Baseball: Gorham slides past TA, Portland, Cheverus – and into the State Final

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GORHAM and STANDISH—The Rams triumphed 3-1 over visiting Thornton Academy on Thursday afternoon, June 7: Nolan Brown smashed a two-RBI double in the bottom of the first to secure the majority of Gorham’s offense on the day and propel the team forward in the bracketing.

Two days later, on Saturday the 9th, the Rams faced a still-tougher challenge in Portland. Will Prescott kicked in a two-RBI double in Gorham’s four-run third to provide the Rams the last lead they would need; they prevailed 9-6 in the end and advanced beyond the semis.

Come Tuesday, the Rams’ exhilarating playoff run continued, when they bested Cheverus 3-2 in the A South Regional Final, held at St. Joe’s. Lucas Roop smacked that game’s critical two-RBI double in the bottom of the third.

No. 2 Gorham vs. No. 7 TA
In Thursday’s quarterfinal, the Rams turned in all three of their runs against the Trojans in the early part of the game. Kyle King singled to reach base in the bottom of the first, and Brogan McDonald and Lucas Roop walked behind him for bases loaded. That’s when Brown stepped to the plate and blasted his double, bringing King and McDonald home again.

In the bottom of the third, King walked; he reached second on a wild pitch during McDonald’s at-bat, third when McDonald singled and home on a fielder’s choice to catch McDonald en route to second after Roop connected.

Up 3-0, the Rams needed to hold on, and hold on they did: The team played excellent defense against TA, starter Ryan Norris striking out three Trojans and luring many more into routine groundouts and flyouts. Norris gave up just two hits (singles in the second and sixth) while reliever Joey Curesky gave up a third. Norris walked only one; that player – Chris Balzano – did eventually score, but the run proved too little, too late. To plop a cherry on their sundae, Gorham ended the game on a double-play.

“Nolan Brown had a huge, two-run single in the first inning that really got us off to a lead, and then we just held on,” Nadeau said. “We were really good defensively.”

Nadeau remarked on his pitchers’ work: “The story of the game was Ryan Norris, bouncing back from a tough outing against Portland in the SMAA tournament,” Nadeau said. “He really took control of the game and pounded the strike zone. At the end, we had Joey Curesky come in and get us three big outs to finish it off.”

The win bumped Gorham to 13-4 on the spring. When the Rams and the Trojans locked horns during the regular season – back on May 12 – the former also emerged the victors, 5-3.

No. 2 Gorham vs. No. 3 Portland
The Rams and the Bulldogs took turns on top during Saturday’s semifinal. Portland hashed two to begin the outing: leadoff hitter Ben Stasium reached first on an uncharacteristic error, a bobble, by Gorham shortstop Ben Nelson. Stasium moved to second on a Will Barnard sac bunt and third on a Will Snyder single; Cam King then stepped into the box and knocked single to deep center, scoring both Stasium and Snyder.

“It was exciting,” Nadeau said of the battle. “It was a high-school playoff game: There was definitely some nerves with the kids…It was not a typical Portland-Gorham game, but we’re certainly glad to be coming out on top of it.”

Notably, Nelson’s error put him in good company: It was, after all, just the first error of many – by both teams – in the game. In the end, the Bulldogs simply committed a few more, thus handing the Rams too many opportunities. Indeed, Portland’s seven errors cost them six unearned runs. For their part, Gorham logged three snafus.

“Both of our teams, Portland and Gorham, have been so good defensively,” Nadeau said, asked about the sides’ torrent of errors. “It’s been a strength of ours. And eventually, you’re going to have games that get away from you a little bit. And that’s just because they’re high-school kids and this is a big moment. Ultimately, we were able to take advantage of some of the mistakes they made just a little bit more than they were, on our mistakes.”

“It was weird,” Nelson said of the early and middle innings, and in particular the spat of errors on both sides. “Because they came out and scored two in the first inning, then we scored three, and they came back – it was back and forth each inning. We just had to keep grinding through it. Just getting the ball on the ground, and making them make plays; they did the same for a little bit, but I think we got the better end of that.”

The Rams parried the Bulldogs’ opening push with three runs in the bottom of the first. Portland starter Jackson Villani walloped Kyle King with an early pitch to deliver him a (mostly, except for that bruise) free base. King scooted to second when McDonald singled behind him, and both boys advanced 90 feet when Villani walked Roop. King raced home on a Brown single to right, a shot that shuttled McDonald to third. Brown stole second during Trevor Loubier’s at-bat, and McDonald and Brown both crossed the plate when Loubier eventually belted a choppy grounder past Snyder, the Bulldogs’ man at third.

