PORTLAND—Portland’s baseball team knows it can compete with anyone, but the Bulldogs hadn’t been able to win games for much of the season due to their inability to come up with key hits at key times.

Saturday afternoon at Hadlock Field, that changed, as Portland came through in the clutch and that, combined with a strong pitching effort from junior Lucas Milliken, led to a key late-season victory over visiting rival Cheverus.

Milliken and Stags junior starter Devin Kelly started the game with three shutout innings apiece, but in the top of the fourth, Cheverus went ahead on a bloop RBI single from junior leftfielder Matt Baker.

The score remained 1-0 into the bottom of the fifth, when the Bulldogs put runners on second and third with one out and junior second baseman Jacob Tidd came through in the clutch with a two-run single for the lead.

Portland then tacked on three more runs in the sixth, on a sacrifice fly from sophomore catcher Jacob Johnson, another Tidd RBI single and some daring baserunning.

Those runs would prove critical, as the Stags refused to go quietly in the top of the seventh, scoring twice and putting the tying runs on in scoring position, but Milliken, who was nearing the pitch count threshold, got freshman second baseman A.J. Lauture to ground out to end it and bring the curtain down on a 5-3 victory.

Advertisement

The Bulldogs snapped a seven-game skid, improved to 4-9, kept their faint playoff hopes alive and in the process, dropped Cheverus to 2-11.

“We’ve been struggling at the plate,” said Portland coach Kevin Winship. “We haven’t gotten any breaks to go our way. We’ve played pretty good baseball, but our offense has hurt us. We’d been swinging at bad pitches. Finally today, the bats broke open a little bit and we got big hits when we needed them.”

Tough times in the city

Cheverus and Portland have mostly struggled this season.

The Stags started with losses to visiting Windham (11-0, in five-innings) and at Biddeford (7-0). After a 6-0 home win over Massabesic, Cheverus handled host Westbrook (17-7, in five-innings), but then lost at home to Falmouth (19-2, in five-innings), at home to Scarborough (10-0, in six-innings), at Kennebunk (5-4) and Marshwood (8-5), at home to Sanford (12-2), at Gorham (4-3) and Thornton Academy (10-4) and at home to Noble (10-8).

As for the Bulldogs, they started with a 12-9 win at Westbrook, then fell at Marshwood (10-0, in five-innings) and Kennebunk (11-0, in five-innings). After beating visiting Noble (7-4) and Windham (5-1), Portland lost at reigning Class A champion South Portland (9-6), at Bonny Eagle (11-1, in six-innings), at Sanford (9-0), to Deering in a game played at The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach (1-0) and at home to Biddeford (9-0), Falmouth (13-1, in five-innings) and Massabesic (2-0).

Advertisement

A year ago, the host Stags beat the Bulldogs, 6-1.

Saturday, on a cloudy afternoon (57-degrees at first pitch), Portland returned the favor, even if it took awhile to get the bats going.

Cheverus’ Chris Murphy takes a swing at a pitch from Portland junior Lucas Milliken early in Saturday’s contest, which was won by the Bulldogs, 5-3. Hoffer photos.

Milliken fanned Cheverus’ leadoff hitter, senior shortstop Chris Murphy, then junior centerfielder Reis Stamaris bid for extra bases with a deep drive to left, which Bulldogs senior leftfielder Hunter Temple ran down for the second out. Kelly then doubled to right-center, but on the first pitch, senior third baseman Lucas Soutuyo grounded out to senior first baseman Elliot Kimball to end the threat.

Cheverus starter Devin Kelly delivers to Portland leadoff hitter Hunter Temple in the bottom of the first.

Kelly made quick work of Portland in the bottom half, getting Temple to line to second, Milliken to watch strike three and senior centerfielder Reegan Buck to line out softly to shortstop.

