry team, having fun and ready for a playoff run.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland awakened the echoes last spring, enjoying its best season since 2010, making a spirited run to the Class A North Final before finally meeting its match. Graduation took its toll on the program (all-star goalie Aaron Hoekstra and all-star attack Reilly O’Brien were among those departing), but the Bulldogs are out to prove they’re consistent contenders and enough talent remains for that to happen.

Leavitt was a an honorable mention all-star in 2018 and he returns to lead the defense. Cheever (a longstick middie), Thompson, along with senior Koa Farnsworth and freshman Carlos Braceras, will be other key defensemen. Sophomore Johnny Sylvain replaces Hoekstra in goal. On offense, Bay, Clifford and Farnsworth will all get an opportunity to win possession in the faceoff circle. Bay, Clifford, Leonard and Silva are veteran midfielders. On attack, Gerber and senior Grant Jacobson, a transfer from Windham, are expected to lead the way.

Once again, Portland has a favorable schedule. The Bulldogs now expect to contend and won’t be satisfied unless they post a winning record and make another deep playoff run. That’s a likely final chapter for this squad.

GIRLS’ LACROSSE

Coach: Beth Broderick (third year, 14-13 overall record)

2018 record: 10-4 (Lost, 13-8, to Cheverus in Class A North semifinals)

Top returning players: Sydney Girsch (Senior), Chloe Kilbride (Senior), Elena Clifford (Junior), Annika More (Junior), Isabella More (Junior), Hazel Praught (Junior), Lam Zimet (Junior)

Pivotal games: April 22 WINDHAM, May 7 DEERING, May 23 @ Cheverus

Coach’s comment: “We graduated eight seniors, including our all-star goalie, but we have a strong junior class. It’s a great group of kids. The question is can we stay healthy and focused? The goal is to be mentally tougher than in the past. We put the pieces together the past couple years and hopefully we can take it further this year.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland posted the second-best record in program history a year ago and could be even stronger this season.

The Bulldogs will be solid in the midfield behind Girsch, a captain, Praught, and the More twins, who were each named honorable mention league all-stars in 2018. Kilbride, another captain, who is heading to Plymouth State next year, leads the attack and figures to score plenty of goals. On defense, Clifford and Zimet will lock down the opposition in front of sophomore Samira Doiran, who replaces Abby Krieckhaus in goal.

Defending state champion Falmouth is the prohibitive favorite in Class A North, but Portland believes it could be the team best equipped to knock off the Yachtsmen by the time the season nears its end. The Bulldogs should continue their steady climb this spring and will again be one of the last teams standing in the region.

OUTDOOR TRACK

Boys’ Coach: Dan Deniso (third year)

Girls’ Coach: Bill LeRoy (fifth year)

2018 results:

(Boys) No score @ Class A state meet

(Girls) tie-19th @ Class A state meet

Top returning athletes:

(Boys) Joe Harrington (Senior), Will Brewster (Junior), Wyatt Dana (Junior), Sam Bibeau (Sophomore), Milo Bloom (Sophomore), Nate Fogg (Sophomore), Mwandja Kaluta (Sophomore), Jack Mahoney (Sophomore)

(Girls) Jaidyn Appel (Senior), Inez Braceras (Senior), Lucy Medd (Junior)

Coach Deniso’s comment: “We want to increase our regional and state qualifiers and improve upon consistent daily preparation.”

Coach LeRoy’s comment: “We have good numbers in our freshman and sophomore classes. Hopefully they’ll gain experience to turn in good performances. We’re untested, but the girls are working hard. We’ll see how they come along. Hopefully a few will make it to states.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Both Portland outdoor teams are capable of showing great improvement in the weeks to come.

The boys’ squad has enough athletes to cover most events. Brewster, Dana and Harrington are experienced distance runners. They’re joined by freshmen Nate Brewster, Eli Parker, Jeremiah Senita and George Theall. Bibeau and Fogg are sprinters. They’re joined by senior Keto Tchiputo and freshmen Philip Martin and Kevin Wang. Bloom, Kaluta and Mahoney compete in the sprints and hurdles, as will freshman Basillio Mangombo. On the field side, Bloom, Fogg, Kaluta, Mahoney and Mangombo all look to score in the jumps. Bibeau is a top thrower. If some of this talent develops as hoped, Portland will be strong in the regular season and could score some points at the state meet.

