TWIN CITY - It was a pitcher's duel early and a slugfest late, and when the dust had cleared, Portal was able to hang on for an 11-7 win over Emanuel County Institute Tuesday night at Joe Harvey Field.
Each team got solid efforts from their starting pitchers, but both were knocked out as each team was also able to put up a six-run inning.
Portal starting pitcher Corey Walker helped to create some offense for himself in the first inning.
Walker beat out a slow grounder to shortstop and advanced to second on an overthrow with one out. ECI starter T.J. McNeal retired Bart Dutton on strikes, but Nolan Clark hammered a 2-1 fastball over the wall in center for an early 2-0 Panther lead.
The blast was the latest in a power display that Clark has been at for over a week. In Portal's last four games - spanning to Monday of last week - the Panthers' junior catcher has pounded out five home runs and racked up 14 RBIs.
"I just love to dig into the batters box and hit," said Clark. "It's a lot of fun for me. Right now, I'm just seeing the ball really well and taking good swings, and good things are happening."
The Bulldogs were able to cut the lead in half in the bottom of the first when Ethan Conway crushed a Walker offering high up the pine trees in left center for a solo shot.
Both pitchers settled down, allowing just one hit each over the next three innings, but the top of the fifth brought a wealth of fireworks from both lineups.
"Corey did a great job for us," said Portal coach Tendai Hagins. "He got ahead of everybody and didn't walk too many batters. He kept us in the game until we got going."
Portal got things started when Casey Ware was hit by a pitch. Nick McCranie singled and Walker followed with a walk to load the bases.
Caleb Pressey was brought in to relieve McNeal, but promptly hit Garrett Hodges to drive in Ware and reload the bases for Clark
Pressey fooled Clark on a fastball, but the soft liner fell at the feet of Brandon Johnson, who threw wide of second base, allowing McCranie and Walker to score.
Portal continued to capitalize as Jordan Dampier singled to center to bring home Hodges and Chad Busby knocked one into left center to score Clark and Dampier to cap off the six run inning.
"I just told our guys to move up in the box a little that inning," said Hagins. "We're a good fastball hitting team, so we tried to get ECI to challenge us with some. We were able to get around on a few and rally."
Down, but not out, the Bulldogs fought right back.
Will Henson and Johnson singled to lead off the bottom of the fifth, and Walker issued a walk to Conway to load the bases.
Harrison Pitts knocked in two with a single before Hunter Oglesby came in to relieve Walker, but McNeal welcomed Oglesby with another RBI single.
The big blow came when Pressey drove one high into the trees in left center for a three-run home run to get the Bulldogs within 8-7.
Oglesby was able to escape the inning with the Panthers still in front, and another Portal rally in the sixth brought insurance RBI singles from Clark, Busby and Waters.
With six outs to go for the win, Busby came in to relieve and immediately went about slamming the door.
Portal's senior ace fanned two in the sixth, and - after allowing a leadoff single in the seventh - retired the final three ECI batters on strikes to close things out.
"That was big for us," said Hagins. "Chad did a great job of finishing things off. This was one that we really wanted to get. ECI is in second place on their side of the region, so this win gives us confidence that we can go toe-to-toe with the best teams in the region. Now we just have to keep it going."
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.