SOUTH RANGE – In two games, Portage Lake has thrown a perfect game, launched hard-hit line drives that reached the outfield fence for doubles and triples and has yet to commit an error – a rare, stellar achievement for 11-12-year olds.
Portage Lake’s model of excellence continued Wednesday, as they defeated Penokee Range 11-0 in 3 1/2 innings in the Little League Majors District 11 semifinals at South Range. After a 10-0 four-inning win over Negaunee on Monday, Portage Lake has outscored its opponents 21-0 and now finds itself in Friday’s championship game.
Portage Lake’s Caleb Bach, Brandon Norkol and Chad Nordstrom each led the way on offense, recording two hits, while Nick Horning drove in two runs. Nordstrom was the winning pitcher, going 2 1/3 innings, surrendering two hits and striking out six.
“Everything’s worked just how it would work on paper,” Portage Lake head coach Kit Cischke said. “It makes me feel very smart. I told the kids, ‘You’re making me feel like a genius manager.’
“It’s really just standing there, letting them do their job and giving them the opportunity to do that. Come up with a really simple gameplan and they execute it.”
While Portage Lake played near-flawless baseball, Penokee Range did not. Penokee Range was credited with four errors, resulting in three unearned runs. In addition to the errors, Portage Lake’s Norkol and Dylan Primeau scored on passed balls, and there were numerous other mental mistakes that were a foreign sight to Penokee Range head coach Dave Betlewski.
“The game was a total flat game,” Betlewski said. “We had no communication It did surprise me, but I could feel it. All our coaches could feel something just wasn’t right. Just an overall flat game. We’re definitely, definitely, capable of staying with this team.”
With Portage Lake playing as the home team, Nordstrom set the tone for the afternoon on the mound, striking out the first five batters he faced before Penokee Range’s Kyle Sorenson recorded a bloop single to right field in the second inning; but Portage Lake’s Kade Farrell gunned down Sorenson with an accurate throw as Sorenson attempted to reach second.
“We saw (Nordstrom) pitch two games now and he’s a good little athlete,” Betlewski said. “He throws strikes, and that’s the whole key to Little League baseball He throws a lot of good, straight stuff and then when he gets ahead of the batter, he has a nice little curve, which throws a lot of batters off.”
Nordstrom was relieved for Norkol after reaching the 35-pitch threshold. Norkol – who went 1 1/3 and struck out two while not allowing a baserunner – will also be available to pitch in Friday’s title game. Dylan Horning relieved Norkol to get the game’s final out.
“It’s great to know that I can put them out there to be available and they can throw their good stuff, but it’s nice to still know I have guys like Dylan and a couple more who can come in to pitch after that,” Cischke said. “But it’s nice that the top two guys – the ones you want to go to – will be there and ready.”
As good as the pitching was, Portage Lake’s offense was just as impressive. The winners finished with 11 hits and jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first thanks to a two-run RBI double by Nick Horning. Portage Lake would lead 10-0 after the second before Camden Markham’s single scored Dylan Horning from second to make it 11-0 in the third inning.
“Like I told the kids, you can no-hit the best team, but if you don’t score any runs, you don’t win,” Cischke said. “The bats were working, the runners were moving intelligently.”
Penokee Range will now play Marquette at 6 p.m. today. The winner will face Portage Lake in the title game on Friday at 6 p.m. Either Penokee Range or Marquette will need to beat Portage Lake twice in order to win the district. Saturday’s “if necessary” game is scheduled for 4 p.m.
Penokee Range defeated Marquette 11-6 on Sunday, while Marquette topped Keweenaw 11-10 Wednesday on a walk-off-three-run homer from Ty Lotterman.
“We’ll definitely be coming to play against Marquette,” Betlewski said. “The attitude will change. That happens sometimes where kids are so wound up after the victory against Marquette We come back real flat and sometimes that happens. Sometimes kids get themselves blown out with so much excitement that the second game becomes pretty flat.”