On the girls’ side, Appel is the top returner. Portland’s Winter Female Athlete of the Year, was runner-up in the high jump last spring and should be among the best jumpers in Class A again. Braceras and Medd are top distance threats. Freshman Anna Napiolo will look to make a mark in the sprints and the jumps. Several other youngsters have a chance to step in and make a name for themselves and help the program build for future success. Look for Appel to have a great year and for the Bulldogs to steadily improve as the season moves along.

BOYS’ TENNIS

Coach: James Siegel (sixth year)

2018 record: 13-2 (Lost, 5-0, to eventual state champion Falmouth in Class A South Final)

Top returning players: John Moran (Senior), Will Jorgenson (Junior)

Coach’s comment: “We always look to improve, stay healthy and compete as well as we can. After losing so many players who were on the team for four years, we are rebuilding with a cadre of younger players and a few seniors vying for a couple doubles positions.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland is coming off a terrific campaign, reaching the regional final for the first time since 1995, but the vast majority of that team has graduated, leaving some question marks as a new season looms. Don’t write this group off, however.

Moran, a captain, is in the mix for one of the singles spots. He’ll likely be joined by freshman Dominick Walls, who projects to be number one, and sophomore Brendan Mailloux, a transfer from Massachusetts. Jorgenson, the other captain, will be a key doubles player. Several other kids will have an opportunity to step in and make a mark.

Portland might not finish with the same record as last year, but the Bulldogs will remain very competitive in the league. An eighth successive playoff berth figures to follow and in the postseason, this is a group that no one will want to face.

GIRLS’ TENNIS

Coach: Bonnie Moran (12th year)

2018 record: 9-7 (Lost, 4-1, to eventual state champion Falmouth in Class A South Final)

Top returning players: Karina Boothe (Senior), Kate Bourque (Senior), Lauren Paradise (Senior), Hannah Smith (Senior), Erin Chadbourne (Junior), Rose Watson (Junior)

Coach’s comment: “This should be a good year for us. We only graduated number three singles and one of our doubles players, and we have the addition of Jenna (Lederer) who has the potential to be a very good player. Once again we have a large team, so we’re working very hard to teach basic skills to beginners and improve the skills of the rest of the players who made a lot of progress last year.”

The Forecaster’s forecast: Portland made a stirring and unexpected run to the regional final last spring and even got a point off perennial champion Falmouth before bowing out. This time around, the Bulldogs figure to have an even better record, as well as a great chance to play into June again.

Paradise, a first-team all-SMAA selection and Portland’s Spring Female Athlete of the Year a year ago, will be in the first singles position. Boothe returns at number two singles. Freshman Jenna Lederer shows great promise and will be in the third singles spot, the first freshman to play singles for the Bulldogs since Paradise three years ago. Bourque, Chadbourne, Smith and Watson all project to play doubles.

Falmouth remains the team that everyone is chasing, but Portland is hopeful it can end the Yachtsmen’s long title reign. This squad will be fun to watch, will win a lot of matches and once again, should be at its best when the postseason arrives.

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

Senior Ben Sawyer, an honorable mention all-star in 2018, is back at first base for Portland’s baseball team.

Senior centerfielder Ben Stasium was an all-star in 2018 and will anchor the outfield, as well as make things happen at the plate and on the basepaths.

Senior Sonny Villani is another top hurler for Portland.

Senior Henry Westphal is a solid second baseman for the Bulldogs.

Junior Laini Legere is back for her third season as the catcher for Portland’s softball team. She’ll also wield a potent bat.

Junior Callie Watson will play shortstop this spring for the Bulldogs and will be one of the team’s top hitters.

Senior midfielder Cam Clifford returns looking to help Portland’s boys’ lacrosse team enjoy another memorable season.

Sophomore long-stick middie Max Cheever will make life difficult for the opposition.

Junior Miki Silva will be a matchup problem in the midfield.

Junior Elena Clifford is a top defender for Portland’s talented girls’ lacrosse team.

Junior Isabella More will be in the middle of the scoring frenzy for the Bulldogs.

Junior Hazel Praught is another key returner for the Bulldogs.

Senior Lauren Paradise will play first singles for a Portland girls’ tennis team which reached the regional final in 2018.