PORTAGE – Holding a six-run lead over Southern Huntingdon in the seventh inning of Wednesday’s District 6 Class 2A semifinals, dark and gloomy clouds slowly creeped up on the Portage Area High School baseball team.
The Mustangs’ lead was quickly erased, and following an hour-long rain delay with the game knotted at 7, an extra-inning surge from the Rockets was simply too much to contain.
Southern Huntingdon scored 10 straight runs to steal an 11-7 victory and end Portage’s season.
“That’s a tough pill to swallow,” Portage coach Larry McCabe said. “That was a hard-fought game, but we just couldn’t contain them. It’s tough.”
All was well entering the top of the seventh for Portage (17-5), which posted four runs in the sixth to grab the commanding 7-1 lead.
Despite the sizable deficit, Southern Huntingdon (16-4) battled back and received a timely spark from a Portage error.
With the bases loaded, an overthrow to first base allowed a pair to score as the Rockets quickly gained life.
Zach Baird grounded into a fielder’s choice to score a run, and a crazy bouncing ball through the infield scored two and cut the deficit to one.
With the wind picking up and the sky darkening, Ethan Taylor squeezed a double to center field to tie the game.
In the ensuing at-bat, rain poured over the field as the game entered an hour-long rain delay.
“That was just sheer craziness,” Rockets coach Rob Smith said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Two rain delays and a big comeback? That was big.”
After finally returning to play, the Rockets picked up right where they left off in extra innings.
A nasty collision at second base was ruled interference and allowed a run to score.
An RBI single from Caleb Gahagan in addition to a Portage error allowed the Rockets to claim a four-run lead.
“We didn’t have a good start, but we got our acts together,” Smith said. “We really got it together and played a much better game.”
The game originated as a pitcher’s battle between hurlers Josh Fleck and Josh Morgan.
Aside from a Baird homer, the game didn’t open up until Portage’s bats heated up in the fourth.
Payton Zatek crushed a line drive to right field to score two, and a Southern Huntingdon error later in the inning allowed Zatek himself to score.
Tyler Alexander, Jace Irvin and Josh Morgan each produced a pair of hits for the Mustangs.
“Portage was a tough opponent,” Smith said.
“They are an extremely well-coached team – maybe one of the best-coached teams around.
“We knew they were going to give us a really tough challenge.”
The loss came as a shock for the Mustangs, who produced one of its more memorable seasons in recent history after winning the WestPAC and helping McCabe secure his 500th victory as head coach.
Portage loses four seniors.
“It was a good season for us,” McCabe said.
“It didn’t end the way we wanted, but these kids fought hard and gave me everything they had all season. I’m really proud of them.”