South Portland 10 Portland 3

SP- 012 511 0- 10 13 3
P- 000 300 0- 3 5 3

Top 2nd
Whitten singled to right, Nickerson scored.

Top 3rd
Jamieson singled to center, Ju. Connors and Nickerson scored.

Top 4th
Way tripled to right-center, Flaherty scored. DiMauro doubled to left, Way scored. Perron reached on infield single, Ju. Connors scored. Connor homered to left-center, Perron and Connor scored.

Bottom 4th
King reached on infield single, Chase scored. Hawkes singled to left, Bertsch scored. King scored on error.

Top 5th
Way homered to right-center.

Top 6th
Perron scored on error.

Multiple hits:
SP- Way 4, Perron, Whitten

SP- Nickerson, Perron, Way 2, Connor, Ju. Connors, Flaherty, Whitten
P- Bertsch, Chase, King

SP- Connor 3, Jamieson, Way 2, DiMauro, Whitten
P- Hawkes, King

SP- DiMauro

SP- Perron, Way
P- Dunn

Home runs:
SP- Connor (1), Way (1)

Stolen bases:
SP- Way 2, Nickerson
P- Chase

Left on base:
SP- 6
P- 2

Micucci and Whitten; Armstrong and Lerch.

Micucci (W, 1-0) 7 IP 5 H 3 R 0 ER 0 BB 11 K

Armstrong (L, 0-1) 7 IP 13 H 10 R 7 ER 0 BB 8 K

Time: 1:48

PORTLAND—South Portland softball coach Ralph Aceto knew his team could hit.

And now everyone else knows just how prolific the Red Riots can be with the bat.

Friday afternoon, in a season-opening contest versus Portland at Payson Park, South Portland’s offense more than did its part, registering 13 hits, including five of the extra base variety, and that, combined with a terrific first start from junior ace Mia Micucci, produced a decisive victory.

After Micucci worked out of a jam in the bottom of the first, the Red Riots scored their first run off Portland sophomore starter Sadie Armstrong in the second, as freshman third baseman Ella Nickerson reached on a two-base error and scored on sophomore catcher Delaney Whitten’s two-out single.

In the third, South Portland tacked on two more unearned runs, as junior leftfielder Maddie Jamieson had the big hit, a two-out, two-run single.

With Micucci shutting down the Bulldogs’ bats, striking out eight through three innings, the Red Riots then blew it open in the top of the fourth.

Sophomore Emilie Way, making her first varsity start at second base because senior captain Chloe Grant was sidelined after having her wisdom teeth removed, tripled in a run, freshman first baseman Andrea DiMauro followed with an RBI triple, another run scored on an infield single by junior centerfielder Eliese Perron and junior shortstop Elise Connor capped the uprising with a sharp ground ball through the infield that eventually rolled between the centerfielder and leftfielder and was good for an unorthodox home run and an 8-0 lead.

The Bulldogs responded in the bottom half with three unearned runs, but with two down in the top of the fifth, Way crushed a home run to right-center to make it 9-3.

A triple from Perron and an error brought in the final South Portland run in the sixth.

Way had four hits, including a triple and a home run, and eight different Red Riots had at least one hit, while Micucci didn’t surrender an earned run and South Portland opened its season in style with a 10-3 triumph.

“You could tell at the beginning of the game it would come down to who could catch the ball,” said Aceto. “I was never worried about the hits. I knew we could hit the ball. I was worried about catching the ball. It’s a work in progress, but it’s getting better.”

At long last

Portland and South Portland have looked forward to Friday for nearly two years.

The Bulldogs and Red Riots would have been in contention if there had been a 2020 season and even with two year’s worth of seniors having departed, the squads appear poised to have a very good campaign this spring.

“It’s amazing to be back out here,” said Micucci. “Softball’s the sport I love. To be able to play again with my friends I’ve known my whole life is just amazing. I missed playing.”

In addition to being excited to play again, Portland was anxiously awaiting the opportunity to put Armstrong, a standout at the youth level for many years, on the mound for her first varsity game.

The Bulldogs and Red Riots last met May 8, 2019, when Portland eked out a 4-3 victory at Payson Park.

Friday, on a breezy but otherwise very pleasant 57-degree afternoon, Portland hoped to do it again, but South Portland was able to beat the Bulldogs in Portland for the first time since May 22, 2015 (9-6), thanks to some booming bats.

Armstrong made it look easy in the top of the first, getting senior rightfielder Julia Connors to ground out to junior third baseman Hallie Chase, fanning Perron, then striking out Connor on a 3-2 pitch.

