HOUGHTON - Rarely could one describe a group of 11- and 12-year-olds as experienced, but that's exactly the role the Portage Lake Major All-Stars have going into the state tournament.
Portage Lake will play its first three games and as many as five on the very same field in downstate Schoolcraft on which it played two years ago in the Minor state tournament. PL reached the quarterfinals that year and wants even more this time around.
"I look forward to getting a shot at the Little League World Series and see how far we can make it," PL's Jaden Janke said.
Portage Lake’s Carson Turner pitches in a District 11 tournament game against Marquette last week at Village Park in Lake Linden. Playing first base is Pat Cortright. Portage Lake opens state tournament play at Schoolcraft Saturday afternoon against Tecumseh. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
In fact, Portage Lake opens tournament play Saturday at 1 p.m. against Tecumseh, the same opponent it defeated in a pool play game two years ago on Kevin Bostwick's walk-off single, scoring Alex Nordstrom with the winning run.
Janke, Bostwick and Nordstrom are three of eight players on the 11-person roster to compete in both tournaments.
Manager John Bostwick spoke about the different ways in which this group has handled success after winning district championships in the last three years.
"Two years ago, they were jumping up and down. You'd have thought they won the World Series," he said.
"They know what to expect, they're gonna go and they know whoever they play first is gonna be a real good ballteam."
The tournament format is slightly different from 2010. The 16-team field is divided up into four brackets to be resolved through double elimination.
Depending upon Saturday's result, a Sunday game with either Birmingham or Cheboygan is next. Bracket play could extend as far as Wednesday, with each of the four bracket winners meeting in single elimination semifinals and finals ending a week from today.
That means PL could play as many as seven games in seven days. But the versatility of this group is an asset, John Bostwick said.
"If you look at our scorebook, it's one through nine that are scoring runs, getting on base," he said.
It also means the possibility of six potential elimination games.
Portage Lake didn't face any such games in this district, but knows keeping spirits high is important in the face of adversity.
"We have to keep our heads up and make sure we've got each other's back," Nordstrom said.
One team will advance to the regionals in Indianapolis and with it, continue its dreams of Williamsport and the Little League World Series.
But this Portage Lake bunch is already having the time of its lives.
"My favorite part is just to go down there, play baseball, have fun and meet the kids on the other teams," Nordstrom said.