Portland senior pitcher Danny Tocci is congratulated by senior second baseman Nick Becker (4) and junior catcher James Gignac at the conclusion of the Bulldogs’ 11-3 victory over rival Deering in Saturday’s Class A South play-in game. Hoffer photos.

BOX SCORE

Portland 11 Deering 3

D- 000 300 0- 3 4 4
P- 200 270 X- 11 13 0

Bottom 1st
Crosby tripled to right-center, Berg and Brewer scored.

Top 4th
Coleman doubled to left, Lawrence scored. Berkowitz singled to center, Keast and Coleman scored.

Bottom 4th
Becker scored on fielder’s choice. Berg flew out to right, Winship scored.

Bottom 5th
Gignac singled to center, Crosby scored. Roberts scored on error. Buck reached on bunt single, Becker scored. Berg tripled to right, Gignac and Buck scored. Brewer singled to left, Berg scored. Crosby reached on infield single, Brewer scored.

Multiple hits:
P- Becker, Crosby 3

Runs:
D- Coleman, Keast, Lawrence
P- Becker, Berg, Brewer 2, Buck, Crosby, Gignac, Roberts, Winship

RBI:
D- Berkowitz 2, Coleman
P- Berg, Crosby 3, Brewer, Buck, Gignac, Tocci

Double:
D- Coleman

Triples:
P- Berg, Crosby

Stolen bases:
P- Becker, Berg, Bibeau, Brewer, Buck, Crosby, Tocci

Left on base:
D- 2
P- 8

Lawrence and Brady; Tocci and Gignac.

D:
Lawrence (L) 6 IP 13 H 11 R 5 ER 2 BB 5 K

P:
Tocci (W, 4-4) 7 IP 4 H 3 R 3 ER 2 BB 6 K

Time: 1:43

PORTLAND—They might have only combined for six regular season victories and were seeded way down at the bottom of the standings, but when Deering and Portland get together at Hadlock Field on a beautiful night with postseason bragging rights at stake, you’d be well advised to tune-in.

Saturday night, in a Class A South play-in contest, the 18th-seeded Rams looked to beat the 15th-ranked Bulldogs for the second time this week, but instead, Portland was opportunistic and put on its hitting shoes to advance.

In the bottom of the first, after an error kept the inning alive, junior designated hitter Grant Crosby ripped a two-out, two-run triple off Deering freshman pitcher Avery Lawrence for a 2-0 lead.

Bulldogs senior pitcher Danny Tocci faced the minimum through three innings, but in the top of the fourth, the Rams responded, as junior third baseman Conner Coleman ripped an RBI double and sophomore designated hitter Ethan Berkowitz followed with a two-run single for a 3-2 advantage.

But Portland answered in the bottom half, tying the game on a fielder’s choice, then going up for good when senior first baseman Bennett Berg hit a sacrifice fly.

The Bulldogs broke it open in the bottom of the fifth, scoring seven times. Junior catcher James Gignac singled in a run, an error scored another, freshman centerfielder Reegan Buck brought in a run with a bunt single, then Berg delivered the big blow, a two-run triple. Sophomore rightfielder Andrew Brewer plated another run with a single, then Crosby reached on an infield single, bringing in one more to cap the uprising.

Tocci slammed the door from there and Portland closed out its 11-3 victory.

The Bulldogs improved to 5-11, ended Deering’s season at 2-13 and in the process, advanced to take on No. 2 Scarborough (14-2) in the Class A South Round of 16 Tuesday at a time to be announced.

“We got to win our last game at Hadlock Field under the lights,” said longtime Portland coach Mike Rutherford. “We were down and the kids responded.”

Everyone has a chance

This spring, due to the concern that everyone wouldn’t be able to play a full schedule due to COVID, the Maine Principals’ Association announced that every team would make the playoffs.

As a result, Deering and Portland, who wouldn’t have qualified in a normal year, got to extend their seasons.

