BOX SCORE

Thornton Academy 6 South Portland 4

TA- 060 000 0- 6 6 3
SP- 200 002 0- 4 7 3

Bottom 1st
Heffernan scored on a passed ball. Thurber singled to right, Hobbs scored.

Top 2nd
Bowker walked, McLeer scored. Lausier singled to center, Schaffer and Chessie scored. Frink singled to right, Bowker and Lausier scored. Williams reached on infield single, Graffam scored.

Bottom 6th
Houle singled to left, Carlisle scored. Houle scored on error.

Advertisement

Multiple hits:
TA- Schaffer
SP- Gilboy, Heffernan

Runs:
TA- Bowker, Chessie, Graffam, Lausier, McLeer, Schaffer
SP- Carlisle, Heffernan, Hobbs, Houle

RBI:
TA- Frink, Lausier 2, Bowker, Williams
SP- Houle, Thurber

Left on base:
TA- 3
SP- 8

Kopetski, Frink (7) and Frink, Graffam (7); Hobbs, Heffernan (5) and Gilboy.

TA:
Kopetski (W, 3-0) 6 IP 7 H 4 R 1 ER 4 BB 3 K 1 WP
Frink (Save, 1) 1 IP 0 H 0 R 1 BB 1 K

Advertisement

SP:
Hobbs (L, 2-1) 4 IP 5 H 6 R 0 ER 2 BB 3 K 2 HBP 1 WP
Heffernan 3 IP 1 H 0 R 0 BB 1 K

Time: 1:45

SOUTH PORTLAND—South Portland’s defending Class A state champion baseball team dug a hole that was a little too deep to dig out of Tuesday afternoon when it hosted rival Thornton Academy in a compelling contest at Wainwright Farms.

The Red Riots benefited from a couple passed balls to score twice in the bottom of the first off Golden Trojans junior pitcher Josh Kopetski, but in the top of the second, an error opened the door and with two outs, Thornton Academy took advantage.

After South Portland junior starter Nolan Hobbs walked senior centerfielder Cody Bowker with the bases loaded to put the Golden Trojans on the board, junior leftfielder Henry Lausier hit a two-run single and junior catcher Nic Frink added another two-run single before an RBI single from junior first baseman Brayden Williams capped a six-run (all unearned) uprising.

The Red Riots tried to rally, but despite producing some baserunners, hard-hit balls found the gloves of Thornton Academy fielders.

Advertisement

South Portland did get closer in the bottom of the sixth, as senior second baseman Jack Houle had an RBI single and eventually scored on a wild pitch, but Frink came on to slam the door n the seventh and the Golden Trojans were able to prevail, 6-4.

Thornton Academy earned a measure of revenge for last year’s regional final loss, improved to 7-1 and in the process, handed the Red Riots their second straight loss and dropped them to 6-2.

“I was impressed with how we battled,” said South Portland coach Mike Owens. “I was really pleased with our effort. That was a good high school baseball game. We never hung our heads and kept coming back at them.”

The favorites

Most preseason prognostications had either South Portland or Thornton Academy picked first in Class A South with the other second and neither team has disappointed this spring.

The Golden Trojans started with wins over Scarborough (5-0), Massabesic (10-0) and Sanford (11-0, in six-innings), then lost to Westbrook (5-1) before downing Noble (4-1), Deering (19-0, in five-innings) and Falmouth (8-1).

Advertisement

The Red Riots, meanwhile, started by defeating visiting Bonny Eagle in eight-innings (1-0), then downed host Deering (9-0), visiting Cheverus (3-2), host Biddeford (12-5), visiting Portland (4-0) and host Gorham (11-0, in five-innings) before falling from the unbeaten ranks Friday with a 4-3 setback at Noble.

Last year, the teams met twice, with Bowker pitching a gem to lead visiting Thornton Academy to a 2-0 win in the regular season, before the Red Riots turned the tide in the Class A South Final with a 3-0 victory behind Bradley McMains’ two-hitter.  South Portland then beat Bangor on a walk-off bases on balls, 3-2, to win its first state championship since 1952.

Wednesday, on a typically breezy, but otherwise pleasant afternoon (60 degrees at first pitch), an expected pitcher’s duel instead turned into a contest over who could take greater advantage of the other team’s mistakes.

Hobbs started the game by getting Bowker to swing and miss at a 3-2 pitch. Lausier then checked his swing and popped out to short, but senior second baseman Brady Graffam drew a walk on a full count pitch before Frink grounded back to the mound for the third out.

