Portage Central topped Kalamazoo Central 6-0 to open their Thursday baseball doubleheader, followed by a 3-3 tie in a wild game two. The odd second game at Derek Jeter Field leaves a cliffhanger for a possible district semifinal rematch in roughly two weeks.
The first contest was a pitching duel early on between Mustang senior Nick Kolberg and Maroon Giant junior Jack Uekert, as both opened with four shutout innings with five stranded runners.
Portage Central broke through in the fifth inning as Jason Erhardt brought in the first run via a hit-by-pitch. The Maroon Giants left the bases loaded to end the fifth, but gave up three runs in the sixth and two in the seventh. Ben Cunningham had a rare two-RBI sacrifice fly in an odd sixth inning which ended prematurely after the second out.
Kolberg kept the shutout through six innings, allowing only two hits and two walks. He also added two hits, one run, and two RBI offensively. Andrew Witt pitched the final inning to conclude the 6-0 win.
W- Nick Kolberg: 6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 K, 2 BB
L- Jack Uekert: 5 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 K, 6 BB
The Mustangs began ahead again as a lead-off Luke Leto walk led to a Max Longman RBI single. Kalamazoo Central answered with a Hilario DeLaPaz lead-off walk and two runs scored in the bottom of the first.
Giant starting arm Owen O’Neil and Cunningham in relief kept the game at 2-1 into the sixth inning. The Mustangs stranded five runners between innings three, four, and five, including a runner at third in each inning. Twice, Kalamazoo Central opted to intentionally walk slugger Max Longman with two outs and both times, they escaped the inning unscathed.
In the sixth, Portage Central’s Gavin Brasosky delivered a lead-off triple and in the next at bat, Trammell Lindstrom’s RBI single tied the game. A two-out double by Michael Verduzco scored pinch runner Keygan Horn in Lindstrom’s spot to give the Mustangs the 3-2 lead.
An intentional walk to Leto, followed by a fielding error led to the loaded bases and no choice but to face Longman, PC’s RBI leader. However, O’Neil froze him on a full count curveball for a called strike three, despite the contention by coach Mike Webster that the pitch was low.
In the bottom of the sixth, Kalamazoo Central’s Derek Bradley got a one-out single, followed by a plunking of Lukas Bolton. Hunter Tanner sent a base hit to left field and Maroon Giant coach Scott Spada signaled for Bradley’s pinch runner Alika Edmonds to head home. The throw beat Edmonds by a step and he was called out. Spada argued that the tag was missed by the catcher, loudly declaring it to be a “terrible call.” PC got the next out to keep the 3-2 lead into the seventh.
Kalamazoo Central would even the contest in the final inning, starting things with a lead-off Matt Bau walk and a bunt to move him to second. DeLaPaz brought in Bau with a RBI double to tie things at 3-3, putting the Giants’ speediest runner in scoring position with only one out. Reliever Dawson Blevins got the next out, then intentionally walked Brooks Hemingway to get a force at each base.
A pitch in the dirt moved both runners up, followed by an odd sequence. Prior to the next pitch as the pitcher and catcher conferred, DeLaPaz stole an undefended home plate, setting off a victory celebration for the Maroon Giants. K-Central argued that time was never called by the umpire, but play was ultimately ruled to have been dead, forcing DeLaPaz back to third.
Portage Central intentionally walked another batter to again get the potential force at every base. Blevins was then able to coerce a ground out to leave the bases loaded and the game tied at 3-3 after regulation. Although the Maroon Giants took the field for the eighth inning around 8:50 p.m., the contest was called due to darkness.
O’Neil pitched six innings, allowing eight hits and three earned runs with six strikeouts and four walks. Leto started on the mound for PC, going 2.1 innings with two hits and two earned runs. Cunningham allowed one earned run and three hits over 3.2 innings.
Kalamazoo Central moves to 15-10-1 after Thursday’s action. They return to the diamond at Coloma Monday, followed by a meeting at district foe Mattawan Tuesday.
Portage Central sits at 14-9-1 with a home doubleheader Saturday against St. Johns. They also face a potential district opponent Tuesday as they meet St. Joseph.
The Mustangs and Maroon Giants could meet again on June 2 in the district semifinal. PC has a bye and would face Kalamazoo Central, if they’re able to win their first round game May 29 with Loy Norrix.