The second proved quiet for both teams, but both teams picked up more offense in the third. Each side owed much of their good fortune to the other, though, as this is where pressure of the situation evidently started to mount, to get inside the boys’ heads and screw with their decision-making. Errors upon errors ensued.

Gorham starter Jake Sladen walked Snyder to start the stretch – a benign enough development; walks happen. But Cam King followed Snyder to the plate and promptly launched a double deep to center. Now the Bulldogs, with men at second and third, slobbered hungrily after the lead.

Sladen gave it to them: In an attempt to yank Snyder back to the bag, Sladen lobbed the ball toward Kyle King, the Rams’ third baseman. Sladen lobbed it a bit high, though, and King seemed caught off-guard anyway, because it sailed past him, allowing both Snyder and Cam King to round to home.

After the wild pick-off try, Sladen refocused admirably, retiring the next eight batters. “I was really proud of Jake,” Nadeau said. “It was a mistake. These types of games can create those types of mistakes; they’re big moments for kids, it’s a new experience for a lot of kids…Quite honestly, he looked more competitive and confident after that moment than he did before.”

Despite having seized the lead, and the momentum, the Bulldogs turned around in the bottom of third and committed their own batch of flubs. Kyle King reached on an error, then jumped to second when McDonald singled. A second error allowed King to score and McDonald to gain third and Brown first; a third error – Loubier skied an infield fly, and Snyder and Villani converged inward, only for neither of them to lay claim to the catch in time – loaded the bases.

McDonald, Brown and Loubier each advanced 90 feet – McDonald scored – when Trevor Gray sacrificed, and Brown and Loubier crossed the plate on Prescott’s big double. 7-4.

It was the last lead change of the afternoon, though both sides did accrue further runs. The Bulldogs grabbed two more in the top of the sixth: Sladen walked Cam King; Sawyer bumped King forward, grounding toward second and reaching first on an error; Curesky took over for Sladen, but hurled a wild pitch that allowed King and Cam Brooks (pinch-running for Sawyer) to advance. Soon enough, Max Brown singled to score King, and soon after that, Curesky gave up a trio more walks to push Brooks across the plate too. 7-6.

It clearly wasn’t Curesky’s day to relieve, and Nelson took over for him. Nelson lured Donnie Tocci into a groundout to second to end the inning.

“It was very tense,” Nelson said of the feeling on the diamond as the game neared its conclusion. “Coming on the mound in that situation it’s a lot of pressure. Bases loaded, a couple walks before I came in. I knew I had a great defense behind me, with Will Prescott coming in to short – he always makes great plays.”

“I just wanted to come in, throw strikes, really,” Nelson said. “Didn’t want to walk anybody else. Got a ground ball there, and took us out of the inning, then came back in the seventh. Knew it was the middle of the order, toughest part of their order – a lot of great hitters. The defense behind me did what they did, and we got the win.”

Finally, Gorham piled on a pair of insurance notches in the bottom of the sixth. Prescott struck out swinging and Gray popped out to short, but then Nelson blasted a ball back at the Portland pitcher; King, the Bulldogs’ catcher, raced forward, snatch the ball from the grass and whipped it to first, but Nelson beat the throw – he beat the throw according to the umpire, that is. Numerous Bulldogs, including head coach Mike Rutherford, vocally expressed their thorough dissatisfaction with the call.

Controversial or not, that one moment clearly wasn’t what cost Portland the game. After all, the Bulldogs followed Nelson’s single with multiple further errors. Morevoer, Gorham continued to make great contact: King RBI-singled to right-center to score Nelson, and Roop RBI-singled to right to score King. 9-7.

Nadeau commented on the call: “I think there are calls in any game where you can look back and wish they were called a different way, and I think that goes for both sides. But I think the umpires have done a great job, and it certainly wasn’t the factor today. The factor today was kids coming up and being able to do something special…Both sides were giving the other team opportunities and we just were able to take advantage of a couple more than they were.”

Nadeau took a moment to pat a few of his players on the back, beginning with Nelson. “Obviously, I love Ben Nelson coming in to close it out as a pitcher. Ben’s such a good shortstop, and we’d hate to use him on the mound. It changes our defense a lot. But when things get difficult for us, I’m happy to send Ben out there; win it or lose it with Ben, I can walk away feeling good.”