In the bottom half, the Red Riots got the jump with a couple of two-out runs.

Junior shortstop Johnny Poole popped out to second leading off and after junior third baseman Andrew Heffernan beat out an infield single up the middle, junior catcher Richard Gilboy was caught looking at strike three, but with Hobbs at the plate, Heffernan went to second on a passed ball and after Hobbs singled sharply to left to put runners at the corners, with senior centerfielder Ryan Thurber at the plate, another passed ball brought home Heffernan and moved Hobbs to second. Thurber then singled to right to score Hobbs and while senior rightfielder Nate Rende struck out swinging, South Portland had a 2-0 lead.

Advertisement

But it wouldn’t last.

Hobbs got Williams to ground out to short leading off, but senior third baseman John Rohner got the trouble started with a single up the middle. Senior Michael McLeer then grounded sharply to Houle at second and it appeared the Red Riots would turn a double play, but instead of getting two outs, they got none, as Houle couldn’t come up with the ball and the error put runners at first and second. Senior rightfielder Christian Schaffer then singled to right to load the bases. Sophomore shortstop Jeremiah Chessie grounded to third and Heffernan threw home for the force out, but South Portland couldn’t turn the double play, reloading the bases for Bowker.

Hobbs got ahead of Bowker 0-2, then gave up a long, loud foul ball to left, threw a ball, then fired a pitch that everyone cheering for the Red Riots felt was a strike on the outside corner, but it was ruled a ball and Hobbs threw two more out of the zone for a walk which brought home McLeer for Thornton Academy’s first run. Lausier then singled up the middle to score two more runs and put the Golden Trojans ahead to stay. After Hobbs plunked Graffam to reload the bases, Frink singled just under the glove of junior first baseman Nick Swain to score two more runs, making it 5-2. Williams then hit a slow grounder to short and beat it out for an infield single with Graffam coming home to score and when Poole’s throw got away for another error, Frink tried to come all the way around to score, but Swain retrieved the ball and threw home to Gilboy, who tagged Frank out in a minor collision.

The inning was over but the damage was done and Thornton Academy had a 6-2 advantage.

“The boys stayed focused,” said Golden Trojans assistant coach Tim Smith, who was filling in for coach Jason Lariviere, who was home sick. “They didn’t lose confidence after getting down 2-0. We wanted to take the same approach at the plate that South Portland does, which is to get right up on the plate. We want to emulate them. They’re state champions and that’s what we want to be. One through nine, we have a really good order. Last year, they were all juniors and this year, they’re seniors.”

“That’s a good team and we gave them extra outs,” Owens lamented. “That wasn’t a loud inning. We had an opportunity to at least get one out, or a double play there, then Bowker had that tough at-bat with the bases loaded. We didn’t make a pitch when we needed to and they had some nice at-bats. You can’t give up six runs against a team like that with a pitcher like they have on the mound.”

Advertisement

In the bottom half, Kopetski got senior leftfielder Alex Domingos to fly deep to center on the first pitch and struck out senior designated hitter Kenny Carlisle. After Houle drew a walk, Poole swung at a 3-2 pitch and grounded back to the mound for the final out.

Hobbs settled down and had a strong top of the third, getting Rohner to ground out to short on an excuse-me swing, getting McLeer to ground back to the mound and catching Schaffer looking at strike three.

South Portland then appeared to have a rally going in the bottom half before the Golden Trojans made a couple huge plays on defense.

Heffernan singled to center on the first pitch he saw, then Gilboy singled to right on the first pitch as well. Hobbs then hit a sharp drive to left which forced Lausier to race in and make a terrific lunging backhanded catch to save at least one run.

“We have an award on the team that we give out after every game, a big golden chain, for our ‘team money’ player of the game, and Henry was our ‘team money’ player of the game today,” said Smith.

Thurber then popped up behind first, but Williams backpedaled and made a nice catch of his own for the second out. Rende then grounded to Rohner at third, who stepped on the bag, and just like a that, a threat had been extinguished and the score remained 6-2.

Advertisement

Hobbs hit Chessie with a pitch leading off the fourth, but Bowker flew out to deep left, Lausier struck out swinging and after Chessie moved up on a wild pitch, followed by a passed ball, Graffam grounded to deep short where Poole threw him out on a bang-bang play for the third out.

Kopetski fell behind Domingos 3-1 to start the bottom half, then got him to line to short. After Carlisle drew a walk, Houle made solid contact on the first pitch he saw and lined to second, then with Poole at the plate, Frink picked Carlisle off at first to end the frame.