The Rams started with a 14-1 (six-inning) home loss to Scarborough, then were beaten by visiting Westbrook (15-1, in five-innings), Thornton Academy (23-0, in five-innings) and Falmouth in a doubleheader (13-0 in five-innings and 10-2). After falling at Biddeford, 13-0 (in five-innings), the Rams dropped 13-0 decisions to visiting Cheverus and at South Portland (in five-innings), lost at home to Cheverus (12-2, in six-innings), at Portland (7-3) and at Windham in the opener of a doubleheader (6-1) before giving new coach Ryan Martin his first victory in the nightcap, 5-3. After an 11-1 (six-inning) loss at Bonny Eagle, Deering finished on a high note Tuesday, downing visiting Portland, 5-3.

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, opened with a 7-2 home loss to Biddeford, then fell at home to South Portland (5-1), at Scarborough (10-1) and at Thornton Academy (7-1) before getting in the win column with a 2-1 home victory over Gorham in the opener of a doubleheader. Portland lost the nightcap, 9-1, then turned around and beat Deering, 7-3. After losing at home to Bonny Eagle (5-3) and twice at Cheverus in a doubleheader (1-0 and 6-5, in 11-innings), the Bulldogs beat host Westbrook (5-2), then dropped two games at Falmouth (10-0, in five innings, and 13-2, in five-innings). Last Saturday, Portland edged visiting Windham in a thriller, 3-2, in 10-innings, then closed with a 5-3 loss to Deering Tuesday.

In the teams’ first meeting May 18, Tocci earned the win, striking out eight, and senior Nick Becker (three hits, two runs scored) and sophomore Henry Bibeau (three RBI) paced the offense.

In the second encounter, the Rams prevailed behind Coleman’s arm and bat (two doubles and an RBI), as well as two doubles from Lawrence and a two-run double from junior Quest Newhall.

Saturday’s contest marked the 10th time since 1981 that Deering and Portland squared off in the postseason (see sidebar, below). The Rams held a slim 5-4 edge, but on a gorgeous early June evening (83-degrees at first pitch) in front of a nice-sized crowd, the Bulldogs got the better of their rival.

Portland senior Danny Tocci gets Deering freshman Avery Lawrence to strike out to start the game.

Tocci started the game by striking out Lawrence. Senior shortstop Matt Keast then drew a walk, but with Newhall, the centerfielder, at the plate, Keast was thrown out attempting to steal by Gignac. Tocci then fanned Newhall.

In the bottom half, Lawrence got Bibeau, the shortstop, to chase strike three and Tocci to pop foul to Coleman at the grandstand railing, then was poised to get out of the inning when he induced a ground ball off the bat of Berg, but freshman first baseman Jackson Forrest couldn’t handle it and Berg reached on the error.

That opened the door and after Berg stole second and Brewer walked on a 3-2 pitch, Crosby stepped to the plate and ripped the first pitch he saw the other way, into the gap in right-center and after Berg and Brewer scored easily, Crosby raced into third standing with a two-run triple, putting the Bulldogs on top, 2-0.

Portland junior Grant Crosby launches a two-run triple in the first inning.

Senior third baseman Trey Roberts then bounced out to second to end it.

Deering couldn’t answer in the second, as Tocci got junior catcher Dempsey Brady to pop out to center, Coleman to pop out foul to Bibeau and Berkowitz to fly out to center.

In the bottom half, Becker grounded wide of first, but beat the throw for an infield single. After Becker stole second, Gignac then flew out to center and Becker took third after the catch. That brought up Buck, who struck out swinging, but Bibeau was walked intentionally and stole second. Tocci had a chance to help himself, but he popped out to short, keeping the score 2-0.

In the top of the third, junior leftfielder Eli Bigelman worked the count full leading off, then struck out. Junior second baseman Drew Hamilton then grounded out to second and senior rightfielder Noah Canter swung and missed at strike three, allowing Tocci to face the minimum the first time through the order.

