When South Portland’s baseball team finally broke through and won the Class A title in dramatic fashion in 2021 on a walk-off bases on balls, it was the program’s first championship in nearly seven decades.

The next one came much faster.

After a wait of just 731 days.

Tuesday afternoon at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham, the Red Riots, led, of course, by their storied senior class, punctuated yet another unforgettable season with a state game victory over Cinderella Edward Little, bringing to a close arguably the most triumphant era in program history.

Living up to billing

After falling to eventual champion Thornton Academy in the regional final last spring, the Red Riots were one of the favorites in Class A South this season and didn’t disappoint, going 13-3 in the regular season, with two losses coming in extra innings and another by a run to eventual top-seed Falmouth (see sidebar for links to previous stories).


As the No. 2 seed in Class A South, South Portland eliminated No. 10 Kennebunk (8-0) in the quarterfinals, ousted No. 6 Marshwood (4-1) in the semifinals, then rallied to beat No. 4 Thornton Academy and get some revenge in last Wednesday’s regional final, 4-2, at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham.

Red Riots senior ace Andrew Heffernan held the Golden Trojans scoreless for five innings, but they broke through for two runs in the top of the sixth to put South Portland on the ropes. The Red Riots responded with four runs in the bottom half, as senior first baseman Nolan Hobbs doubled in senior third baseman Richie Gilboy, two runs scored on a throwing error and the last came home on a ground out.

“We had two options, we could either give up there and feel bad for ourselves, or we could keep fighting and give it all we’ve got and that’s what we did,” Heffernan said. “These boys had my back today and it was great to see and it was a lot of fun.”

“We had the meat of our order coming up and I thought that might be our last shot,” said South Portland coach Mike Owens. “That was a relief.”

Heffernan worked out of a jam in the seventh and the Red Riots were able to advance.

South Portland then took on Edward Little, the No. 8 seed from Class A North, in the state final at USM.


The Red Eddies had shocked top-ranked Brewer (4-3) in the quarterfinals, downed No. 4 Messalonskee (6-3) in the semifinals, then defeated No. 7 Bangor (10-6) to advance.

The teams had split two prior playoff meetings, with the Red Eddies prevailing, 5-4, in the 1989 Western A semifinals and the Red Riots winning, 2-0, in the 1991 Western A preliminary round.

South Portland entered with all-time record of 4-2 in the final game, while Edward Little was 3-2 (see sidebar).

The contest was scheduled for Saturday, but was postponed to Tuesday due to rain. That allowed Heffernan, Maine’s Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year, to return to the mound and he dazzled, leading the Red Riots to the promised land for the fifth time in program history, with some help from Hobbs and other booming bats.

Heffernan started the game by getting Red Eddies senior rightfielder Campbell Cassidy to to ground out to short, then inducing junior centerfielder Eli St. Laurent to do the same. Senior first baseman Brady Vincent followed with a single to left, but Heffernan got sophomore shortstop TJ Kramarz to bounce out to third to retire the side.

While Heffernan was on top of his game, Edward Little junior Drew Smith was every bit his equal early, as he fanned senior shortstop Johnny Poole, Heffernan and Gilboy to set a quick tone.


In the top of the second, Heffernan fanned Smith, his opposite number, then got junior second baseman Kade Masselli to ground out to second and senior designated hitter Gage Ducharme to pop foul to Hobbs at first.

South Portland went quietly again in the bottom half, as Hobbs flew out to center, senior catcher Nick Swain popped out to first and freshman rightfielder Hudson Iacuessa chased strike three.

In the top of the third, senior catcher Brody Keefe grounded out to second, but Heffernan plunked senior leftfielder Caleb Albert with a pitch. He quickly atoned by fanning Cassidy and after Albert stole second, St. Laurent as well to keep the game scoreless.

In the bottom half, sophomore second baseman Easton Healy watched strike three, junior designated hitter Curtis Metcalf flew out to center, then senior centerfielder Jaelen Jackson struck out swinging, meaning Smith had retired the first nine batters he faced.

Vincent started the top of the fourth with a single to left and Kramarz sacrificed sophomore courtesy runner Joey Samson to second, but he’d be stranded as Hefferenan fanned Smith, then got Masselli to ground out to second.

The Red Riots took the lead for good in the bottom of the inning.


After Poole popped out to second, Heffernan doubled to center. Gilboy was walked intentionally and Hobbs came up with his first clutch RBI hit of the day, a booming double to left-center to score Heffernan. Swain was then walked intentionally to load the bases, but Smith escaped further damage by fanning Iaucessa and getting Healy to ground out to the second, keeping the score 1-0.

Heffernan did his job in the top of the fifth, setting Edward Little down in order, getting Ducharme to ground out to second, Keefe to pop out foul to Hobbs and Albert to chase strike three.

South Portland then broke the game open in the bottom half.

Metcalf struck out swinging to start the frame, but Jackson drew a walk on a full-count pitch to get things started.

Cassidy came on to replace Smith and with Poole at the plate, Jackson stole second, then he moved on to third as well.

After Poole drew a walk on a full-count pitch, he stole second and Heffernan was subsequently walked intentionally to load the bases.


That brought up Gilboy, who flew out to right, but on the play, Jackson came home with the second run, with the other runners moving up to second and third.

Jackson, better known as the school’s quarterback, who led the Red Riots to the regional final last fall, and a basketball standout, who played an integral role on back-to-back Class AA state champions, played baseball this spring for the first time in high school and came up big when it mattered most.

