PORTLAND—A highly anticipated pitcher’s duel Thursday afternoon at Kevin MacDonald Memorial Field instead turned into a demonstration of why South Portland’s baseball team entered the season so highly touted.

The Red Riots excelled from start to finish on the mound, in the field and at the plate in a decisive victory at previously red-hot Cheverus.

Stags junior ace Brian Connolly was on the brink of setting South Portland down in order in the top of the first inning, when a two-out error left the door open and Red Riots senior first baseman Nolan Hobbs belted an RBI double to put his team ahead to stay.

South Portland’s dominant senior pitcher Andrew Heffernan then set Cheverus down in order in the bottom half and in the top of the second, with two outs and the bases loaded, Heffernan delivered the game’s biggest hit, a bases-clearing double for a commanding 4-0 lead.

The Red Riots then broke it open in the fifth, scoring five runs, with a lot of help from Stags’ defensive misues, then South Portland added three more unearned runs in the sixth before Heffernan slammed the door on a 12-0, mercy rule victory.

Heffernan allowed just one hit, struck out 10, drove in three runs and scored a run, while Hobbs had three hits and two RBI as the Red Riots improved to 6-2 on the season, dropping Cheverus to 6-2 in the process.


“We just expected to come in and dominate,” said Heffernan, who will play next year at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts. “The boys made the plays. We got the bats going. We limited strikeouts. That was a big goal of ours. It was a good team win.”

Wide, wide open

Class A South appears devoid of a clear favorite and at least half of the teams, if not more, believe they can make a run deep into June.

Cheverus and South Portland are very much in that mix.

The Stags opened with a 9-2 win at Massabesic and after getting blanked at Windham (3-0), shut out visiting Kennebunk (9-0), downed host Bonny Eagle (4-1) and won at home over Portland (6-1) and Westbrook (6-3) before making it five straight victories Tuesday at Sanford, 4-3.

The Red Riots, regional finalists a year ago, shut out host Westbrook in its opener (4-0), then lost at Noble in nine-innings (5-3). After blanking visiting Massabesic (6-0) and host Biddeford (7-0), South Portland dropped a 2-1 decision at Falmouth, before bouncing back with a 5-3 victory at Thornton Academy in a regional final rematch and downing visiting Windham, 9-1, Tuesday.


Last spring, host South Portland eked out a 3-2 victory.

Thursday, on one of the best days for baseball you’ll find along the Back Cove (78 degrees at first pitch with negligible winds), Cheverus looked to beat the Red Riots for the first time since May 11, 2017 (4-0), but instead, South Portland won its sixth straight in the series.

With shocking ease.

Cheverus pitcher Brian Connolly delivers to South Portland shortstop Johnny Poole to start Thursday’s contest. The Red Riots went on to a 12-0, six-inning victory. Hoffer photos.

Connolly started the game auspiciously enough, fanning senior shortstop Johnny Poole on three pitches, then getting Heffernan to ground out to short. He then induced another grounder to short off the bat of senior third baseman Richie Gilboy, but senior Matt Connor couldn’t handle it, extending the inning.

Hobbs then made the Stags pay, going the other way and ripping a double deep off the rightfield fence. Gilboy easily came in to score.

South Portland senior first baseman Nolan Hobbs swings his mighty bat.

“That was a tone-setter,” said Hobbs. “I knew if I got a fastball, I was swinging at it. With a good pitcher on the mound, you take what you can get and if you get a good pitch, hit it. I was looking to go middle or opposite field. When you get a run for ‘Hef,’ he can take a sigh of relief, but we kept pouring it on.”


“Nolan’s been swinging it well all year,” said Red Riots coach Mike Owens. “For him to use the gap was an excellent approach and a good swing. That was a good start for us.”

Even though senior catcher Nick Swain popped out to second, the Red Riots had the jump.

In the bottom half, Heffernan made quick work of Cheverus, getting Connor to fly to right, Connolly to bounce out to short and senior centerfielder Noah Kennedy-Jensen to watch strike three.

South Portland then struck again with two outs in the top of the second to gain some distance.