“It’s a great win for our program,” Nadeau said. “But it’s really about this group of kids…We knew it would be a tough tournament, but to advance past a team like Portland, such a rich history – we knew they’d be competitive. Well-coached, tough kids. We were in this game last year and we came up a little short. To be able to get this one done, it shows a lot of growth in these kids. They’ve done such a good job for us. I’m really proud of what they did today.”

No. 2 Gorham vs. No. 4 Cheverus
“It was a tight game,” Nadeau said of the Cheverus bout. “And we knew it would be. They haven’t lost in a long time, and it’s because they pitch well, they defend well, and they get timely hits – a little bit like us. To get a lead, a two-run lead – to get out front in this game was big. But, as they proved, it wasn’t safe, and we had to play right to the finish to get it done.”

Norris started on the mound for the Rams. Despite it being the single biggest game of his high-school career, he reported feeling reasonably calm: “I try to feel collected as much as I can,” he said. “When I’m on the mound, I feel like I’m in the zone. I try not to focus on what the other dugout is saying, or even our dugout. I just try to hit my spots.”

The first two innings passed scorelessly; finally, in the third, Gorham broke the ice. Prescott led off – but grounded out; Drew, on the other hand, reached on a single. Nelson walked behind him, and King singled for bases loaded.

McDonald then popped up – an infield fly the Stags’ catcher, Griffin Watson, managed to get his hooves on. Two outs. Cheverus was nearly out of danger, but nearly wouldn’t cut it: Roop belted his biggest hit of the postseason thus far – perhaps of his entire season. The double zipped wide into left and Drew and Nelson both zipped home. 2-0.

“Lucas had a big, two-out double,” Nadeau said. “We had a bases-loaded, two-out double down the left field line. He got an inside fastball, saw it really good, got the fat of the bat on it. Laced it down the leftfield line. It was a well-struck ball.”

“I knew that was going to be an important hit,” Roop said, asked about his gamechanging moment. “To get one early, it set the momentum for us.”

“I think the count was 1-1, and he threw me two curveballs,” Roop said. “And then he threw me a fastball inside; I’ve kind of been struggling with the inside ones, for some reason, catching them off the handle, but that, I got my hands ready and just drove it out to left. It was nice, it was good.”

Gorham added an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth. McDonald walked to kick things off, but then Roop flied out to center and Brown popped out to first. The inning looked destined for the dustbin until Loubier salvaged it in style, volleying a shot deep into center. No, the ball didn’t quite reach escape velocity – but it did smash into yonder wall, giving McDonald the time he needed to dash of first, then tag second, third and home again. 3-0.

For his part, Loubier stopped at second. Stags’ starter Conner MacDonald next hit Gray with a pitch, feeding the Rams’ hunger. MacDonald gave up the mound, then, Justin Ray replacing him; Ray quickly hashed the third out.

Cheverus riposted in the top of the sixth, picking up two. Watson singled on a choppy grounder toward third; King fielded the play adeptly, his throw merely reached Gray, at first, a hair too late. Norris then hit Cam Dube with a pitch, putting two men on. Ray brought Watson home and shuffled Dube over to second with a bouncy single past Nelson, at short, but Dube momentarily – when Maxx St. John grounded toward the mound and Norris grabbed the ball and flipped it to King – found himself caught out on a fielder’s choice.

Jack Mullen stepped in to pinch run for St. John, but Nelson to Prescott caught him out at second on another fielder’s choice, this one following Ryan Breece contact. That play, however, bumped Ray to third; soon, Hayden O’Donnell reeled Ray in with a line-drive single past Prescott at second.

“A little bit,” Norris said, asked if he’d begun to feel a little fatigued by the sixth. “But I was feeling a little tight before the game anyway. I should be all good, though.”

Those would prove the Stags’ only two runs of the evening, however. Though Cheverus managed to keep Gorham from rounding any men in the bottom of the sixth, they themselves could not round any in the top of the seventh. The night concluded on a groundout, a Tanner LaFlamme shot to Nelson, who slickly whipped the ball over to Gray and thus secured the W.

Happily, the Rams turned in a very clean game. They overcame, that is, whatever mental missteps led them to err several times in the Portland contest. In fact, neither side committed any errors. “When you look at the way both of these teams played, it was a well-played baseball game,” Nadeau said. “Kids made plays, kids threw strikes, there were timely hits and pressure situations where kids had to make big plays and respond for their team. This game had a little bit of everything – except for the mistake. It was a fun game to watch.”