The Bulldogs then had a golden opportunity to strike first in the bottom half, but couldn’t capitalize.

Micucci, who broke the ring finger on her pitching hand the first day of the preseason, and whose availability wasn’t guaranteed until she was cleared earlier in the week, started the frame by striking out Armstrong swinging.

“My hand’s doing well,” Micucci said. “This was the first real game I could pitch. I got cleared Monday and I felt good. I was very lucky (to make it back in time for the opener).”

Micucci then got rocked by senior shortstop Rebekah Dunn, who transferred to Portland from Deering.

Dunn crushed the first pitch she saw to deep right-center and raced into third base with a triple.

But the Bulldogs couldn’t bring her across, as Micucci bore down and fanned Chase swinging and senior catcher Caroline Lerch swinging as well.

“Striking out that next batter, I was confident and I got energized,” Micucci said. “I knew I had the girls behind me to pick me up and I kept going with it.”

South Portland then began its onslaught in the top of the second.

Leading off, Nickerson got to second when Portland junior rightfielder Vanessa Connolly got to her fly ball, but couldn’t hold it for an error. Armstrong then appeared primed to escape as well, as she struck out Jamieson swinging and got Micucci to ground out to second with Nickerson taking third.

That brought up Whitten, who lined a sharp single to right to bring home Nickerson and put the Red Riots on top to stay.

Way kept the inning alive by beating out an infield hit in her first at-bat, but Armstrong avoided further damage by getting DiMauro to ground into a shortstop-to-third force out.

In the bottom half, Micucci got King to line softly to Nickerson at third, then she struck out both Hawkes and Connolly.

South Portland then took advantage of some more Bulldogs’ generosity to add two more runs in the third.

Connors led off with a sharp single to left on the first pitch she saw. After Armstrong fanned Perron, Connor fouled off several 3-2 pitches before she too struck out. Nickerson then grounded to third and that should have ended the inning, but the throw across the diamond was high and that put runners at second and third, setting the stage for Jamieson.

Jamieson then came up huge, turning around the first pitch she saw and driving it up the middle for a two-run single. Micucci popped out to Armstrong, but the Red Riots’ lead was 3-0.

Portland went quietly again in the bottom of the third, as senior second baseman Mackenzie Bryant, first baseman Ainsley McCrum and Armstrong all chased strike three.

South Portland then broke it open in the fourth, as its bats truly came to life.

Whitten got things started with a single to left. Maggie Flaherty came on to run and came all the way around when Way, on an 0-2 pitch, tripled to deep right-center. DiMauro was next and she hit the ball over the head of Hawkes in left and her double scored Way to make it 5-0.

Connors then appeared to line a single to left, but Hawkes got to the ball quickly and threw to third where Chase tagged out DiMauro with Connors taking second. That was only a momentary hiccup, as Perron beat out an infield single on a slow roller to second and on the play, Connors raced home with the sixth run.

That set the stage for Connor to hit one of the more unusual home runs you’ll ever see.

She made solid contact and the ground ball easily got past Dunn at short. It didn’t slow down and kept rolling between Hawkes in left and King in center and by the the time they could run it down and return the ball to the infield, not only Perron had scored, but Connor came all the way around for a home run and an 8-0 advantage.

“These girls can hit,” Micucci said. “We came ready to hit. It’s great to watch. It’s really nice to get that run support. I came in knowing we’d get hits and back me up.”

Nickerson grounded out to second and Jamieson struck out swinging, but the damage was done.

The Bulldogs then managed to score three runs in the bottom half, with some help from South Portland.

Dunn led off by reaching second base on an error. Chase then beat out an infield hit up the middle to put runners at the corners. Chase then stole second and Dunn tried to steal home on the play, but Way took Whitten’s throw and fired back to the catcher who applied the tag for the out. Lerch then beat out an infield hit and an error by Connor allowed Chase to go to third. Senior Zoe Bertsch came on to run for Lerch and King followed with another infield hit to short, which scored Chase and put runners at first and second. Hawkes then singled to left to score Bertsch and when Jamieson misplayed the ball, King scored as well.

Portland couldn’t creep any closer, as Micucci got Connolly to look at strike three and Bryant grounded out to second to keep the score 8-3.

The Red Riots got one of the runs right back in the top of the fifth.

After Bryant made consecutive pretty defensive plays to record outs on Micucci (with a backhanded stab) and Whitten (going to her left), Way stepped to the plate and crushed the first pitch she saw to deep right-center. Way raced around the bases and completed a more traditional home run for a 9-3 advantage.

