MIDDLETOWN >> If the members of the Portland High School baseball team had any doubts that Bill Pomfret Stadium at Palmer Field was going to turn into Dyer Field West on Saturday, John Guidice certainly made sure to remind them.
Guidice played on the Highlanders only state championship team in 1988 and Portland coach Rick Borg invited him speak to his troops before their Class S title bout against Thomaston.
“He did a great job,” said Borg. “He said this is practically a home game for you. The kids were saying the things that he said in the dugout during the course of the game, like ‘let’s defend our home turf.’ So that was a key thing too.”
It wasn’t as if the Highlanders needed any more motivation. Their run through this Class S tournament, which included stirring wins over No. 1 seed East Hampton and the FCIAC’s Trinity Catholic in the semifinals, was already a memorable accomplishment.
But they still took Giudice’s words to heart.
“He just told us that we did the job to get here, now you’ve got to do the job to finish it,” said Portland senior Kevin Adamsons. “We weren’t supposed to be here. We were 11-9 and a number 17 seed. They weren’t supposed to be there in ‘88, we weren’t supposed to be here now. He said just close it out.”
Portland grabbed a 4-0 lead in the first inning and never looked back, blanking Thomaston, 8-0, behind a dominating one-hitter from senior pitcher Jason Staub and a 12-hit offensive parade led by Adamsons, who went 3-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI.
“That first inning was just huge for us,” said Adamsons. “It was a real momentum swing. It was the liveliest we’ve been the whole tournament. I think that’s what really fueled us. We stayed up and we had nothing to get down about. We made a few errors but we shook it off, we had the lead. We just rolled on from there.”
Adamsons is headed to Providence College in the fall to study biology so this was his final game. Like John Elway, he’s retiring after winning a championship.
“A great way to end my career,” said Adamsons. “It’s unbelievable…going from 2-18 our freshman year to our senior class turning it around.”
Staub, who will continue his playing career with Team Connecticut this summer and then at Eastern Connecticut State University, proved to be one of Portland’s all-time big game pitchers. Staub also shut down Coventry and Old Lyme in this tournament, and, combined with last year’s tourney win over Housatonic, he’s a perfect 4-0 in states while allowing just one run.
“I like pitching the big games,” said Staub. “I like the attention on us. It’s fun.”
Portland, which outscored its five tourney opponents 22-2, had another ace in junior Cole Ogorzalek, who was sensational against East Hampton in the second round and Trinity Catholic in the semifinals.
“You can get through this tournament with one hot pitcher and we had two,” said Adamsons. “They’ve been lights out the whole tournament. They’re really the reason we’re here.”
Besides pitching and defense, the Highlanders had some divine intervention as well. Portland icon and legendary coach Gene Reilly passed away at the beginning of the season. Reilly had received a Highlanders team hat about a week before he died.
“I’m sure he’s watching us right now, making some signs, calling some signals,” said Borg, who was Reilly’s assistant on the ‘88 team. “So we had a lot things going in our favor, mostly eight senior players that didn’t want to be denied.”
Hayden Manning, Mike Bordonaro, John Muskatallo, Josh Scovill, Jacob Strong, Tyler Violissi, Kevin Adamsons and Jason Staub.
From 2-18 to State Champions.
“It’s unreal,” said Staub. “We got a pep talk from Mr. Guidice. He told us to relax and have fun and to play our hearts out.”
Berkshire League champion Thomaston didn’t stand a chance on Saturday at Dyer Field West.
“It’ll take a while for it to sink in,” said Borg. “To see a team play like this…it was exciting and something that we’ll never forget.”