“My defense, it’s the best around,” Norris said. “We’ve gotten better and better as the season’s went on, and they’ve helped me out every game. I’m just trying to hit my spots, throw strikes, do what I can do to get us out of jams like we were in. Stuff like that.”

“Pitching was a huge factor for us,” Roop said, asked about Gorham’s defensive efforts. (Roop plays leftfield.) “Norris is awesome on the mound. He’s got a lot of guts. Games like this are when he really comes out, throws a really good game.”

Gorham has penetrated deeply into the playoffs in each of the last few years, but they haven’t earned a States berth since 2005, when they were members of Class B. “You know, we’ve had a good run, the past three, four years, and it seems like every year we get a step closer,” Nadeau said. “This year, we got it done in the semifinal, and then to come here in the Regional Final and get a big win over a good team – very satisfying. I’m really happy for these kids. This group of seniors has been that core group that’s had those good runs.”

The Rams will face Bangor (who, unfortunately for all the sportswriters out there, are also called the Rams) for the State crown on Saturday, June 16. Game time: 1 p.m. Bangor has claimed the past four titles.

In a juicy development, Nadeau has quite the history with Bangor. “Well, I’m from Bangor; I played for Bangor,” he said. “This is going to be a ton of fun for me. I’ve always hoped I’d maybe get this opportunity. And the really interesting part about the game is, their coach, David Morse, was my catcher when I was in high school. So this is going to be really fun for me.”

“They’re incredibly well-coached, they always athletic kids, they compete really well,” Nadeau said, asked if he had any intel on Bangor. “They will be every bit the opponent. They’re just going to be a tough match. But we don’t tend to think about what the other guy’s going to do; it’s really about how we play and what we do. But for me, personally, it’s a ton of fun to get to match up against Bangor and try to stop that streak.”

“It would be nice to end that,” Roop said of Bangor’s reign. “We’re mostly all seniors; we’ve got a lot of experience. We’re just going to go out there and try and be competitive and just have fun, honestly. We’ve got nothing to lose; we’ve got to go out there and play our hearts out.”

Adam Birt can be reached at abirt@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME.

Ryan Norris hurls a pitch toward home in Gorham’s Regional Final victory.

David Drew watches a ball sail past during the Cheverus matchup.

Ben Nelson dives back to first during the Rams’ bout with the Stags.

Gorhamite Nolan Brown reels in an fly ball; teammate Lucas Roop backs him up.

Brogan McDonald rounds third on his way home, the Rams’ third run in their 3-2 victory over the Stags.

The Rams infield confers at the outset of an inning.

Rams first baseman Trevor Gray leans out to reel in a pick-off attempt.

Ryan Norris preps to unleash a pitch for the Rams; in the background, a Stags runner leads off first.

Kyle King (left), Ryan Norris (right) and Will Prescott (rear) celebrate directly after the Rams’ win in the Regional Final.

The Rams captains – Brogan McDonald in the lead, bearing the team’s shiny new Regional Champions plaque – rush happily back to their teammates.

The Rams – including Ben Nelson (left), Brogan McDonald (center) and Kyle King (right) – celebrate rowdily after triumphing over the Stags on Tuesday night. McDonald holds the team’s new Regional Champions plaque.

The Rams watch the action in their bout vs. TA.

David Drew dives back to first for Gorham in the TA matchup.

Ben Nelson arrives happily at home in the Rams win over Portland.

Kyle King leads off third in the Rams’ in over TA.

Lucas Roop makes for home in the Rams’ quarterfinals victory vs. the Trojans.

Brogan McDonald is reliable behind the for Gorham.

Will Prescott backhands a groundball at second for the Rams.

Ben Nelson unwinds into a throw from short during the TA game.

Kyle King hurls a fielded grounder from third toward first in the Portland contest.

Brogan McDonald takes a cut at the ball vs. the Bulldogs.

Ben Nelson grabs an infield fly vs. Portland.

Will Prescott throws, second to first, in the Rams’ win over Portland.

Ram Nolan Brown slides for second, well ahead of the throw.

Gorhamite David Drew gets under a fly ball in the Portland matchup.

Gorham poses as a team with their new hardware following their Regional Final win over Cheverus.

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