Thornton Academy 2 South Portland 0

TA- 000 020 0- 2 5 0
SP- 000 000 0- 0 1 3

Top 5th
Graffam singled to right, Chessie and Bowker scored.

Multiple hits:
TA- Bowker, Chessie

TA- Bowker, Chessie

TA- Graffam 2

Stolen bases:
TA- Bowker, Graffam
SP- McMains

Left on base:
TA- 8
SP- 4

Bowker and Graffam; Hobbs and Dreifus.

Bowker (W) 7 IP 1 H 0 R 3 BB 12 K 1 WP

Hobbs (L) 7 IP 5 H 2 R 0 ER 3 BB 7 K 1 WP 1 HBP

Time: 1:33

SOUTH PORTLAND—Thornton Academy junior ace pitcher Cody Bowker punctuates every strikeout with an emphatic cry of, “Let’s Go!”

The South Portland Red Riots heard that particular cry way too many times for their liking Thursday afternoon at Wainwright Farms.

A dozen times to be exact.

And there wasn’t a thing South Portland could do about it, as it managed just one hit off Bowker in a tough midseason setback.

Red Riots sophomore pitcher Nolan Hobbs matched Bowker pitch-for-pitch, as each starter worked out of a first inning jam and kept the game scoreless through four innings.

Then, in the top of the fifth, the Golden Trojans broke through and scored the only runs of the game, as a hit batter and an error set the stage for junior catcher Brady Graffam to produce a clutch two-out, two-run single.

Bowker didn’t allow a hit through five innings and retired the first hitter he faced in the sixth as well, but a no-hitter wasn’t to be, as senior shortstop Connor Dobson broke it up, but Bowker held South Portland in check from there and capped the game with his 12th strikeout, catching Hobbs looking, to close out the 2-0 victory.

Thornton Academy improved to 9-1 and in the process, dropped the Red Riots to 7-3 on the year.

“I wanted to put my team in a position to win,” said Bowker. “I’m confident always. There was a little chirping from their side, which is part of the game. That got me fired up and made me want to compete even more.”

Another close one

There hasn’t been much separation between the top teams in Class A South and a number of squads believe they’re good enough to get hot in next month’s playoffs and go all the way.

Thornton Academy roared out of the gates with decisive victories over Cheverus (14-4), Windham (11-1), Deering (23-0) and Biddeford (13-0). After downing Portland, 7-1, the Golden Trojans handed host Scarborough its first loss,, 3-2, then fell from the ranks of the unbeaten Monday with a 4-3 loss at Falmouth before bouncing back Tuesday to edge visiting Biddeford, 2-1.

South Portland, which fell an extra-inning loss to Scarborough shy of the state final in 2019, then lost out on a possible championship when it would have been the favorite a year ago, was expected to come back to the pack this spring, but the Red Riots have been as strong as usual.

After opening with a 5-1 win at Portland, South Portland blanked visiting Cheverus (4-0) and outlasted host Windham in nine-innings (9-6). After a 2-1 loss at Gorham, the Red Riots blanked visiting Falmouth (2-0), Deering (13-0, in five-innings) and Bonny Eagle in both ends of a doubleheader last Saturday (9-0 and 10-0, in six innings). South Portland then dropped a tough 2-1, 11-inning loss at Scarborough Tuesday.

The Golden Trojans and Red Riots hadn’t played since an 11-1 (six-inning) South Portland home victory on May 9, 2019.

Thursday, on another sunny, but cooler day (61 degrees at first pitch), with a typical stiff wind blowing, the Red Riots hoped to do it again, but instead, Thornton Academy beat them for the first time in five years.

Each squad had a major squander in the first inning.

The Golden Trojans managed to load the bases with no one out, but couldn’t push a single run across.

Bowker led off with a sharp single to left, then sophomore centerfielder Henry Lausier reached when Dobson threw the ball away for an error, putting runners at second and third. Graffam then worked the count full before drawing a walk.

