Down to the last out: Portage Lake forces ‘if necessary’ game with multiple final-out rallies vs. Penokee Range

Penokee Range’s Aiden Busch slides home as Portage Lake pitcher Jack Sayen tries to apply the tag in a Little League baseball District 11 Minors tournament championship game at Bernie Rivers Memorial Field in Negaunee on Thursday night. (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

NEGAUNEE — Portage Lake didn’t want its season to end just quite yet.

Down to its final out twice on Thursday evening, the Houghton-Hancock-area team rallied and received a clutch game-winning double from Caleb Isaacson in the eighth inning to overcome Penokee Range of the Ironwood area 8-7 in dramatic fashion.

That forces a winner-take-all Game 2 at 6 p.m. today back at Bernie Rivers Memorial Field in Negaunee for the championship of the Little League District 11 Minors tournament.

With PL coming out of the consolation bracket, it had to force a second game against Penokee for a shot at the district title and Sam Fontecchio trophy in the double-elimination tournament.

The Copper Country team is now halfway there after handing PR it’s first loss in the tourney.

PL head coach Dan Sayen said he’s proud of his team’s never-say-die attitude as well as strong performances on the mound.

“They battled back very well the whole game,” he said. “We had some pitching that was great (today), Jack Sayen, Brogan Turner and Benny Keranen all stepped up. Our catching was good, our fielding was good, there’s not a lot that we didn’t do good.

“We played a great game. Penokee Range same thing, they played a great game and a couple of clutch hits in the right spot got it done.”

Sayen added that keeping his team calm ahead of tonight’s decisive Game 2 after the dramatic victory won’t be difficult.

“They keep themselves calm,” he said. “They’re a pretty composed team. They do a nice job, there’s not one bad attitude on this entire team. They play for the team, they play for each other and this is what we get.

“I’ll tell them come ready to play, do your best, leave it on the field and that’s all there is to it.”

Penokee Range head coach Jason Rowe kept things short and to the point after the game.

“We’ll be ready for tomorrow,” he said.

Neither team cracked the scoreboard until the top of the fourth inning when Penokee brought four runs home.

Portage Lake followed up with three runs in the bottom of the inning to make it 4-3. It had a chance to tie it and possibly take the lead with the bases loaded, but Brady Dennis was tagged out trying to steal home for the third out.

Penokee Range increased its lead again in the fifth with two runs on a double to right field from Gator Huotari.

The score remained 6-3 until the bottom of the sixth, which was the final call for Portage Lake.

Penokee got two of the first three hitters out while walking Rylan Isaacson. Isaacson went to second on a wild pitch before Dennis reached on an error to put runners on the corners.

Isaacson scored on another wild pitch to make it 6-4 while Dennis advance to second and third on another passed ball.

Still with two outs, Jack Sayen went up to bat for Portage Lake. Down 0-2 in the count with his team’s season on the line, Sayen coaxed out a walk to again put runners on the corners.

Sayen stole second and Dennis charged home on another wild pitch to make it 6-5.

Now with Sayen standing on third, it was up to Turner to keep things alive. Also down to his final strike, Turner notched a base hit to left to bring Sayen home and tie the game 6-6.

After Turner stole second, Keranen had a chance to win it with a base hit, but struck out to send the game to extras.

Portage Lake made quick work in the top of the seventh with a 1-2-3 inning and had a chance to win it again with Breyden Larson standing on third, but Rylan Isaacson struck out to end the inning.

Penokee Range loaded the bases with one out in the top of the eighth. Huotari was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning before C.J. Wainio walked and Nick Miskovich was also hit by a pitch.

Aiden Busch then reached on a fielder’s choice while Huotari was tagged out running home for out No. 2.

Turner, who was pitching for Portage Lake at the time, walked Eli Ruotsala with the bases still loaded to give Penokee Range the lead once again at 7-6. The threat ended when Turner struck out Rowe for the third out.

Down one with its season on the line again, Portage Lake wasn’t going away easily.

The first out of the inning came on a ground out to first base before Liam Toultillott walked to get things started for Portage.

After Sayen popped out in the infield, PL was down to its final out yet again. Toultillott was nearly doubled up on the play, but got back to first in time with a slide.

Turner reached on an infield single after that, moving Toultillott to third while Turner moved to second. After a walk to Keranen loaded the bases, that’s when Caleb Isaacson delivered his two-out double to center field, scoring Toultillott and Turner to end the game.

Sayen drew three walks in the contest while Larson was 3 for 4 with two doubles.

Rowe went 2 for 5 for Penokee Range, while Parker Simula added a double.

Email Ryan Spitza at