Thornton Academy’s Jessica Dow slides into home plate to score the winning run in the Golden Trojans’ 4-3 win in nine-innings over South Portland in a Class A South Round of 16 game Tuesday in Saco. Brianna Soukup / Portland Press Herald photos.

BOX SCORE

Thornton Academy 4 South Portland 3 (9)

SP- 200 010 000- 3 11 1
TA- 000 020 101- 4 8 1
*  One out when winning run scored.

Top 1st
DiMauro singled to center, Connors and Whitten scored.

Top 5th
Nickerson flew out to left, Grant scored.

Bottom 5th
A. Miner singled to center, Vachon and Lappin scored.

Bottom 7th
Littlefield reached on infield single, Dow scored.

Bottom 9th
Dow scored on fielder’s choice.

Multiple hits:
SP- Connor, DiMauro, Perron, Whitten
TA- Dow

Runs:
SP- Connors, Grant, Whitten
TA- Dow 2, Lappin, Vachon

RBI:
SP- DiMauro 2, Nickerson
TA- A. Miner 2, Littlefield

Doubles:
SP- Perron
TA- Dow

Left on base:
SP- 12
TA- 12

Micucci and Connor; A. Miner and Littlefield.

SP:
Micucci (L) 8.1 IP 8 H 4 R 4 ER 9 BB 14 K 2 WP

TA:
A. Miner (W) 9 IP 11 H 3 R 3 ER 3 BB 4 K

Time: 3:35

SACO—For South Portland, it was case of missed opportunities.

For Thornton Academy, it was a victory well worth the wait.

And there was quite a wait.

The 12th-ranked Red Riots traveled to battle the fifth-seeded Golden Trojans in a Class A South Round of 16 contest on a sweltering Tuesday afternoon, but by game’s end, it wouldn’t be the heat that was the most talked-about weather condition.

South Portland got off to a fast start, as freshman third baseman Andrea DiMauro hit a two-out, two-run single in the top of the first and Red Riots junior pitcher Mia Micucci held that lead for a long, long time.

Despite failing to get another key hit off Thornton Academy senior ace Abby Miner, South Portland did score a third run in the top of the fifth, as freshman leftfielder Ella Nickerson hit a sacrifice fly, but the Golden Trojans’ bats began to awaken in the bottom half.

Miner helped herself with a bases loaded two-run single, but Micucci avoided further damage and allowed the Red Riots to hold on to a 3-2 lead, which lasted until the bottom of the seventh.

There, sophomore third baseman Jess Dow led off with a ground rule double and she would score the tying run when junior catcher Bailey Littlefield beat out an infield single with one out. Thornton Academy then had a great chance to win it, but Micucci again escaped to keep the score 3-3.

After a scoreless eighth inning, South Portland loaded the bases with one out in the top of the ninth, but a strikeout and a nice defensive play by Dow retired the side.

Then, in the bottom half, Dow singled, got sacrificed to second and after Miner walked, Littlefield came up with a chance to win it.

But that chance would have to wait, as thunder was heard in the area and as a result, the game wound up being delayed for nearly an hour.

Finally, the teams resumed play and Littlefield walked, setting the stage for sophomore first baseman Renee Gonneville to play the hero.

Gonneville didn’t exactly crush the ball, but her little dribbler in front of the plate was enough to bring Dow home and after 3-hours, 35-minutes, the Golden Trojans were able to celebrate a 4-3 victory.

Thornton Academy improved to 13-4, ended the Red Riots’ season at 8-9 and advanced to face 13th-ranked Portland (8-9) in Thursday’s quarterfinal round, at a time to be announced.

“It’s a tough one,” said South Portland coach Ralph Aceto. “I’ve said all year that we’re better than our record and this is by far the best game these kids have played all season. We had chances.”

Lots of offense

South Portland and Thornton Academy each entered the 2021 campaign believing they would contend.