But Hobbs bore down and got sophomore first baseman Brayden Williams to fly to medium centerfield, where senior Bradley McMains made the catch. Bowker then faked for home and stayed put, but Lausier took off for third before trying to get back to second. Senior Noah Dreifus threw to second and Bowker took off for home and sophomore second baseman Andrew Heffernan took the throw from Dreifus and threw back to the plate where Dreifus tagged out Bowker for the second out. Junior leftfielder Christian Schaffer then ended the threat by grounding back to the mound.

In the bottom half, McMains worked a walk off Bowker to start, then stole second and took third when Bowker threw a wild pitch. But Bowker settled down and got Dobson to chase strike three, Dreifus to line out to second and after walking Heffernan, he got junior first baseman Richard Gilboy to pop out to short to keep the game scoreless.

Hobbs made quick work of Thornton Academy in the top of the second, getting junior rightfielder Michael McLeer to ground back to the mound before striking out junior second baseman Jack Cote looking and getting junior third baseman John Rohner to watch strike three.

In the bottom half, Bowker also began to settle in, striking out Poole swinging, getting Hobbs to fly out to center and catching junior leftfielder Ryan Thurber looking at strike three.

Freshman shortstop Jeremiah Chessie led off the top of the third with a single up the middle on the first pitch, but Bowker’s grounder up the middle found Heffernan, who flipped to Dobson at shortstop for one out and Dobson threw on to Gilboy to complete the double play. Lausier then popped up to Hobbs for the third out.

In the bottom half, Bowker caught junior rightfielder Finn O’Connell looking at strike three on an off-speed pitch, battled back from a 3-1 count to strike out McMains swinging, then got Dobson to line out to right.

The Golden Trojans threatened again in the top of the fourth, as after Hobbs struck out Graffam and Williams, he walked Schaffer and McLeer on 3-2 pitches, but he managed to strike out the side by getting Cote to chase strike three.

Bowker remained dominant in the bottom half, getting Dreifus to fly out to right and Heffernan and Gilboy to both strike out swinging.

The visitors then finally broke the ice in the top of the fifth.

With a little help.

Rohner popped out to third on the first pitch, but Hobbs hit Chessie with a pitch and Bowker followed with a sharp ground ball right at Poole at third. Poole couldn’t handle the tough chance and making matters worse, the ball rolled away, allowing Chessie to race to third and Bowker to take second. Hobbs appeared primed to escape another jam when he got Lausier to pop out to second, but Graffam came up huge by grounding a pitch the other way, between Gilboy and Heffernan into rightfield for a single which scored both Chessie and Bowker for a 2-0 lead.

“(Hobbs’) approach was fastball right off the bat, so I sat back and went the other way with it,” Graffam said. “I was trying to find a gap.”

“Good pitcher against good pitcher, you have to scrape for runs and Brady got the big hit,” said Thornton Academy coach Jason Lariviere. “He’s a really good, disciplined hitter. He can put the bat on the ball. He’s come up big for us.”

Graffam went to second when the throw home got away for an error and Hobbs struck out Williams, but strike three got away, allowing Graffam to go to third, while Williams raced into second. Hobbs kept the score 2-0 by getting Schaffer to fly out to center.

“Our kids are resilient and they find ways to get out of innings, but you can’t always get out of it,” said Jason Cooke, South Portland’s assistant coach. who was filling in for head coach Mike Owens, who was ejected from the Red Riots’ loss at Scarborough and by rule, had to skip Thursday’s contest. “That particular jam, we gave them a little extra there and they took advantage. The difference in the game was we gave them an extra baserunner.”

Bowker started the bottom half by striking out both Poole and Hobbs swinging, then had his string of 12 consecutive batters retired snapped by walking Thurber on a 3-2 pitch. Bowker got O’Connell to ground out to short and South Portland still didn’t have a hit.

Hobbs had an easy top of the sixth, getting McLeer to strike out on a 3-2 pitch, Cote to fly out deep to right and Rohner to pop out to short.

When Bowker began the bottom half of the inning by catching McMains looking at strike three, he was just five outs from a date with destiny, but on the very first pitch to Dobson, Dobson made solid contact and lined a single to left-center, ending a no-hit bid that apparently no one on the Thornton Academy bench was aware of.