Heffernan came on to relieve in the top of the fifth and Frink reached on an error on a ground ball that got past Thurber, who had moved to third, but Poole ran the ball down and threw Frink out trying to advance to second. Williams then popped out foul to the catcher and Rohner grounded out to third.

South Portland’s frustrations continued in the bottom half.

Poole popped up leading off and Williams made a nice running catch in foul ground. Heffernan drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch and Gilboy blooped a single down the leftfield line, but even though Hobbs got a fly ball to drop in centerfield, Gilboy having to hold and make sure it landed safely, allowed Bowker to throw to second for a force out. Thurber then lined out to Graffam at second to retire the side.

In the top of the sixth, McLeer grounded out to third and after Schaffer singled up the middle on the first pitch he saw, Chessie lined to Houle, who threw to first to double off Schaffer.

Advertisement

The Red Riots then got a little help and scored a couple runs in the bottom half.

After Rende grounded out to second, Domingos walked. Carlisle grounded to Chessie, who appeared primed to start an inning-ending double play when he stepped on second for a force out, but his throw to first was wild and Carlisle took second. Houle then lined a single to left to score Carlsile and when Kopetski’s pickoff attempt was off-target, Houle went all the way to third and he came in when Graffam mishandled Poole’s grounder for another error. A wild pitch put Poole at second, but Kopetski avoided further damage by getting Heffernan to ground to third and thanks to a nice scoop at first by Williams, the game went to the seventh with Thornton Academy still ahead, 6-4.

In the top of the seventh, Heffernan got Bowker to ground out to short on the first pitch, Lausier to strike out swinging and Graffam to pop back to the mound.

Frink came on in relief in the bottom half and managed to finish it off after a little excitement.

Gilboy drew a four-pitch walk leading off and Frink threw another ball to Hobbs before settling down and getting him to pop out to second on a checked swing. Thurber then hit the ball well, but it went to straight center where Bowker ran it down for the second out. That left it up to Rende and Frink caught him looking at an off-speed pitch to finish off the Golden Trojans’ 6-4 victory.

“Our goal was to be quick to the ball and put the barrel on the ball, but a couple balls hung up and we hit a couple balls right at them,” Owens lamented. “We had guys on and we had chances, but we couldn’t get the big inning. (Kopetski’s) one of the best pitchers in the state and I thought we had great at-bats. He’s a strikeout pitcher and we hit the ball hard.

Advertisement

“Our kids don’t get down on themselves. They have a lot of belief. (Thornton Academy’s) the team to beat and I think we showed we belonged in the conversation. We’d love another shot at them. That’s an excellent team and we think we are too.”

Kopetski earned the win by giving up four runs (just one earned) on seven hits in six innings. He walked four and struck out three.

“Kopetski has a great arm and he kept us in it,” said Smith. “We knew they weren’t going to quit, but he’s worked out of trouble pretty well. When he takes a deep breath and takes his time, he’s fine.”

Frink got the save, allowing a walk and striking out a batter in his hitless, scoreless inning of relief.

Offensively, Thornton Academy got two hits from Schaffer, while Bowker, Chessie, Graffam, Lausier, McLeer and Schaffer all touched home plate.

Frink and Lausier both drove in two runs and Bowker and Williams had an RBI apiece.

Advertisement

The Golden Trojans stranded three runners.

For South Portland, Gilboy and Heffernan each had two hits to pace the offense. Carlisle, Heffernan, Hobbs and Houle all scored runs, while Houle and Thurber had RBI.

The Red Riots left eight runners on and had several potential hits die in the gloves of Thornton Academy defenders.

Hobbs took his first loss although he didn’t surrender a single earned run out of the six he allowed over four innings. Hobbs gave up five hits, walked two and fanned three.

In three innings of scoreless relief, Heffernan gave up just one hit and didn’t walk a batter. He struck out one.

Time to improve

Thornton Academy returns home Thursday to meet Bonny Eagle.

South Portland, meanwhile, travels to Kennebunk Monday, where it hopes to get back on track. The Red Riots also have games next week against Westbrook, Sanford and Marshwood.

“I think we’ll come out it,” Owens said. “Sometimes you have to get a little luck. This was our only game this week, so we’ll have a few days of practice and clean some stuff up. We have a tough week next week against four quality opponents. Anyone can beat anyone on a given day. I think the league is deep this year. It always is, but even more so this year. Our goal is to be there at the end.”

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

Comments are not available on this story.