The Red Riots opened with an impressive 10-3 win at Portland, then fell, 3-1, at Windham. After holding off visiting Cheverus, 5-3, South Portland lost, 11-8, at Gorham. The win-one, lose-one trend continued with a 6-5 victory over visiting Thornton Academy in the opener of a doubleheader, followed by a 15-6 setback in the nightcap. The Red Riots then won three in a row: 25-7 (in five-innings) over visiting Deering and 16-6 and 11-3 in a home doubleheader over Bonny Eagle before falling at Scarborough (10-6). After a doubleheader split at Westbrook (a 3-1 loss and an 8-7 victory), South Portland beat visiting Falmouth in five-innings (17-1), then closed with three straight losses, 9-3 to visiting Scarborough and 12-2 and 8-2 at Biddeford in a doubleheader.

Thornton Academy, meanwhile, started by losing a slugfest to Biddeford, 11-7. After beating Cheverus (18-2, in five-innings), Windham (10-9) and Portland (8-2), the Golden Trjoans lost the opener of a doubleheader at South Portland (6-5), then won the nightcap, 15-6. A win over Falmouth (13-1, in six-innings) was followed by a historic 9-3 (eight-inning) victory at Scarborough in the opener of a doubleheader, as Thornton Academy snapped the Red Storm’s 66-game win streak. Scarborough beat the Golden Trojans in the second game, 7-5, but Thornton Academy answered by downing Deering (18-1, in five-innings), Biddeford (8-6) and Bonny Eagle (14-2 and 9-0 in a doubleheader). After a 6-3 loss to Gorham, the Golden Trojans closed by twice beating Westbrook (23-8 and 16-0).

The Golden Trojans and Red Riots played a memorable doubleheader back on May 8 in South Portland. In the opener, sophomore Delaney Whitten’s two-run single in the bottom of the seventh inning capped a three-run rally for South Portland. In the second game, Miner had three hits and three RBI and Dow had three hits, including two doubles, as Thornton Academy rolled.

The teams had met twice previously in the playoffs, a 9-0 Red Riots’ victory in the 2009 Western A semifinals and an 8-1 South Portland win in the 2012 Western A semifinals.

Tuesday, on a day which began sunny with the temperature at 91-degrees, the Golden Trojans and Red Riots had to play well past the dinner hour to determine a winner.

Thornton Academy pitcher Abby Miner delivers a pitch.

South Portland came out aggressive against Miner, as senior shortstop Julia Connors singled into right and after senior second baseman Chloe Grant bunted, then ran into the ball to be declared out, Whitten blooped a single to right to put runners at first and second. Junior catcher Elise Connor then walked to load the bases, but Miner appeared primed to escape when she got Nickerson to chase strike three. DiMauro had other ideas, however, grounding the first pitch she saw into center to bring home both Connors and Whitten for a quick 2-0 lead. Junior rightfielder Maddie Jamieson then popped out to the pitcher, but the Red Riots had the jump.

Micucci then dazzled in the bottom half, fanning Dow and sophomore rightfielder Claudia Pelletier before battling back from a 3-0 count to catch Miner looking at strike three.

In the second, Micucci led off and hit a deep fly ball to center that was caught by junior centerfielder Jenna Lavallee. Junior centerfielder Eliese Perron then singled off Dow’s glove for an infield single, but Connors bounced back to the mound and Grant grounded out to short to end the inning.

In the bottom half, Littlefield drew a walk and after Gonneville struck out, senior leftfielder Madi Tracy walked as well on a 3-2 pitch. Thornton Academy couldn’t capitalize, however, as sophomore shortstop Izzy Miner flew out to left and after a wild pitch moved the runners up, senior designated hitter Madison Vachon grounded out to second.

In the top of the third, Abby Miner got Whitten to ground back to her near the first base line and she applied the tag for the out, then Connor popped out to first. Nickerson singled to center, but this time, DiMauro couldn’t come through, grounding out to third for the final out.

In the bottom half, Micucci walked sophomore second baseman Hannah Lappin on a 3-2 pitch, then fanned Dow for a second time. After Pelletier sacrificed Lappin to second, Abby Miner hit the ball hard, but right at Perron for the final out.

South Portland pitcher Mia Micucci prepares to deliver a strike.

Jamieson led off the top of the fourth by popping out to second on the first pitch, but Micucci reached and moved to second when Lappin threw the ball away for an error. Sophomore courtesy runner Emilie Way then took third when Perron lined out to right, but on the first pitch, Connors popped out to short.

