Portland sophomore Sadie Armstrong allowed two hits in 6-1 victory at Sanford in an opening round Class A South playoff game on Tuesday. Mike Lowe photo

SANFORD — The regular season began with four consecutive losses for Portland High’s softball team, but over the course of the next 12 games, the Bulldogs grew more confident.

And it showed Tuesday afternoon. Senior shortstop Rebekah Dunn had three hits and drove in three runs to back the two-hit pitching of sophomore Sadie Armstrong as 13th-ranked Portland defeated fourth-ranked Sanford 6-1 in the opening round of the Class A South tournament.

Armstrong didn’t allow a hit after the second inning and the Bulldogs pulled away in the middle innings. Portland broke a scoreless tie with a run in the fourth, on Dunn’s RBI single, and then scored five in the fifth, with Dunn driving in two with a double.

“We’ve been coming,” said Portland Coach Robbie Ferrante. “We’ve been playing pretty good lately.”

Portland (8-9) will play at fifth-ranked Thornton Academy (13-4) in the Class A South quarterfinals on Thursday.

It was a special day for Dunn, who had never been in a playoff game. She played her first two years of high school at Deering before transferring to Portland and, of course, missed the 2020 season when it was shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This means a lot to me,” said Dunn. “We didn’t make the playoffs at all at Deering. So coming to a new school where everyone is so welcoming and putting in all the work to make us where we are now, it feels really good.”

Portland and Sanford did not play in the regular season, their schedules consisting of games against nearby schools in regional pods. It was scoreless for three innings, then Portland broke through.

Freshman Hannah Hawkes led off the fourth with a triple to left and scored two batters later on Dunn’s single. That seemed to spark the Bulldogs.

“I thought getting out front was big,” said Ferrante. “We’re not a good come-from-behind team.”

In the fifth, the first two Bulldogs walked, and Hawkes drove in one run with a single. A throwing error on a bunt allowed the third run to score. Dunn followed with a two-run double and scored on another error, making it 6-0.

“Being able to have those runs was like having security,” said Armstrong, who struck out five. “If I started to walk people, having those runs helped confidence-wise. And it was just a lot more fun to pitch.”

Armstrong said she could see the confidence building after that initial losing streak, which included losses to three of Class A South’s top five teams. “We just really powered through and everyone showed up for practice every day,” she said. “Everyone has been getting so much better.”

For the Spartans, it was a disappointing finish but first-year coach Lindsay Tibbetts saw this season as a step forward. Sanford won only eight games from 2017-19.

“Unfortunately they got the best of us today,” she said. “They hit the ball and made all the plays … For a team that won only four the last time we played, this was quite a turnaround.”

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