MIDDLETOWN >> Portland sure picked a good time to be playing their best baseball of the season.
The No. 17 Highlanders (15-10) will try and complete their magical postseason run with a victory against No. 3 Thomaston (21-3) in the CIAC Class S state championship game Saturday at Palmer Field (12 p.m.).
“It’s going to be a tough game, obviously,” said Portland coach Rick Borg. “(Thomaston) is a real good team. I just want our kids to play well.”
Portland dropped its final three regular season games before losing to Westbrook in the Shoreline Conference quarterfinals. The four-game skid certainly wasn’t the ideal way to head into the Class S tourney. But the Highlanders had a week off before their first round game at Coventry and that practice time was invaluable.
“We never really had a chance to straighten some things out because we were playing every day,” said Borg. “We were able to regroup. We also made some minor lineup changes in the batting order that have helped.”
Portland’s surprising tournament run – the Highlanders have outscored Coventry, top-seeded East Hampton, Old Lyme and Trinity Catholic, 14-2 – has featured some outstanding pitching and defense.
Senior righthander Jason Staub, who shut out Coventry and earned a complete game win against Old Lyme, will start against Thomaston. Staub also blanked Housatonic Regional in Portland’s Class S tourney win a year ago.
Junior Cole Ogorzalek has also pitched two gems in this tournament. Ogorzalek went the distance in a 4-1 second round win at East Hampton before spinning a one-hitter against Trinity Catholic in the semifinals.
Thomaston, who won 15 of their first 16 games and captured the Berkshire League title for the first time since 1985, will counter with its own terrific 1-2 pitching punch of senior right-hander Brian Butkevicus and senior left-hander Blaise Russo.
The Golden Bears offense is powered by junior lead-off hitter Mike Milius, senior Jake Tehan and junior Tyler Donofrio.
Thomaston’s tournament run has included wins over St. Paul-Catholic (second round) and three Shoreline Conference teams: Valley Regional (first round), Morgan (quarterfinals) and SLC champion Cromwell (semifinals).
“We have to make sure they don’t make it a Shoreline sweep,” added Borg.
This will be Thomaston’s third trip to the finals. Head coach Bob McMahon guided the Golden Bears to a Class S state title in 2008 (a 6-5 win over St. Bernard). Thomaston lost to Putnam, 7-3, in the 1985 Class S championship game.
Borg, a Portland alumnus now in his fifth year, was an assistant coach alongside the late Gene Reilly during Portland’s 4-1 victory over Shepaug Valley in the 1988 Class S finals. It was the Highlanders only state championship appearance.
Besides Staub and Ogorzalek, Portland’s lineup on Saturday will feature senior shortstop Kevin Adamsons, senior centerfielder Hayden Manning, senior outfielder Josh Scovill, senior second baseman Mike Bordonaro, senior third baseman John Muskatallo, junior first baseman Leo Thomas, freshman catcher/DH Roland Thivierge, junior outfielder Brady Marconi, and junior outfielder Jon Dolan.
Portland’s other two seniors playing in their final game are Jacob Strong and Tyler Violissi.
“This group of eight seniors that I have, they’ve kind of changed the mind set from a team that hoped to win to a team that expects to win,” said Borg. “We feel now, and we believe that through our whole organization, that when we go on the field we expect to win and we expect to play a good game. We don’t always do that but we expect to do it. So that’s our standard and we’re hoping to reach that standard.”