In the bottom half, Micucci got Littlefield to chase a high fastball on a 3-2 count and strike out and after Gonneville singled to right, Tracy struck out swinging and Izzy Miner popped out foul to first to keep the score 2-0.

But it wouldn’t stay that way.

In the top of the fifth, Grant walked, then moved to second when Whitten grounded out to second. Connor followed with a single to right-center, which sent Grant to third, then Nickerson waited on a off-speed pitch and hit it hard to left where Tracy made the catch, but on the sacrifice fly, Grant came home for a 3-0 lead. DiMauro then lined out to Dow at third for the final out.

The bottom of the Golden Trojans’ lineup sparked a rally in the bottom half.

Vachon led off by singling up the middle on a 1-2 pitch. Lappin then drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch. After a wild pitch, Dow walked as well and the bases were loaded. Micucci struck out Pelletier looking, but Abby Miner lined up a single up the middle to score both Vachon and Lappin to cut the deficit to one. The runners moved up to second and third on the throw and Thornton Academy had a golden opportunity to tie it or take the lead, but Micucci struck out both Littlefield and Gonneville swinging the keep the score 3-2.

Leading off the top of the sixth, on the first pitch, Jamieson lined out to right, where Pelletier made a nice running catch in foul territory. Micucci then lined out to second, but Perron doubled over Pelletier’s head. Connors couldn’t bring her in, however, grounding out to third to end the threat.

In the bottom half, Tracy led off with a single to left on an 0-2 pitch and Izzy Miner followed by bunting the ball past the infield for a single. Tracy hesitated before trying to move to third and that proved costly, as she was thrown out with Miner staying at first. Micucci then fanned Vachon on a 2-2 pitch before firing strike three past Lappin.

Grant led off the top of the seventh by working the count full before grounding out to short. Whitten followed with a single to right-center, but Connor struck out and Nickerson bounced out to third.

That set the stage for the fateful bottom of the seventh.

Dow led off by working the count in her favor, first at 2-0, then 3-1, before ripping a line drive the other way, down the rightfield line. The ball tailed away from Jamieson and rolled down the line. Initially, Dow raced into third with an apparent triple, but the umpire determined that the ball had rolled out of play and Dow was sent back to second with a ground rule double. Pelletier sacrificed Dow to third and Abby Miner was intentionally walked to bring Littlefield to the plate. Littlefield then hit a chopper that went off Micucci’s glove, allowing Dow to race home to tie it. On the play, a Connors throwing error allowed sophomore courtesy runner Emily Coleman to take third. Littlefield moved up to second on defensive indifference, then Gonneville had a chance to play the hero.

She wasn’t quite ready yet, watching strike three for the second out.

That left it up to Tracy, who got ahead 3-0, but Micucci battled back full before getting Tracy to line deep to Perron in center to force extra innings.

South Portland immediately threatened in the eighth, as DiMauro singled down the leftfield line. She was replaced by junior courtesy runner Maggie Flaherty, who took second on a sacrifice bunt from Jamieson. Flaherty would be stranded, however, as Micucci struck out swinging and Perron popped out to short.

In the bottom half, Thornton Academy went in order for just the second time all day, as Izzy Miner flew out to center, Vachon struck out swinging and Lappin blooped the ball to Grant at second, who threw her out to force a ninth inning.

With clouds thickening and the drama deepening, the Red Riots produced a great opportunity.

After Connors flew out to center, Grant singled through the hole on the first pitch she saw, Whitten walked and Connor lofted a single to deep right-center and the bases were loaded after the runners had to hold until the ball dropped safely. That brought up Nickerson, but Abby Miner immediately got ahead 0-2, threw a ball, then pulled the string and fanned Nickerson on an off-speed pitch. DiMauro hoped to play the hero, but her sharp grounder was right at Dow at third, who knocked the ball down, pounced on it, then with Whitten steaming toward third, Dow dove and touched the base with her glove for a force play that ended the frame.

“I knew I had to smother the ball,” Dow said. “I knew I had to get the out.”

The Golden Trojans would win it in the bottom of the ninth, but it took a long, long time.

Dow got things started by singling through the hole.

“Having Jess at the top of the lineup has helped us all year,” said Thornton Academy coach Tony Miner. “She tried to do too much early, but she made adjustments.”

Pelletier again sacrificed her to second. Abby Miner was once again walked intentionally, bringing up Littlefield.

