Unlike most college football powerhouse teams, Portage Central didn’t schedule a cupcake for their season opener in 2018. Taking the field for the first time this spring, the Mustangs squared off with perennial state powerhouse Mattawan, currently ranked number seven in Division 1, Thursday evening. In two close games, Mattawan defeated Portage Central 6-2 and 3-2 (8 innings).
Mattawan jumped out of the gate and quickly put three runs on the board with the top of their lineup in the first inning with three doubles and a single. It was after the clean up hitter that Central’s sophomore pitcher Mackenzie Ruthven settled in and got the next three outs.
“Once we got the first out, we settled down”, said first year Portage Central coach Lisa Kiino.
From there, the Mustangs held tight with the Wildcats in the first game, but the first inning was too much to overcome as they dropped the first game 6-2.
Kaitlyn Brannstrom led the Portage Central hitters in the first game, going 3-3 with two doubles and both of the Mustangs’ RBIs. Mattawan pitcher Emily Kuperdak recorded 13 Ks to keep the Mustangs from catching up to the Wildcats start.
The second game featured Portage Central senior Kylee Taylor making her first varsity start on the mound.
Taylor let Kuperdak, the first Wildcats’ batter score, then proceeded to keep Mattawan off the scoreboard for the next three innings until Kuperdak again reached base and scored the second run of the game in the top of the fifth.
The top of the Mustangs’ batting order had trouble making contact with Wildcats’ pitcher Liv Fee’s offerings to the plate. The top five in the order went 2-13, with 4 walks, in the second game. Fortunately for Kiino’s Mustangs, the bottom half of the order came through, as they went 4-8 with both Mustangs runs in the first 5 innings. Madeline Grueter railed a second inning double and was knocked home when the next batter, Megan Vandegiessen, followed up with a double of her own. In the fifth inning, Kylee Taylor helped her own cause on the mound with a one out single and would later score the game-tying run.
“In the first game, our run production came from the top of the lineup,” said Kiino, “In the second game, it was some of the bottom of the lineup who stepped up and helped us out.”
Taylor kept the Wildcats off the board in the sixth and seventh innings, and gave Portage Central a chance to win it in the bottom of the seventh.
“Kylee really stepped up in the second game on the mound,” praised Kiino, “It was her first varsity start, and she went the complete game.
With two outs and the top of the lineup coming to bat, Portage Central proceeded to fill the basepaths with two walks and a hit-by-pitch. A rocket to Mattawan second baseman Marley Atkinson ended Central’s hopes for the upset and sent the game to extra innings.
With a runner placed on second to start the 8thinning, a single by Mattawan’s Kendra Cardoza scored Kacey Bouche and put the Wildcats ahead 3-2.
A 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth sealed the game and left the Mustangs with an 0-2 record to start the season.
“We blew some opportunities, and those are the things we need to work on in practice,” Kiino said following the game, “It’s early in the season, we are still getting used to each other, but I’m happy that they had that amount of fight in them tonight.”