Freshman rightfielder Hudson Iacuessa led off and singled to right. Sophomore second baseman Easton Healy then sacrificed Iacuessa to second, and a Connolly wild pitch moved him to third. Senior designated player Alec Campbell drew a walk and stole second, but senior centerfielder Jaelen Jackson struck out for the second out. Connolly was on the brink of escaping the jam, but he hit Poole with a pitch, then Heffernan helped himself in a huge way, falling behind the count before ripping a line drive the other way, down the rightfield line. The ball landed fair and Iacuessa, Campbell and Poole all came home with Heffernan stopping at second with a three-run double.

South Portland senior Johnny Poole slides home with the Red Riots’ fourth run of the game.

“I got down 0-2, I was looking fastball, I got a curveball, went with it and it felt really good,” Heffernan said. “A 1-0 lead was good, but 4-0 is definitely much better. That was a big confidence-booster.”


Gilboy grounded out to short, but the Red Riots, with Heffernan on the mound, had a seemingly insurmountable 4-0 advantage.

“Andrew’s bases loaded double down the line was probably the backbreaker,” said Owens. “Anytime he gets four (runs), it’s going to be tough to beat him.”

Heffernan then started the bottom of the second by striking out sophomore third baseman Devin Kelly swinging and sophomore rightfielder Liam Backman looking before getting junior second baseman Chris Murphy to ground out to short.

Red Riots threatened to add to their lead in the top of the third, as after Hobbs grounded out to third, Swain doubled down the leftfield line, but Connolly got Iacuessa to ground out first and Healy to bounce out to second.

Cheverus’ lone chance to get back in the game came in the bottom of the third, but Heffernan bore down when he had to.

Junior designated player Lucas Soutuyo led off and was the first Stag to reach base, working a walk on a 3-2 pitch. Sophomore leftfielder Reis Stamaris then popped out to the mound and senior third baseman Daxon Austerman grounded into a short-to-second force out and Austerman moved to second on a throwing error by Poole. Connor then singled to center, but Austerman was held at third. That brought up Connolly in a big spot, but Heffernan blew strike three past him to end the frame.


Connolly had his only clean inning in the top of the fourth, getting Campbell to ground out to short on the first pitch, Jackson to bunt into a ground out and Poole to line out deep to center.

South Portland senior ace Andrew Heffernan fires a strike.

In the bottom half, Heffernan was untouchable, fanning Kennedy-Jensen, Kelly and Backman.

South Portland then put the game out of reach in the top of the fifth, as Cheverus gave the Red Riots extra out after extra out.

Heffernan got things started by chopping the ball back to the mound. Connolly made a nice play with his back to the mound, but his throw to first was off-target and Heffernan was safe. Gilboy then hit a pop-up down the rightfield line that should have resulted in the first out, but it landed untouched. Gilboy then drew a walk. Hobbs again made the Stags pay, as he singled to left-center, easily scoring Heffernan and moving Gilboy to third. Hobbs stole second, then Swain walked to load the bases and the bottom was about to drop out.

Iacuessa hit a ground ball to second where Murphy fielded it and tossed the ball to Connor at the second base bag, who appeared to get the force out, then turned to throw to first. At roughly the same time, Swain knocked the ball free and he was called safe, Gilboy scored on the play and the bases were still loaded, much to Cheverus’ chagrin.

After Healy popped out foul to third for the first out, Campbell grounded the ball to the left of Murphy. Murphy got to the ball but couldn’t field it cleanly and Hobbs came home with another run. Jackson then hit a worm-killer in front of the plate and while the ball only rolled about 10 feet fair, Jackson’s speed allowed him to beat out an infield single, scoring Swain. Poole then lined out deep to left and his sacrifice fly brought home Iacuessa. Heffernan, who started all the fun in the inning, then lined out to second, but the damage was done as South Portland’s lead was now 9-0.


Heffernan got his team quickly back in the dugout by getting Murphy to chase strike three, Soutuyo to fly out deep to center and Murphy to pop out to first.

Kelly came on to pitch in the top of the sixth and the Red Riots would tack on three more runs, all with two outs.

Gilboy led off with a single to right, then Hobbs singled to right center, but Swain grounded into a second-to-short-to-first double play. Iacuessa and Healy then drew consecutive four-pitch walks and with senior leftfielder Maccoy Murphy at the plate, errors on Austerman at third and freshman Matt Reid at first brought home all three runners. Jackson flew out to left, but the lead was up to 12-0.

