As a physical education teacher at South Portland High, Mike Owens would walk into Beal Gymnasium every day and see the championship banners of each sport.

Baseball, the sport that Owens has coached since 2011 at South Portland, had a single line: 1952. As good as South Portland baseball has been through the years – producing three Major League pitchers in Billy Swift, Jim Beattie and Charlie Furbush, and numerous NCAA Division I players – the Red Riots hadn’t won a state championship in baseball since then.

“And, of course, we start every preseason in the gym,” said Owens. “So we’d look up at that banner and say, ‘All right, let’s look at it, get it over with, and then we’re not going to talk about it again.’ It’s going to be nice not to have to start our practices that way anymore.”

That’s because the Red Riots can add another year to the banner: 2021.

Last Saturday, South Portland High ended that 69-year drought by defeated Bangor 3-2 on a bases-loaded walk by Richard Gilboy in the bottom of the seventh inning, an outcome that proved Tom Hanks wrong when his character in “A League of Their Own” yells, “There’s no crying in baseball.”

Senior pitcher/outfielder Bradley McMains was standing just off second base when the game ended. He looked over at Owens, who was in the third base coaching box.

“I was just looking at Owens and he threw his helmet in the air,” said McMains. “And I don’t even know. I broke in tears.”

South Portland celebrates after winning its first baseball state title since 1952, beating Bangor on Saturday, 3-2. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

The crying continued all around McMains, among his teammates and adults in the stands surrounding Mahaney Diamond at St. Joseph’s College.  And the celebration continued when the team was escorted by police and fire trucks back to the school’s Martin Field for a long-coming celebration before a couple of hundred fans. Athletic Director Todd Livingston, Owens and several players spoke.

Photos were taken. Hugs were shared. South Portland Little Leaguers ran around with baseballs gathering as many autographs as they could.

“It was really cute,” said Livingston. “We were there for a while. People wanted to take a lot of pictures.”

Of course they did. As both Livingston and Owens said, this championship belongs not just to the team, but to everyone.

“I’ve heard from so many different people and other coaches and former players and community members,” said Owens. “I can’t believe how big of a deal this is for everyone else. For our staff and players, it was so special. But it’s so much bigger how important this was to former players and parents of former players.

“Just to hear how happy they were that we finally broke through … what a big deal it was. It was always big to us, but we don’t always realize how big it is outside of our little bubble.”

It was the school’s first state championship since boys’ lacrosse in 2014, adding to the emotional reaction.

Livingston, who played for the Riots and has his own memories of playoff heartbreak, said, “We’ve had a lot of great coaches here, a lot of teams came close. But we did it. We finally did it. And any time a team can win like that for the community, it’s special.”

“They’re all special,” said Owens. “But when you can get that first one and it’s been so long, it’s extra special.”

Owens shared the moment with his mother, Anne Marie, calling her onto the field to get her photo taken with him as he held the trophy. He recalled a similar photo from his senior year at Gorham High, when the Rams won the 1996 Class B basketball championship.

“It was nice to see it come full circle,” he said. “It was a special moment for me and I know it was for her.”

All that’s left, said Livington, is to find an appropriate space for the new trophy in the school’s trophy case.

“I’m sure we’ll make a good spot for it,” he said. “It’ll be the shiniest one we have.”

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