After Lauture popped out to first on the first pitch of the top of the second, sophomore designated hitter Matthew Reed beat out an infield single to third, but he was thrown out trying to steal by Johnson. Sophomore first baseman Ethan Tucker then popped out to third to retire the side.

In the bottom half, junior designated hitter Connor Daniels drew a walk leading off, but Kelly caught junior third baseman Brody Viola looking at strike three before fanning both senior shortstop Cam Allen and Johnson.

Advertisement

Cheverus had a great opportunity to take the lead in the top of the third, but it left three runners on base.

After Baker flew out to deep center leading off, sophomore catcher Liam Kalakowsky drew a walk and Milliken plunked Murphy with a 1-2 pitch. After Stamaris watched strike three, Kelly walked on four pitches to load the bases, but Soutuyo popped out to short to keep the game scoreless.

Kelly continued to hold Portland at bay in the bottom half, getting Tidd to ground out to second on the first pitch, then inducing a short-to-first ground out off the bat of sophomore rightfielder Joseph Mancini before getting Temple to line out to shortstop.

The Stags then went ahead in the top of the fourth.

Lauture grounded out to short leading off, but Milliken hit Reed with a pitch and moved him to second with a wild pitch. After Tucker grounded to third, where Viola stayed with the play after initially bobbling the ball, Baker came through by blooping a single into center to bring home the run. Baker took second on the throw home, but he’d be stranded there, as Kalakowsky grounded out to second to keep the score 1-0.

Kelly preserved the lead in the bottom half, as he got Milliken to fly to right and after Buck walked and stole second, Kelly picked him off before getting Daniels to ground out to first.

Advertisement

Milliken had his most efficient inning in the top of the fifth, as he got Murphy to line out to left, Stamaris to pop out to third and Kelly to fly to right on the first pitch of his at-bat.

The Bulldogs then rediscovered their offense in the bottom half and went ahead to stay.

Viola was hit by a pitch leading off, then he stole second. Allen was next and singled to left, putting runners at the corners. Allen then stole second, but with the infield playing in, Johnson’s ground out to short resulted in Viola being thrown out at the plate with Allen taking third and Johnson reaching at first. Making matters worse for Portland, Viola was ejected for running into Kalakowsky on the play. Johnson then stole second and Tidd came up huge, grounding a single up the middle to score both runners and Tidd alertly went to second on the throw home.

“I made good contact with the ball all day,” said Tidd. “I elevated it and found some holes. It was a clutch play for the team. I was just looking for a good pitch to hit.”

“It’s awesome to see some offense because I can pound the zone with a lead,” said Milliken.

Mancini drew a walk, but Temple watched strike three. Milliken then looked to add to the lead with a single to center, but Stamaris threw out Tidd at the plate, ending the frame with Portland on top, 2-1.

Advertisement

Cheverus catcher Liam Kalakowsky tags out Portland’s Jacob Tidd at the plate to end the bottom of the fifth inning.

Milliken preserved the slim lead in the top of the sixth, getting Soutuyo to pop out to short, Lauture to ground out back to the mound and Reed to bounce out to second.

The Bulldogs then tacked on three critical insurance runs in the bottom half.

Buck, who just missed extra bases with a deep drive down the leftfield line which hooked foul, singled up the middle leading off, then stole second. He’d take third on a single to right by Daniels and that ended Kelly’s outing, as he was replaced by junior Liam Backman.

Kimball came on to run for Daniels and he stole second. Sophomore Lucas LeGage came on to replace Viola and he grounded out to third, with the runners holding, but Allen was walked intentionally to load the bases. Johnson then came through with a sacrifice fly to center, scoring a sliding Buck.

Portland’s Reegan Buck slides home with a key sixth inning run.

That set the stage for Tidd to come up big again, singling to center to score Kimball and when Tidd took off for second, the throw allowed Allen to race home as well.

“Tidd came up huge today,” Winship said. “He’s been in and out of the lineup. He was in today and took advantage of it and got some big hits and ran the bases well.”