“Jaelen had an outstanding at-bat,” said Owens. “I give him a lot of credit for his hard work this year. He had to work hard because he was so far behind. He literally had to learn the game and he came up big at the end.”

With first base open, many expected Edward Little coach Dave Jordan to walk Hobbs, but instead, he had Cassidy pitch to him and on an 0-2 pitch Hobbs made him pay, lining a single to left-center to score both Poole and Heffernan for a 4-0 lead.

“When I saw first base open I thought they might walk me,” said Hobbs. “They didn’t and I kind of took that as a little disrespectful. All right, you’re not going to walk me? OK, I’ll show you what I can do. I was just ready to hit the ball hard.”

“The message in the dugout was just stick with the plan,” said Owens. “Make sure we had quality at-bats and we weren’t chasing.”


After Swain singled to right to move Hobbs to third, Iaucessa then delivered the final run with an RBI single to left. Healy struck out looking, but South Portland was firmly in control, up, 5-0.

Heffernan made quick work of the Red Eddies in the top of the sixth, getting Cassidy to fly out to center, St. Laurent to bounce out to Poole and Samson to chase strike three.

The Red Riots weren’t able to add to their lead in the bottom half, as Metcalf flew out to center and after Jackson singled and Poole flew out to left, Jackson stole second, but was thrown out trying to steal third.

Heffernan slammed the door in the top of the seventh, getting Kramarz to ground out to second and after Smith singled to center, getting Masselli to ground out to first (with the pitcher covering) before fanning Ducharme to set off a championship celebration.

“It was a really special group of guys,” Heffernan said. ” We had a lot of seniors, so it was really nice ending it off this way.”

“It’s what you dream of,” Hobbs said. “This whole group, we’ve been through so much and it’s how you dream of going out at the end.”


“It’s a little different feeling this time, but I’m really, really happy,” Owens added. “It was a long time coming (in 2021). This time, I feel a lot of joy for the seniors. They worked so hard. They’re such great kids. I got compliments on them all the time from umpires, fans, opposing teams. It’s a great way for them to go out.

“We didn’t take anyone lightly. We didn’t know much about Edward Little and we didn’t exactly pound the ball this year. We relied on our pitching and defense.”

Hobbs had himself a day, singling, doubling, scoring once and driving in three runs.

Heffernan scored twice, while Jackson and Poole also touched home plate.

Gilboy and Iaucessa added RBI.

The Red Riots stranded five baserunners.


Heffernan, who will pitch next year at Merrimack College in Andover, Massachusetts, completed his sensational high school career with a complete game, three-hit shutout. He walked none and struck out seven.

“I felt really good,” said Heffernan. “The boys had my back behind me all day and I felt really good.”

“It was nice to have Andrew available,” said Owens. “(Pitching coach) Jason Cooke and I talked before the game that he seemed to be tiring at the end of the season, but while we had a lot of confidence in Nolan and Nick, at the end of the day, Andrew’s the Gatorade Player of the Year and he got us here.

“He threw harder then he had all season and his breaking stuff was excellent. He saved his best for last. He never gave up more than two runs all season, so once we got five, we felt pretty good.”

Edward Little got two hits from Vincent and left four runners on.

Smith took the loss, giving up two earned runs on two hits in 4.1 innings. He walked three and fanned eight.


He impressed the Red Riots in the process.

“Their pitcher is legit,” Heffernan said. “He was really throwing hard and the first at-bat, he got me, but the second time through I knew I had to make an adjustment and I got things going. I looked for a fastball and I felt really good.”

“I thought Drew (Smith) came out and threw really hard,” Owens said. “He was throwing a lot of strikes in that outer half and kind of dominated us a little bit. But you could hear the communication in the dugout, talking how we are going to continue to approach him and the at-bats got a little bit better as the game went on. He’s awfully tough and he pitched well, too, but we didn’t have a ton of hits.”

Cassidy surrendered three runs on four hits in 1.2 innings of relief, walking two and striking out one.

“We never felt like we were an eight seed,” Jordan said. “I felt like we gave it all we had today. We just ran into a team that was better.”

Turning the page


South Portland’s senior class was part of a dominant school year for male athletes, a year which saw the Red Riots also win a state title in basketball, finish state runners-up in hockey and lacrosse, reach the regional final in football and produce a strong soccer team as well.

Gilboy, Heffernan, Hobbs and Poole were highly acclaimed even before reaching high school, taking part on a Little League squad that nearly made it to the World Series. They more than lived up to advance billing.

“This group definitely exceeded my expectations, which isn’t easy in a single-elimination format,” said Owens. “You need breaks, luck and you have to execute when it matters. Their pedigree was there and they’ve played in so many big games in Little League and Babe Ruth ball that when I might have been second guessing things against TA, they still believed we had a chance. They won a lot of games. It was such a great climate to be a part of. They pushed each other. It was a lot of fun.”

Graduation will certainly take a hefty toll, but anyone expecting South Portland to tumble out of contention, will be sorely disappointed in 2024.

The Red Riots might not be the favorites next season, but don’t be surprised if they play deep into June again.

“It’ll be different, but we have some arms and South Portland baseball is built on that,” said Owens. “(Sophomore) Kason Lewis is (former Red Riots pitcher and current University of Maine Black Bear) Noah Lewis’ younger brother and he’ll be very good and Hudson will be our next big thing. We’ll just have to find some other pieces. I don’t think we’ll be the favorites at the start, but we’ll find a way to stay strong.”

Press Herald staff writer Steve Craig and Sun Journal staff writer Tony Blasi contributed to this story.

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

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