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Portal rallys to beat ECI

Win could give PHS second place

    PORTAL — Brandon Mock went the distance and struck out 14 Emanuel County Institute batters on 123 pitches as the Portal Panthers knocked off the Bulldogs on Senior Night in Portal Thursday in a game with playoff implications for both teams. The Panthers (12-12, 8-4 Region 3-A) took a half-game lead over ECI (11-11, 7-4) in the region standings. The No. 2 seed gains home-field advantage in the first round of the region playoffs.
    The first 51⁄2 innings were a pitcher’s duel between Mock and Bulldog pitchers Ches Chester and Lance Simmons. Mock got his miscues out of the way early — allowing a two-run homer to ECI cleanup hitter Lance Simmons in the first inning— but was lights out from that point on.
    “I just kept telling myself over and over coming back to the dugout,” said Mock. “This could be my last game here at Portal. I wasn’t going to settle for that. I was going to come out, give it everything I had and leave it all on the field. That’s what I did.”
    Portal cut the 2-0 Bulldog lead in half in the bottom of the second when Mock was hit by a pitch. He reached third on a stolen base and a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice fly by third baseman Brett Rivers.
    Mock was able to get himself out of a jam in the fourth after ECI’s Anson Walden doubled to lead off the inning. With a man on second and no outs Mock struck out the next two batters he faced and forced a groundout from the third to escape trouble.
    Emanuel added to its lead in the fifth with a Lance Simmons single that scored a run and gave the Bulldogs a 3-1 lead, but Portal answered in the bottom of the inning when senior Dustin Jones hit a grounder to shallow left that — despite a good throw from left fielder Wes Womack and a close play at the plate — scored David Dampier and cut the Bulldog lead to 3-2.
    After a 1-2-3 top of the sixth, the Panthers broke things open in the bottom of the inning. Despite only two hits in the rally, PHS was able to bat around and score six more runs — three earned — that gave Portal an 8-3 lead.
    “We got a break there,” said Portal coach Tendai Haggins. “We got a couple walks and a couple errors on the infield. They just got a little tired. They didn’t make the routine plays and gave us a chance to stay in the ballgame.”
    Mock got into a bit of a jam in the top of the last inning when he struck out one ECI batter but then loaded the bases. He answered the call as he struck out the next two batters to leave the bases juiced and get the win.
    The victory against rival ECI gave the Panthers a half-game lead in the standings, but home-field advantage is no sure thing yet. ECI must still play Calvary Day — undefeated in Region 3-A and alone in first place. A win against them would give Emanuel a second-place tie with Portal. The tie breaker would go to the Bulldogs because Calvary has already beaten Portal twice, so the Panthers would be forced to travel during the region playoffs.
    “I don’t think (having to go on the road in the event of an ECI win over Calvary) will have a big effect on our team,” said Haggins. “The big emotional blow for us was to beat ECI. It hadn’t happened in a long time, and to finally get that monkey off their back — the kids did it. If we do find out we have to hit the road and travel, the kids are ready.”

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.
 

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