“I tried to focus on keeping my hands up,” said Way. “(Hitting coach Marc Sandora) told me after my first at-bat to keep them up higher. I was just swinging and I was trying to go fast. It felt really good (to hit a home run). Everyone hit today. We have a lot of good bats and against a faster pitcher, hits can go farther.”

DiMauro then grounded back to Armstrong for the third out.

Micucci returned to form in the bottom of the fifth, getting McCrum to pop out to second, Armstrong to watch strike three and Dunn to line the ball off the top of DiMauro’s glove to Way at second, who threw back to DiMauro at first just in time to register the out.

South Portland tacked on its final run in the top of the sixth.

After Connors struck out swinging, Perron lined a triple down the rightfield line. Connor then lofted a fly ball to right which was misplayed for a two-base error and Perron came home to make it 10-3. Nickerson reached on an infield single and stole second and Jamieson bounced back to Armstrong, but her throw to third didn’t result in an out, loading the bases. The Red Riots didn’t do any further damage, however, as Micucci grounded back to Armstrong, who threw home to Lerch for one out and Lerch threw on to first for the double play to retire the side.

In the bottom half, Micucci got Chase to pop out to first on a 3-2 pitch, Lerch to ground back to the mound and King to bounce out to short.

South Portland didn’t score in the top of the seventh, but it did get a runner in scoring position.

After Whitten popped out foul to first, Way reached for the fourth time, beating out an infield single to short. Way stole second and after DiMauro struck out looking, Way stole third as well, but Connors’ liner was right at Dunn for the third out.

Micucci then finished Portland off in the bottom half, getting Hawkes to ground out to third, Bertsch to strike out swinging and Bryant to pop out to Way, who had to run in to make the catch, to end it.

“I was playing back and I had to come in and make the play,” said Way.

“This is a good win for us,” said Aceto. “It’s marvelous to be back out here. The biggest problem we’ve had is working in two new classes instead of one. Not only trying to bring the freshmen along, but the sophomores as well. I’m fortunate having a lot of kids play travel (softball), so they understand the game.”

Micucci earned the win by allowing three runs, none of them earned, on five hits in her seven innings of work. She didn’t walk a batter and struck out 11.

“My curveball was working well and I even had a change-up that worked,” Micucci said. “That’s been the struggle with my finger, but I hit both corners with my fastball and my curve was on.”

“It sure is great to have Mia back,” said Aceto.

Way led the way on offense with two singles, a triple, a home run, two runs scored, two runs driven in and she even stole a pair of bases for good measure.

“Emilie Way stepped in today for an injured captain and had a bang-up day,” Aceto said.

Perron and Whitten also had multiple hits.

Nickerson and Perron scored twice, while Connor, Connors, Flaherty and Whitten all touched home once.

Connor drove in three runs, Jamieson had two RBI and DiMauro and Whitten drove in a run as well.

South Portland stranded six runners and made three errors.

For Portland, Armstrong took the loss in her debut, giving up 10 runs (seven earned) on 13 hits. She didn’t walk a batter and struck out eight.

“We didn’t know what to expect from (Sadie), but she’s a good pitcher,” Aceto said. “I told her I was very impressed with her. It’s a good win for us.”

Bertsch, Chase and King scored runs and Hawkes and King had RBI.

The Bulldogs left two runners on and made three errors.

“South Portland’s a really good team with a good pitcher,” said Portland assistant coach Jason McLeod, who spoke after the game with head coach Robbie Ferrante feeling under the weather. “Their girls were amped to hit. They put the bat to the ball really well and it was too much for us to come back from. We couldn’t play any preseason scrimmages. We’re not using that an excuse, but we’re using the mentality that we want to get better every time out.”

A long road

Portland returns to action Tuesday at three-time Class A state champion Scarborough. The Bulldogs then host Biddeford next Friday.

“There’s a lot of parity this year,” said McLeod. “There aren’t any easy opponents. For us, from a big picture standpoint, we’re happy to get back out here after two years. We just want to draw as many positives as we can out of it.”

South Portland plays at Windham Monday, then hosts Cheverus Wednesday. Even bigger challenges await down the road.

“Today was really hopeful,” Way said. “I think we have a good chance this year.”

“I have confidence in our team,” said Micucci. “We have to get better at fielding, not because we can’t do it, but we need build confidence.”

“It doesn’t get any easier,” Aceto added. “We just don’t know what other teams have.”

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

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