SOUTH RANGE - With the Portage Lake and Marquette bats squeezed tight between a pitching duel Friday evening, it was the visitors that did just enough to advance to the District 11 Little League Major (11-12 years old) championship game Saturday for a date with Ishpeming.
Marquette lead off hitter Jake Peterson started the game with a homer, Jacob Allard Saucey drove in a run in the fourth inning and that was enough as Marquette pitcher Drew Lindberg cruised through five innings to secure a 2-1 victory.
PJ Donnelly - who took the mound in relief at the start of the second inning - was just as good for Portage, throwing four innings with 11 strikeouts and just three hits and one run to his name.
Michael Bleach/Daily Mining Gazette
Portage Lake pitcher PJ Donnelly throws to home in the second inning Friday against Marquette. Donnelly finished four innings with 11 strikeouts.
"There is the old saying that you hate to see anyone lose and you do," Marquette manager Don Erkkila said. "Those are good kids for Portage, and we've got good kids. You see them after the game with tears in their eyes - it means a lot to them. They played their butts off, and so did my kids."
"They left it all out there, no doubt about that," PL manager Aaron Janke added of his team's elimination from the tournament. "We lost two games in this tournament, and they were both by one. We're proud of them. They fought until the end."
Gifted a 1-0 start after Peterson drove one deep over the right-center fence, Lindberg protected the lead with a combination of a sinking fastball and deceptive change-up.
While far from overpowering, Portage Lake managed just one hit in the first four innings as Lindberg mixed and matched his way through the lineup.
"He changes speed so well," Erkkila said. "And the way he throws the ball, it has a natural drop, almost like a sinker. They just beat it into the ground. That little movement and changes location. Plus he is a strike thrower. We needed him today."
Portage's best chances came in the fifth and sixth frames, with runners at the corners in the fifth inning and two outs. Lindberg escaped with a backwards 'K' though, spoiling the rally on an inside fastball after working the outside corner for most of the inning.
"Games like that are tough on the old ticker," Erkkila said. "But Drew is a really smart ball player."
The Copper Country crew kept at it in the sixth inning too, finally driving Lindberg from the game after Lars Massie drove in Donnelly with a clean single to put Portage on the board.
Ashton Janke had a chance to tie it up or give Portage the lead with the bases loaded and two outs, but reliever Tyler Delmont induced a comebacker to the mound to end the game.
"Man are they scrappy, they don't go away and they field the ball really well," Erkkila said of Portage Lake.
"We played a good game, we just couldn't get that break. Had some guys in scoring position a couple of times and couldn't get that one timely hit," Janke added.
"We had guys on third base in a couple innings, and when you don't get them in, you usually end up going home."