Safe and sound
HANCOCK – Delaney Heinonen wasn’t perfect, but she was unhittable.
While the Portage Lake pitcher lacked the consistent control she displayed during the high school softball season, her mettle was still intact for the all-star showdown between the Portage Lake All-Stars and the Keweenaw All-Stars.
Heinonen struck out six and allowed 10 walks, but she did not surrender a hit and managed to work out of key jams as Portage Lake defeated Keweenaw 11-1 in five innings Wednesday in junior softball (13-14).
“I didn’t think Delaney had her best game, but she was able to close out each inning without any damage,” Portage Lake head coach Sean Connors said. “She just hasn’t had a lot of reps recently, so she’s had two-week gaps between pitching.”
Keweenaw stranded nine runners, with eight of those in scoring position; Keweenaw left the bases loaded in the fourth, and stranded runners on second and third in the second and third innings.
“We just couldn’t find a way to get that key hit to drive in some of those runs that would have tightened the game up a little bit,” Keweenaw head coach Matt Vertin said. “Delaney’s a tough pitcher and one of the better high school pitchers in the area. These girls at this age, they don’t see that because most of them aren’t in high school. I thought we battled her well, were patient with her pitching.”
Heinonen worked out of the jam in the second and third innings by recording a strikeout, while Portage Lake shortstop Ally Ronis bailed out her team in the fourth by catching a pop fly for the third out with the bases loaded.
“I think we’ve got a good, sound defense and I think Delaney knows that,” Connors said. “I thought Delaney dug deep when she needed to after starting each inning slow.”
Leading 5-1 in the bottom of the fifth, Portage Lake walked five times, reached on a fielder’s choice, a hit by pitch and an infield hit from Cassidy Becia to set up its six-run inning. Portage Lake scored on three passed balls, two walks and the fielder’s choice to enforce the 10-run mercy rule, as Jordyn Rowe scored the game-ending run on a passed ball.
“We kept the momentum the whole game, and then (Keweenaw’s) pitcher I think just got frustrated at the end and was having a little difficulty throwing strikes; that was the big difference in the game,” Connors said.
Keweenaw’s Vera Peterson struck out six but allowed seven earned runs on four hits and nine walks.
Despite the walks, Portage Lake managed a few offensive highlights early on. Rowe opened the bottom of the first with a triple that reached the left-field fence. A few pitches later, she scored on a passed ball for the game’s first run. Then, in the bottom of the second, Madelyn Pierner hit a soft line drive up the middle of the field for a two-out, two-run RBI single, giving Portage Lake a 5-1 lead.
“We had some hits in key spots,” Connors said. “Pierner had a breakout game; she’s been in a bit of a slump lately, but I think she broke out of it.”
Pierner finished with two hits.
The two teams are scheduled to play again at 7 p.m. at the Hancock Driving Park. Connors expects to send Heinonen back out on the mound, while Vertin doesn’t plan on making any major changes to his lineup.
“For the most part, I’m happy with the girls and with the lineup and where they are,” Vertin said. “Sometimes you don’t get the key hits when you need them, but I’m confident with these girls and given another situation, they’ll be there for me.”
If Portage Lake wins today, they advance to the state tournament in Grand Rapids. If Keweenaw wins, the two teams will play Friday at 7 p.m. at the Hancock Driving Park for a decisive Game 3.