Littlefield got ahead in the count, 2-0, then Micucci battled back to 2-2, but before she could pitch again, thunder was heard in the area and the game was stopped.

By rule, play can’t resume after thunder or lightning for at least 30 minutes after the last strike or boom. As it turned out, the game would be delayed for 58 minutes and the teams tried to stay loose and focused.

Both coaches had a similar approach.

“I just left the girls alone,” said Aceto.

“I just told the girls to relax,” said Tony Miner. “I let them go through their motions. We’ve had fun in the dugout all year.”

Finally, after a brief warmup period, the contest was renewed and Littlefield first worked the count full, then walked to load the bases.

That set the stage for Gonneville.

Micucci worked ahead 0-1 and 1-2, but Gonneville got the count back to 3-2. Then, at 7:35 p.m., Gonneville made just enough contact to dribble the ball in front of the plate. Micucci ran in and fielded it and threw home, but Dow had slid in safely.

Thornton Academy 4 South Portland 3.

“I was just looking to hit the ball anywhere to advance the runner,” said Gonneville. “I wasn’t that nervous, but then it got to two strikes. When I got the hit, I was just hoping (Jess would) get home. I got to first and then I ran into the pile and joined in the excitement. I was trying to get out of my head. The first couple at-bats I was really in my head. I had a lot of confidence in us coming back.”

“I knew as soon as the ball hit the ground, I’d have to go home and I put my whole body into it and it worked out,” said Dow. “It was the best feeling. During the delay, I knew our team had the right mindset and that we’d dig in and get the win.”

“Renee struggled early, but she put the ball in play and Jess  was able to score,” Tony Miner added. “When Abby gets walked, other girls have to come through in big spots and I trust everyone. We chased pitches early, but it was a ground ball that got us the win. Our resiliency is huge. We’ve shown our mental toughness all year.”

Thornton Academy players celebrate the victory.

The Golden Trojans got a pair of hits from Dow, who also scored twice. Lappin and Vachon touched home as well.

Abby Miner had two RBI and Littlefield finished with one.

Thornton Academy stranded a dozen base runners.

Abby Miner earned the victory with a gutty effort, giving up three earned runs on 11 hits and three walks in nine innings, striking out four.

“For Abby to battle through on the mound and to have a big hit, it shows how much her senior leadership and presence helped,” said Tony Miner.

Thornton Academy handled visiting Portland, 8-2, back on May 6, as Abby Miner earned the win, hit a three-run homer and Dow homered as well.

The teams have played twice before in the postseason, with the Bulldogs winning 5-0 in the 2000 Western A quarterfinals and 4-1 in the 2017 Class A South semifinals.

Portland is coming off an upset of No. 4 Sanford in its Round of 16 game Tuesday and the Golden Trojans won’t take the Bulldogs lightly.

“I think we need to come out with a lot of confidence,” Dow said. “We have to have the mindset that we’re playing the best team.”

“We have to keep our energy up and take this game into the next game,” said Gonneville.

“It’s tough to beat us here,” Tony Miner added. “I think we’re 8-1 at home now. We bring a lot of energy at home. We’ll be ready. It’s all about execution. If you put the ball in play and do small things, that’s what wins games. Timely hits and pitching.”

A painful ending

For South Portland, Connor, DiMauro, Perron and Whitten all had multiple hits.

Connors, Grant and Whitten scored runs.

DiMauro had two RBI, while Nickerson also drove in a run.

The Red Riots hurt themselves by leaving a dozen runners on base.

Micucci was the hard-luck loser, giving up four runs on eight hits and nine walks in 8.1 innings. She struck out 14.

“Mia deserved better,” said Aceto. “She pitched great. It came down to a little dribbler in front of the plate. Not much we can do about it.”

“The girls really came together the last couple weeks. My biggest complaint all year was I’d show up at practice and the upperclassmen would be (in one spot) and the underclassmen were in another. I’ve been seeing the whole thing come together and that was great.”

South Portland graduates Connors and Grant, but will return a lot of talent in 2022.

“I’m losing two great seniors, but I hope all the other girls come back,” Aceto said. “We’ll have that discussion. I think we’ll be in decent shape next year. You’ll see us again.”

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

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