STANDISH — It’s funny how life turns out sometimes.

A year ago, South Portland High would have been the clear favorite to win the Class A baseball state championship, but the 2020 season was scuttled because of the coronavirus pandemic and the Red Riots and their fans were left with a lot of “What ifs?”

They don’t have to wonder anymore.

Richard Gilboy drew a bases-loaded walk with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning Saturday to lift South Portland to its first state championship since 1952 – a tense 3-2 decision over Bangor in the Class A title game at Mahaney Diamond at St. Joseph’s College.

Gilboy’s walk scored senior Frank Tierney, who entered the game in the top of the sixth as a defensive replacement. As he walked down the third-base line toward home plate and history, Tierney thought only of his teammates and fans.

“It’s something special,” said Tierney. “It’s for the team, it’s for the town, it’s for everybody that represents South Portland.”

The Red Riots, who lost to Bangor in the 2015 state championship game, finished 16-5, with five losses by a total of seven runs.

“We embrace these close games,” said sophomore Andrew Heffernan, who had two hits and was the winning pitcher in relief. “We do really good under pressure.”

Heffernan is one of four sophomores who contributed to the title. Head Coach Mike Owens said everything came together at the right time.

“I feel like we’ve been so close so many times,” he said. “It feels good to finally kick that door open … This is so special for our community that has supported us all the way through. I’m almost speechless.”

Bangor, which finished 14-7, knows what it takes to win state championships. The Rams won five in a row from 2014-18. And they tested the Red Riots throughout, twice tying the game.

But the Rams had two runners thrown out at home with aggressive base running. “It’s what we’ve been doing all year long and we’re not going to change,” said Bangor Coach Dave Morris. “We knew it was going to be a close game. Our guys battled and just came up short.”

The game’s pivotal play came in the fifth, after the Rams had tied it and had runners on second and third with one out. South Portland starter Nolan Hobbs struck out Matt Holmes, but the third strike squirted away from Riots catcher Noah Dreifus.

Dreifus quickly picked it up and threw Holmes out at first. Ben Caron broke for home and was thrown out by first baseman Gilboy, with Hobbs slapping down the tag.

“That was the big one,” said Owens. “They had all the momentum at that time and we just held the door.”

Heffernan relieved Hobbs to start the sixth and held the Rams to one hit over the final two innings.

Then the Red Riots came up in the bottom of the seventh. With one out, Tierney, who had only three at-bats all season, bunted down the third-base line and reached when the throw pulled Bangor’s first baseman off the base. Bradley McMains, whose brilliant pitching performance in the South final sent South Portland to the state championship game, followed with a double.

After an intentional walk loaded the bases, Gilboy stepped up. He worked the count full, then watched the last pitch go wide.

“The last pitch, I saw it going a little outside,” said Gilboy. “I thought it might get called a strike, but I saw it drop down and I knew it was over.”


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