The boys of summer earn win

SOUTH RANGE – With three runs in the bottom half of the third inning, the Portage Lake Little League Majors team held off Marquette Friday night to earn the District 11 championship in South Range.

Friday night’s game was the closest game Portage Lake had in the tournament. Manager Kit Cischke was forced to keep starting pitcher Chad Nordstrom in the game until the final two batters of the sixth inning.

“One of the questions I was constantly asking was how long do I leave Chad on the mound,” said Cischke. “When are we going to get that break? We had bases loaded, we had people on a couple of different times. We just could not get them across.”

Marquette proved a worthy opponent despite playing in their fourth game in four days. Manager Brian Myers had nothing but pride for the effort his team gave in holding Portage Lake’s bats at bay.

“It was a solid team effort,” said Myers of Portage Lake. “I’m so proud of these boys. They played with a lot of grit and a lot of heart. I think, moving forward, as this group moves into high school baseball, they are going to be fun to watch.”

Calling upon Ty Lotterman to start the game against Nordstrom, Myers was pleased with his pitcher, who had only just come off a broken leg a couple of weeks earlier and battled a hamstring injury during the game, giving three strong innings of work before bowing to Theo Adams.

“He was dealing with a pretty significant hamstring injury,” said Myers. “It really hurt him in the end, but he pitched his heart out. We wouldn’t be here without him.”

After Nordstrom got out of the first inning having only surrendered one single to Desmond Mullen, Portage Lake opened the bottom half of the inning with a walk from Caleb Bach, one of his three in the contest. Norkol hit into a fielder’s choice. Both runners were originally called safe before an appeal by Myers and his staff led to a change of the call on Bach.

Dylan Primeau walked, putting two men on. Dylan Horning struck out to end the threat.

In the top of the second, Portage Lake’s defense shone through as second baseman Cameron Cischke made a key catch on a pop fly by Cooper Myers.

Portage Lake threatened again in the bottom of the second. Cameron Cischke drew a one-out walk. Kade Farrell reached on a fielder’s choice. Ryan Vlahos walked to put a second runner on.

After a passed ball by Lotterman moved the runners into scoring position, Bach walked to load the bases. Norkol struck out to end the threat.

Austin Ridl picked up Marquette’s second hit of the game in the third, but a double play by Nordstrom in which he first caught a fly ball and then tagged Ridl attempting to get back to first ending the inning.

Portage Lake finally broke through in the bottom half of the third, and they did with subs in the batting order, rather than starters.

Nordstrom opened with a single. Ryan Moilanen was hit by a pitch. Dylan Horning walked to load the bases. A passed ball brought Nordstrom home. Moilanen and Horning both advanced to scoring position on the play.

Camden Markham hit into a fielder’s choice, scoring Moilanen. Farrell singled to center the bring Horning home.

Kit Cischke second-guessed his own decision to use substitutes for part of the inning, but after Moilanen and Markham came up big, he felt better about his decision.

“The best part, to me, was that that was the inning where it was all of the reserves that made things happen,” said Cischke. “It’s huge. I went downstate with the Minor team last year and one of the problems we ran into was just that lack of depth.

‘Knowing that whomever I put out there is going to get the job done makes my job easier.”

The inning was Lotterman’s last on the mound.

Marquette’s best chance cut into Portage Lake’s lead came right away in the top of the fourth.

Drew Dellies hit a lead off double. Desmond Mullen walked. Ty Lotterman drilled a ball to center field near the fence. Dellies rounded third and pushed for home plate on the play. He dropped into a slide while attempted to beat out a strong throw from Bach in the outfield. Dellies was called out at the plate as Nick Horning applied the tag just before Dellies’ lead foot touched home plate.

Portage Lake looked to extend their lead in the bottom half of the fourth when Bach walked for the third time and Norkol was hit by a pitch from Adams. Nordstrom hit a sacrifice fly to move both runners into scoring position before a fly out and a ground out ended the inning.

Marquette had one last chance to even things up in the top of the sixth. Dellies hit a grounder that snuck through Dylan Horning at third. Mullen walked on four straight pitches, ending Nordstrom’s night on the mound.

Norkol struck out Ethan Richards before facing Adams. With two strikes against, Adams fouled off a pitch that nearly dropped fair. Norkol got him to swing and miss on the next pitch, ending the game.

Portage Lake will now move on to Tecumseh next Saturday for their opening game of the state tournament. Kit Cischke feels his team is ready for whatever the teams downstate will throw their way.