Toughing it out

Portage Lake wins LL?title with another comeback vs. Penokee

Penokee Range’s Jack Rowe, right, calls for a timeout as Portage Lake fielder Jack Sayen waits during the Little League baseball District 11 tournament championship game at Bernie Rivers Memorial Field in Negaunee on Friday. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)

NEGAUNEE — If there’s something that the Portage Lake Little League Minors team does well, it’s battle through adversity.

Portage lost its first game of the District 11 baseball tournament, dropping it into the loser’s bracket and in order to keep its season alive, having to win six games in six days.

PL did exactly that and capped it off with an 18-11 comeback victory over Penokee Range.

Portage was down 9-2 in the bottom of the second inning and was still down by six in the third before exploding for nine runs in the bottom of the frame to take a 14-11 lead to shut the door on Penokee.

“The kids just showed a lot of heart,” Portage manager Dan Sayen said. “They never stopped. They never quit and they just kept going. We just kept saying ‘One run at a time and see what happens. Just don’t quit’ and here they are.”

PR started off with three runs in the top of the first, but Portage plated two in the bottom of the inning to cut the deficit to one. Brogan Turner had an RBI single in the frame and Benny Keranen brought in a run on a sacrifice fly.

Penokee wasn’t shaken by Portage’s rally, though, and padded its lead in the second by working the count. PR drew five walks in the rally and once it had base runners, it took advantage of its opportunities. Aiden Busch and Eli Routsala both hit RBI singles and Jack Rowe drove in two more runs with a double. Jayden Zaleski finished off the surge with an RBI hit and Penokee led 9-2.

PL was far from out of it, of course, as Brody Donnelly and Liam Tourtillott both scored on wild pitches. Two batters later, Turner reached on a bunt single and scored on a throwing error. By the end of the inning, Portage trailed 9-5.

PR added two runs in the top of the third on an RBI single by Gator Huotari and a fielder’s choice from Ian Mattila.

But that was when Portage found its groove at the plate.

Hudson Markham led off the bottom of the third with a hit and scored on a passed ball. Tourtillott drove in a run with a single, while Turner smacked a two-run single. Portage wasn’t finished, though. PL got another run on an RBI single by Caleb Isaacson, and by the time Brycen Nettel came to the plate, the wheels had completely fallen off for Penokee.

With Nettel batting, Portage managed to score three runs on one play thanks to two throwing errors. By the time the inning was over, PL led 14-11.

“We couldn’t hit the ball at the beginning of the game and we were walking a lot of batters,” Sayen said. “Things just weren’t going our way and they were starting to wonder and hang their heads a little bit, but we picked them back up and told them that it was a long game.

“They continued to chip away and once they started to get more runs, the energy just fed and all of a sudden they exploded. They kept hitting the ball and the rest is history.”

Tourtillott, who came in to pitch in relief, kept Penokee off the scoreboard for the rest of the game and PL locked down the victory with another four runs in the fourth. Keranen, Isaacson and Markham all hit RBI singles then.

“Our hitting was really good today,” Sayen said. “We connected well and I’m not sure how many hits we had, but I would imagine it had to be 20 or so. They were tagging the ball and it was really fun to watch.”

When asked what was going through his head after Portage took the lead, Sayen said he was just hoping his team could hold on.

“At that point, I was thinking we just need to hang on and keep pitching well and Liam stepped up big time today,” Sayen said. “He came in and carried the team right right on through to the end of the game.”

Portage now moves on to the state tournament, which begins Friday in Bay City.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is