After Berg grounded out to second leading off the bottom of the inning, Brewer popped out to third on the first pitch, but Crosby reached on an infield single, on a little blooper in front of Hamilton at second. Crosby stole second, but Roberts flew out to right to end the threat.

Then, in the top of the fourth, the Rams’ bats awakened and they put up a three-spot to momentarily take the lead.

Lawrence got things started by grounding to shortstop and beating the throw for an infield single. Keast then walked for the second time. but Newhall popped out to second and Brady flew out to right. Coleman then came through with a line drive double just fair down the leftfield line, scoring Lawrence with Deering’s first run and moving Keast to third. Berkowitz then hit a ground ball up the middle and it got through into centerfield, bringing home both Keast and Coleman to put the Rams ahead, 3-2. Bigelman then singled past short, but Berkowitz had to hold at third (Bigelman took second on the throw home) and Tocci avoided further damage by getting Hamilton to pop out to second.

Portland then promptly retook the lead, with a little help, in the bottom of the fourth.

Becker beat out a grounder to short leading off for an infield single and compounding matters, Keast’s throw was wild for an error, allowing Becker to go to second. After Gignac watched strike three, junior pinch-hitter Colby Winship reached on catcher’s interference. That brought up Bibeau, who blooped a single to center, just over the infield, to load the bases. Tocci then tied the score by grounding to first and Becker beat the throw home. Berg followed with a deep fly out to right and the sacrifice fly brought home Winship with the go-ahead run.

“I was just trying to hit it in the air somewhere to rightfield and I did that,” said Berg.

Brewer tried to add to the lead with a deep drive to center, but Newhall ran it down and the Bulldogs took a 4-3 lead to the fifth.

There, Tocci restored order by getting Canter to look at strike three, Lawrence to fly out to deep center and Keast to line out to center, where Buck raced in to make a nice catch.

In the bottom half, the Bulldogs finally gained separation.

Leading off, Crosby grounded to second, but reached on an error, and Roberts followed with an infield single. Becker followed by beating out a bunt to load the bases and Portland was poised to put up a crooked number.

Gignac was next and he singled to center, bringing home Crosby, and when Keast, the relay man, tried to throw home, the ball got away for another error and Roberts scored too to make it 6-3.

Portland was far from done.

With runners at second and third, Buck beat out a bunt single to score Becker and Gignac to third. After Buck stole second, Bibeau popped out to the pitcher and Tocci struck out swinging, but Berg came through, driving the ball deep to right, over the head of Canter to score two more runs.

“Everyone got up that inning and kept it going,” Berg said. “We all can hit. I just saw the ball flying and took off.”

Portland junior James Gignac (31) and freshman Reegan Buck celebrate after scoring in the bottom of the fifth.

Brewer followed with a bloop single to left to score Berg, then after Brewer stole second, Crosby beat out an infield single up the middle and on the play, Brewer came all the way around for the game’s final run. Pinch-hitter J.T. Fasulo grounded out to second to end the inning, but the Bulldogs were in command, up, 11-3.

“When you average 2.5 runs per game, scoring 11 is great,” said Rutherford. “We haven’t seen a seven-spot all year and it was fun to see.”

Deering went meekly in the top of the sixth, as Tocci got Newhall to pop out to second, Brady to ground out to short and Coleman to chase strike three.

In the bottom half, senior pinch-hitter John Misiewicz lined out to right, senior pinch-hitter Nick O’Malley struck out swinging and after senior pinch-hitter Brayden Young reached on an infield single, senior pinch-hitter Jake Bouchard hit the ball soundly, but right at Newhall in center to retire the side.

Tocci then slammed the door in the top of the seventh, getting Berkowitz to ground back to the mound, Bigelman to pop out foul to Gignac behind the plate, then inducing senior pinch-hitter John Mikkelsen to ground back to the mound to bring the curtain down on Portland’s 11-3 victory.