Advertisement

Lauture came on to pitch and he struck out Mancini on an off-speed pitch, but the damage was done and Portland had a seemingly comfortable 5-1 advantage heading to the bottom of the seventh.

But there, Cheverus refused to roll over.

Senior Max Cassidy pinch-hit leading off and he drove the first pitch deep to left, but it was caught for the first out. Baker then singled to center, freshman pinch-hitter Grady Hughes singled to left and Murphy hit a grounder to the right side that took a crazy bounce into rightfield for a single to score Baker, putting runners at the corners. When Stamaris drew a walk, the tying run was on base. Milliken got Kelly to ground out third-to-second, scoring Hughes and putting runners at the corners. After Kelly stole second, Soutuyo was intentionally walked to load the bases. That brought up Lauture with a chance to play the hero, but Milliken got him to ground sharply to Kimball at first, who collected the ball, tagged the bag and recorded the out which made the Bulldogs’ 5-3 victory official.

“It felt amazing,” said Milliken. “We needed it because it’s been a long season.”

Milliken threw a complete game to earn the victory. He allowed three runs on six hits in seven innings, walking four and striking out a pair. He finished with 99 pitches thrown.

“I knew I had to finish it because we needed this one,” Milliken said. “I was almost out of pitches, but I was really determined to finish the game. I hadn’t pitched in awhile and my arm felt good and I knew the guys needed the win. My curveball and change-up were really good. I was mixing it up.”

Advertisement

“I saw what I see every time from Lucas, consistency,” Tidd said. “He pounded the zone.”

“Lucas pitched great today,” added Winship. “His change-up kept them off-balance. Cheverus had 13 hits the last game and 11 the game before that and he held them to six. We were going with Lucas all the way. Our bullpen isn’t the deepest. We were looking at the pitch count, but he was going to finish if he could.”

Offensively, Tidd had two hits and three RBI.

Allen scored two runs, while Buck, Johnson and Kimball also touched home plate.

Johnson also drove in a run.

Portland stole seven bases and only left four runners on.

Advertisement

Cheverus, which lost its ninth game in a row, got two hits, a run scored and an RBI from Baker.

Hughes and Reed also scored, while Kelly and Murphy each drove in one run.

The Stags stranded eight baserunners.

Kelly took the loss, giving up four earned runs on five hits in five-plus innings. He walked three and fanned five.

Backman gave up one run on one hit in 0.2 innings of relief. He walked one.

Lauture struck out the lone batter he faced.

Advertisement

“This game was a microcosm of the whole season,” lamented Cheverus coach Tony DiBiase. “We play well a lot of innings, then we have one bad one. We’ve played well against good teams and one inning, we always fall apart.

“I’ve been really happy for the most part with how competitive we’ve been. I knew coming into the year it was going to be tough unless certain things went our way.”

Still holding out hope

Cheverus (ranked 16th in the Class A South Heal Points standings, where just 12 teams qualify for the postseason) is at South Portland Tuesday, hosts Bonny Eagle Thursday, then finishes the season at home Saturday of next week versus Deering.

“We have a lot of inexperienced players,” DiBiase said. “A lot of sophomores and some freshmen. They’re learning the hard way. They’ve had a great attitude all year. They just have to get bigger and stronger.”

Portland (15th in Class A South) goes to Gorham Monday, then hosts Scarborough next Saturday and closes at home versus Thornton Academy May 28.

Advertisement

If the Bulldogs can get some key victories down the stretch, the playoffs are still within the realm of possibility.

“We’re hoping to get two or three more (wins),” said Milliken. “We still have a chance.”

“Today’s win brings us energy and we’ll put that into our next games,” Tidd said.

“The kids are playing hard and they’re battling,” Winship added. “There’s still an outside chance we could get in. We have tough opponents to finish up, but if we can win a couple of those games, you never know. We’re playing better baseball now.”

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

Comments are not available on this story.