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Historic Portage Lake Little League run ends in state semis

The Portage Lake Little League All-Star team poses after losing in the state semifinal game against Roosevelt Park in Grosse Pointe. (Submitted Photo)

SOUTH RANGE — The Portage Lake Little League team returned home last week to the Copper Country with their heads hanging high. For the first time in the program’s near 40-year history, the U-12 boys made it to the semifinals of the Michigan Little League tournament, falling a win short of a state final berth.

Portage Lake lost to Roosevelt Park 11-1 in the semifinals on Wednesday.

In short, this year’s all-star team made up of players from the school districts of Houghton, Hancock, Chassell, Dollar Bay and Jeffers was one of Michigan’s top four teams.

“For us to get out of the quarterfinals was a first,” said Portage Lake Little League head coach Daron Durocher. “We started to ask around and found out the our Little League district was formed in 1984, and we couldn’t find any record of one of our teams going as far as semifinals.”

Portage Lake came out of pool play as one of the top four teams, with Roosevelt Park, Bay City and Taylor North as the top four teams in the state.

Their loss to Roosevelt Park in the semifinal wasn’t their best game.

“We came out flat, and we didn’t have our top pitchers,” Durocher said.

After winning their District 11 tournament on July 10 in South Range, the team headed to the state tournament which was hosted by Grosse Pointe Farms outside of Detroit. The were one of 16 Michigan teams that would compete for the state title and a chance to go one step further towards the Little League World Series scheduled in Williamsport Pennsylvania in late August.

They were one of four teams in Pool A as the state tournament began. They opened against Edwardsburg. They downed them 3-0. Ace hurler Benny Keranen threw a shut out and struck out 10. Up next was Grosse Pointe, who went down 7-2.

“That was a really good defensive game for us,” Durocher said. “It was also the first time in our post-season run that any team had scored a run on us. This includes games back home in districts.”

In their final pool play game, Taylor North mercied Portage. However, with two wins under their belt, Portage was among the elite eight headed to quarterfinal play. It was a single elimination afterward.

Their quarterfinal matchup was against St. Clair. According to Durocher, Keranen threw another gem and allowed just five hits. Portage Lake won 4-1. Taylor North won the championship game the following day.

“I told the team that you all just made history for a U.P. team and especially for our District 11 and Portage Lake,” said Durocher. “I had a feeling that these kids could go this far, a couple of years ago,” said Durocher. ” I told the other coaches (John Donnelly and Erik Nettel) that if kept working at it as a team we could have a shot at this. We believed in them, and we couldn’t be prouder.”

Durocher added that the boys turned a number of heads by their strong performance.

“We were the buzz of the tournament,” he said. “We weren’t supposed to win. No one expects the Yoopers to win a game. This is hockeyville. So we made a great impression to other teams and parents which was an equally great experience.”

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