“One thing about a Bulldog team is we never quit,” Tocci said. “Even if we’re down 1-0 or 12-0, we give everything we got. We just wanted to take care of business. Deering’s our rival. We wanted to win and win big.”

“I give Deering credit,” said Rutherford. “Ryan’s done a great job. They fell apart in one inning a little bit, but they’ve really improved. We had to play small-ball in order to get some runs. That shows how much Deering has improved.”

The Bulldogs managed 13 hits, as Becker and Crosby each produced three to lead the way.

“Crosby has been hot,” Rutherford said. “Berg’s had big hits all year. Becker had three hits tonight.”

Becker, Berg and Brewer all scored twice, while Buck, Crosby, Gignac, Roberts and Winship also touched home plate.

Berg and Crosby both drove in three runs, while Brewer, Buck, Gignac and Tocci also had RBI.

Portland stranded eight base-runners, but stole seven bases.

Tocci went the distance to earn the victory, his fourth of the season. He allowed three earned runs on four hits in seven innings, walking two and striking out six.

“I was moving too fast, not executing my pitches like I wanted to (in the fourth inning) and I put balls where they could him them and they hit them into bad spots,” Tocci said. “Once I relaxed and got some run support, we came together as a team. My curveball worked well. I was able to locate it well and my fastball worked well too.”

“Tocci has pitched great all year,” Rutherford said. “He’s been our horse.”

End of the line

For Deering, Coleman, Keast and Lawrence scored the runs.

Berkowitz had a pair of RBI and Coleman had one.

The Rams left two runners on.

Lawrence, who deserved a better fate, took the loss, giving up 11 runs (five earned) on 13 hits in six innings. He walked two and fanned five.

“That’s the best game Avery has pitched all year,” said Martin. “He battled and was confident. We had some unlucky plays.”

Deering improved dramatically from the start of the season through the finish.

“This shows a lot about these guys,” Martin said. “They could have given up early in the year, but they got better every day and it definitely showed at the end when we were in all of our games. We had some tough breaks early in the game and could have given up, but the guys stuck to it one pitch at a time. They had high energy today and they were focused all game long. We’re happy we got a playoff game in and it was a winnable game. It was fun to be part of. Guys showed toughness. That’s the biggest thing. When our backs were against the wall, we showed togetherness and that’s the best thing to take out of the season. We have four seniors, but a lot of our pitching is coming back. We should be starting from a better place next year.”

On to Scarborough

Portland lost at Scarborough, 10-1, back on April 27. The teams have played twice before in the playoffs with the Bulldogs winning both: 5-4 (in nine-innings) in the 2008 Western A preliminary round and 5-4 in the 2013 Western A quarterfinals.

Portland will be decided underdogs, but the Bulldogs won’t act the part.

“If we come to play, we feel we’re as good as anybody,” Tocci said. “We’ll play our hearts out.”

“We just have to put the ball in play and play good defense,” Berg said.

“I’ve coached a long time and this has been one of my most fun years,” Rutherford added. “I haven’t had any issues at all. We’ve had 20 days off with COVID, but the kids have been great. They honestly believe they’ll show up Tuesday and beat Scarborough. That’s how Portland kids are. They really believe it. We’ll go out and play hard. We’ll throw a couple pitchers who are good one time around the order. We want to get up on them early and then the pressure’s on them.”

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

Previous Deering-Portland playoff results

1981 Western A Final
Portland 8 Deering 3

1992 Western A semifinal
Deering 3 Portland 2
 

2000 Western A Final
Deering 8 Portland 3 

2004 Western A Final
Deering 12 Portland 0 (5)
 

2005 Western A semifinal
Portland 9 Deering 6

2006 Western A semifinal
Portland 6 Deering 0

2007 Western A quarterfinal
Deering 2 Portland 1 (8) 

2009 Western A quarterfinal
Deering 10 Portland 0 (6) 

2015 Western A quarterfinal
Portland 4 Deering 3
 

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