“I didn’t know about the no-hitter,” said Bowker. “I was predictable, fastball first pitch. I left that one a little up and I expected him to get a hit.”

“To be honest with you, no one talked about it and I didn’t know until they got the hit,” Lariviere said. “This is one of the most unselfish teams I’ve coached.”

Bowker got Dreifus to ground out to second, with Dobson moving to second, then ended the frame by getting Heffernan to pop out foul to Williams at first.

The Golden Trojans threatened to add to their lead in the top of the seventh, as Chessie singled up the middle and Bowker singled to leftfield, but Hobbs finished strong, getting Lausier to fly out to center, Graffam to fly out deep to center with Chessie moving up to third, and Williams to ground out to second on a close play for the final out.

Any Red Riots’ comeback hopes were dashed leading off the bottom of the seventh, as Gilboy hit a deep drive to centerfield, but Lausier ran it down. Bowker then caught Poole looking, before catching Hobbs staring at strike three as well and in a tidy 93 minutes, Thornton Academy had itself a 2-0 victory.

“I wanted to stay out there (and finish),” said Bowker. “I know my teammates will help me out. I could care less about the no-hitter. We got the win, so I’m happy.”

“We were off for 10 days and the biggest thing that hurt was our hitting,” said Lariviere. “We made some base-running mistakes today and Nolan pitched a nice game for them.”

Bowker had two hits, scored a run and stole a base, but he was simply masterful on the mound, allowing just one hit and three walks in seven shutout innings. He struck out 12 and continued to stake his claim as one of the top pitchers in the league.

“(Cody) looked good,” said Graffam. “He had good command of his fastball and his curveball. He was clean outside and inside. I could tell he had good stuff. I knew he’d close it out.”

“(Cody’s) our ace,” said Lariviere. “He’s a Georgetown commit. I feel like he’s been a little bit forgotten with all the other good pitchers in the league, but I have all the confidence that he’s one of the best athletes in the state. He told me he was ready and he did what he needed to do. He’s just a phenomenal pitcher. I think the most important thing was he had command on his pitches, no matter what he threw. Sticking with the fastball most of the time was smart. You throw that until they prove they can hit it. He mixed in his curveball well. The biggest thing for him is command.”

“It was a great performance,” Cooke said. “Every once in awhile you run into a guy that has it going like that. I thought our kids had good at-bats, but his stuff was really good.”

Chessie also had two hits and scored a run and Graffam had the key two-run single.

The Golden Trojans stranded eight baserunners.

South Portland managed just one hit and left four runners on.

Hobbs was the hard-luck loser, not allowing an earned run in seven innings. He gave up five hits and three walks and struck out seven.

“Nolan’s been fantastic,” Cooke said. “He’s always going to give you a chance to win. I don’t think he had his best stuff today, but he was grinding and threw strikes.”

“Our kids stayed involved and the energy level was high throughout. We compete to the end.”

Playoff jockeying

The teams play again in South Portland next Thursday, as part of a tough closing stretch for both.

Thornton Academy (currently ranked first in the Class A South Heal Points standings) welcomes Bonny Eagle for a doubleheader Saturday, plays host to Gorham Tuesday and after visiting the Red Riots, closes with a home doubleheader versus Westbrook.

“We didn’t expect to go undefeated,” Bowker said. “We learned from our loss.”

“We have to keep staying hungry and be ready to go after it,” Graffam said.

“We have a lot of games left in a short amount of time,” added Lariviere. “It builds character. I have no doubt that we can do some damage in playoffs. It’s just a matter of how you play on a particular day. There are a lot of good teams out there and we respect all of them.”

South Portland, meanwhile, goes to Westbrook for a twin-bill Saturday and after hosting the Golden Trojans, plays two at Biddeford before closing with a critical home test versus Scarborough. The Red Riots were ranked 10th in Class A South at press time.

“We like where we’re at,” Cooke said. “We’re developing our guys. We still have some things to work on, but we compete and get after it. We’ll come back and be at practice tomorrow getting better.”

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

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