Heffernan then finished it off by getting Reid to ground out to second, senior pinch-hitter Colin Hines to watch strike three and senior Rilan Smith to strike out swinging to bring the game to a conclusion in a tidy 78 minutes.

“We’ve learned from our losses,” said Heffernan. “We struck out quite a bit in those losses. We wanted to make sure we put the ball in play. We executed things in practice and took into the game today.”

“We all know what we’re capable of,” Hobbs said. “We let everyone know that SoPo is still here. We’re a deep team. Everyone 1-through-9 can do the job. We wanted to come out and do our thing.”


“I didn’t expect this, absolutely not,” Owens added. “Cheverus is a really good team. (Connolly) is as good as it gets on the mound. We just got a little momentum going early and then we got a couple breaks, then we took advantage of errors. We got some big two-out hits. The energy we had today was unreal. We’ve faced a lot of good teams and a lot of good pitching and we’d been striking out a lot. Our goal has been to limit the strikeouts and put the ball in play. Our goal today was (striking out less than) nine (times) and we only struck out twice. We made them make plays and we found gaps.”

Heffernan was his usual dazzling self, improving to 3-1 on the season with a one-hit shutout. He walked one and struck out 10. He also drove in three runs and scored another.

“I just trusted my fielders to make plays,” said Heffernan. “My stuff felt good. I feel like I had a feel for all my pitches. I got ahead.”

“(Andrew’s) just so consistent,” Owens said. “He throws strikes. He forces you to have good at-bats. Today, he actually threw five pitches for strikes, which at the high school level, is just unheard of. He started throwing his cutter and that’s what he threw to Connolly in that first-and-third situation. That’s as good a pitch as you can throw. He doesn’t settle on what he did last year. He’s developed another pitch and added velocity. I think he threw 12 balls all day. It’s tough to beat us when we play defense and he doesn’t walk anybody.”

“(Heffernan) pitched great,” said Cheverus coach Tony DiBiase. “He’s probably one of the two or three best pitchers in the league.”

Offensively, Hobbs had himself a game, singling twice, doubling, scoring a run and driving in a pair.


Gilboy and Iacuessa both scored three runs, while Campbell, Healy, Poole and Swain all came home once.

Campbell, Iacuessa, Jackson and Poole also had RBI.

“I think what makes me the most happy is that we’ve relied a lot on the top of our order, but everybody helped out today,” said Owens.

The Red Riots left six runners on.

A rough day

Cheverus only managed one hit and two base runners.


The Stags were doomed by six errors.

Connolly took the loss, surrendering nine runs (four earned) on six hits in five innings. Connolly walked three, struck out two, threw a wild pitch and hit a batter.

“Brian was good, but you have to make plays,” said DiBiase. “One inning, we gave them six or seven outs.”

Kelly gave up three unearned runs in his inning of relief. He surrendered two hits and walked two.

“The only disappointing part about today wasn’t really the loss, but how we played,” DiBiase lamented.
“Our defense has been good all year long, but we just didn’t play well. A lot of it is our inexperience showed today. We hadn’t been in that situation before. Our defense had been our strong point all season long, but we didn’t play well defensively today. Pitching and defense has been the key. We’re still searching as to who we are as a team. When you play a quality opponent like South Portland, we have to figure that out.”

Time to peak


Cheverus hopes to bounce back Friday at Noble. After visiting Scarborough Tuesday of next week, the Stags return home next Thursday to battle Gorham.

“I told them tomorrow is another day,” DiBiase said. “We’ll just come back out and play. It’s a good group of kids. We have four or five sophomores, a couple juniors who are fitting in and the seniors who are playing, only a couple of them have experience. They’re all learning and this was a tough lesson today.”

South Portland, meanwhile, has a busy weekend, hosting Deering Friday and playing at Bonny Eagle Saturday. The Red Riots welcome Kennebunk Tuesday of next week.

“This is a big confidence booster,” said Hobbs. “We have to stay focused and keep bringing the energy to every single game.”

“I’m not positive we’re that team everyone thinks we are, not right now,” said Owens. “We might be that team in June, but we still have some holes. If we can lengthen our lineup like we did today and get more experience in the outfield, with our pitching, we have the ingredients. It’s just a question, can we do it against the top teams? We have to bring it every single day. We’re hoping to keep this momentum going.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net.

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