The Portage Indians made their long road trip from northern Indiana worthwhile after claiming victory in the annual Central Invitational baseball tournament that concluded at Central's Gene Lively Stadium Saturday night.
The Indians come from a small town about 30 miles south of Chicago. When they left town on Wednesday, there was nearly a foot of snow on the ground. While folks in the Chattanooga area have been complaining about the cooler-than-average beginning of spring, those folks from Portage must have felt like they were on a summer vacation.
The tournament started on Thursday at Central and Hixson and every game escaped the predicted rain except for the last one.
Tournament officials knew that rain was coming, so the start time was pushed up from the scheduled 7:30 start until 6. Dark clouds started moving in about the time the first pitch was thrown and the rain had started to fall in the third inning.
It only got harder as the game progressed and umpires called it official after five innings with the Indiana visitors leading the Cleveland Blue Raiders by a 7-2 final.
"I'm glad we were able to get the game in, although it wasn't the best situation with the rain," said Portage coach Tim Pirowski after the game had been declared official.
"It was getting nasty out there, but I'm pleased with how we handled such an adverse situation. We finally got some big hits and I thought C.J. (Haupt) did a good job in relief of throwing strikes.
"We won't get on the bus for that 10-hour trip until Sunday morning, but we'll just go back to the motel, get some pizza and celebrate winning this tournament," the coach concluded with a smile.
The Indians have done a lot of practicing indoors up to this point, but Thursday's game with Sheffield (Alabama) was their first of the season. They added a win over Morristown on Friday morning before losing to Masters Academy (a team from the Orlando, Florida area) that night.
A win over the host Central Purple Pounders on Saturday afternoon put them in the championship game against the Blue Raiders.
Cleveland scored single runs in the first and second inning and were cruising right along until the Indians came up in the top of the fifth.
Sending a dozen hitters to the plate, Portage used five hits, three walks, one hit batter and a Cleveland error to score seven runs.
Haupt got things started by getting hit on a 1-2 count. Sam Schest then dropped a near-perfect bunt, but the throw to first sailed into the right-field corner as Haupt scooted around to score the first run.
Patrick Derr's infield single plated Schest before Chris Klenk grounded to second for the first out of the inning. Kevin Jones walked before Eric Masarch and Tyler Soberg ripped run-scoring doubles. Peter Psomadelis drove in another with an infield single deep to short and he later scored the final run on a wild pitch.
By this point, puddles were forming behind first and third and the infield was beginning to get muddy.
Cleveland's Austin Dykes led off the Blue Raiders half of the fifth by reaching on an error by the Portage second baseman, but Haupt got Kimsey Bell to fly out to left before ending the game on a pair of strikeouts.
Cleveland coach Ted Carson would have liked for the game to have continued, but his plea fell on deaf ears.
"It's no worse now than when we were out there in the last inning, but we don't have control over that call. We've had a great week and played a lot of really good baseball. Too bad we had to get all of this rain before the game ended," he said matter of factly.
Bell had a one-out single in the first and scored on a single by Taylor Thompson. Reed Allison walked with two outs in the second and scored on a throwing error by Portage starting pitcher Tyler Kniola.
The Blue Raiders got back-to-back hits from Michael Henderson and Jalen Lawson in the fourth, but Haupt ended that threat by getting a grounder to third for the second out and then a swinging strike from Ryan Adkins to end the inning.
Portage finished the abbreviated game with eight hits. Derr was the only Indian with two.
Cleveland finished with five hits.
While the Indians head home on Sunday, they hope to play their first regular-season game on Tuesday. Cleveland will play at Walker Valley on Monday in a key District 5-AAA game.
Portage is now 4-1 for the year while Saturday's loss leaves Cleveland at 8-9 overall.
Portage 000 07 -- 7 8 2
Cleveland 110 00 -- 2 5 1
Kniola, Haupt (3) and Klenk; Earle, Ramsey (4), Nichols (5) and Plumb.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)