LAKE LINDEN - It wasn't just Portage Lake's Pat Cortright who stood head and shoulders above the field at this week's District 11 Major (age 11-12) Little League tournament.
The imposing right-hander played a major role, but his whole team earned a trip to next week's state tournament undefeated with a 10-3 victory over Penokee Range in the championship game.
"We hit really good, we played really good in the field and we pitched," said Cortright, who hit a two-run homer in the first inning, cracked a double down the left-field line in his team's six-run fifth inning and pitched a complete game.
Portage Lake Little League Major (age 11-12) All-Stars celebrate the last out of a 10-3 victory over Penokee Range in the District 11 tournament championship game Thursday in Lake Linden.
It was the third consecutive year this age group of PL All-Stars has won the district tournament.
Manager John Bostwick spoke of the kids' knowledge of the game and commitment to the 'little things.'
"Today, they came to the ballfield focused, we played great defense and of course, Patty pitched a heck of a baseball game," he said.
Cortright, who stands 5-foot-11, 192, made his presence felt immediately, going deep with one out and one on in the first inning for a 2-0. The scary thing? He didn't get all of it.
"I thought I kind of popped up a little, but I saw it kept carrying, so I knew it was gone," he said.
However, Penokee Range hung in, and the home run was the only scoring in the first three innings.
PL gained some separation in the fourth with help from some clever baserunning. Jaden Janke, who reached on a dropped third strike, scored from third on a squeeze bunt by Alex Nordstrom. Nordstrom took second on the throw home, stole third and his special pinch runner, Clayton Sayen, came in from third on a groundout for a 4-0 lead.
Penokee put pressure on Portage in the top of the fifth, as Justin Sukanen walked, took second on a wild pitch, stole third and scored when the throw got into the outfield.
It looked like the visitors might have momentum, but it proved to be a false dawn, as Brody Budweg drew a lead-off walk before Cortright ripped his double down the line for the RBI. Cortright's special pinch runner, Sayen, scored on a passed ball for a 6-1 lead and PL tacked on four more runs with Carter Nettell's RBI groundout, a wild pitch scoring Alex Nordstrom and back-to-back RBI doubles from Buzz Rajala and Dawson Kero.
Though Penokee came 60 feet from being mercied, it fought back in the top of the sixth, as Bailey Ribich crushed a pitch to dead-center for a solo homer and Mason Saubert tripled to the right-field wall to bring in a third run.
It wasn't the ideal finish for Penokee, but the visitors had an impressive tournament run, especially considering its start. Penokee gave up nine runs before recording an out in its tournament opener Saturday against host Keweenaw, but bounced back to eliminate them, as well as Ishpeming (rallying from 8-1 down Tuesday) and Marquette (18-13 on Wednesday), in the elimination bracket on the way to the title game.
"As a coach, we knew this team would never give up. We knew this team could make it to the final," PR coach Dale Hakamaki said.
Eric Hakamaki had two of Penokee's four hits in the contest.
Cortright, who struck out Austin Vizina for the last out of the game on his 85th and final pitch, fanned 10, walked two and hit a batter.
In addition to Cortright's two hits and three RBIs, Kero and Nordstrom picked up a pair of his apiece.
Portage Lake opens play in the state tournament at Schoolcraft (13 miles south of Kalamazoo) July 21 against a team from District 16 (southeastern Michigan near the Ohio border).