PORTAL — The Portal Panthers opened up a can on Claxton Thursday evening with a 14-2 victory in less than four innings to remain undefeated in region play.
Perhaps Portal was looking ahead to their de facto region championship game on Saturday versus a 13-3 (6-0) Emanuel County Institute, because the Panthers came out of the gates slightly sluggish.
“To begin with we were laid back and waited on the ball,” said head coach Travis Motes. “We had some bad technique and swung at some bad pitches.”
Early in the first, Portal pitcher Keri Carter led off the inning with a leadoff walk followed by a wild pitch to allow the initial runner to get to second. After a hit-by-pitch put two runners on with two outs, Lexi Nesmith struck a single to right field to load the bases. The following at-bat saw an error in what should have been the third out to put winless Claxton up 1-0 over the upstart Panthers.
“It’s a hindrance to mess around with a team like this,” Carter said. “This pitcher we faced today can barely get the ball to the plate and Saturday’s we’re going to see straight gas.”
Portal would work ahead to tie the game off a Dashonda Morgan single in the bottom half of the first, allowing Carter to come back in the top of the second to set down two of her four batters faced via strikeout.
The Panthers then began to tack on more runs in the bottom of the second, looking like the Panthers fans had become accustomed to seeing all year. Back-to-back singles to lead off the inning by Raven Tankersley and Madison Miles would lead to both runners tagging up following a pop-fly by Layne Clark to put them in scoring position.
On an 0-2 count the following at-bat, Madison Bishop hit a deep double to left field to bring in both runners to run the score 3-1. The following at-bat saw an error by Claxton to allow Bishop to score — putting Portal up comfortably 4-1 after two innings.
“We’ve really worked a lot on hitting the ball this year,” Motes said. “It’s made a big difference in how we’ve played this year.”
But Claxton wouldn’t go away so early. The top of the third was led off by an error at second base by Portal, than a single into right field. What should have been simply two runners on, no outs turned into a scoring play for Claxton when an error in right field, allowing the leadoff hitter to score all the way around from first — but Avery Beasley, the batter who hit the single, tried to stretch her run around to third base but was gunned down by Faith Reddick to salvage an out.
Carter was able to get the next three outs on just four at-bats, but Claxton was still hanging around with Portal going to the bottom of the third.
“We we want it bad enough, we can go get anything,” Bishop said. “We just have to believe.”
But it was the bottom of the third where Portal finally woke up. Nine of the next 11 batters would reach base safely, four of them by Claxton errors. Bishop would add two more RBI in the frame to add to her season high of four RBI in a game. In total, the bottom of the third saw 12 plate appearances, eight hits, four errors and seven runs for Portal — putting them up 11-2 going to the fourth.
The top of the fourth ended with Reddick throwing out another runner attempting to steal, allowing Portal to seal the deal in the bottom half of the frame. Claxton couldn’t even register a single out, as Tankersley, Miles and Clark all came around to score off singles by Bishop and Carter to end the game.
“The closest we’ve ever some to this has been finishing 5-5 in region,” Motes said. “If we play like we did the last two innings of this game we’ll be able to hang in there with ECI.”
Tankersley ended the game going 2-3 with an RBI and two runs scored. Clark also went 2-3 with two RBI and two runs scored. Carter had four strikeouts to go along with two hits and an RBI.
Portal (11-4, 7-0) has a big showdown with rival ECI at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow in what would certainly be the biggest win in the history of their program if Portal could pull it off.