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Gorches: Portage ‘believes’ it can win another state title

Portage Coach LisHayes tells her team they need get 3 outs after having scored putting Portage up 2-1 over HuntingtNorth

Portage Coach Lisa Hayes tells her team they need to get 3 outs after having scored putting Portage up 2-1 over Huntington North at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, IN on Saturday June 1, 2013. | Jim Karczewski~for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 8, 2013 6:44AM



Every high school season before the games begin, after gathering all the information for our Post-Tribune previews, I always think ahead to the postseason and wonder who could make a run at the state finals.

Whether it’s football or volleyball (OK, not really since we really don’t get volleyball teams to state) or soccer or basketball or baseball or softball, I just can’t help but make some predictions in my mind.

Sometimes they’re right, but I have to admit that this spring I didn’t see this coming.

Not that I didn’t think Portage softball would be good — of course the Indians were going to be good with a pair of good pitchers in senior Heather Zengler and sophomore Kiley Jones, senior catcher Haley Hodges and five other seniors. And don’t forget shortstop Kaitlin Doud, who is Portage’s leader in batting average, runs scored, hits and doubles.

But, besides Portage players, coaches and fans, who thought the Indians would be the last softball team standing? Carry that one step further … who thought Portage would be the last spring team standing at all with all Northwest Indiana baseball teams done before semistate?

I never thought I’d see the day when region softball was still playing while baseball was finished.

Back to Portage … I admit that there were at least four other area teams I thought had a better chance at reaching Saturday’s state finals. I thought the 3A sectional winner between Hanover, Kankakee Valley and defending state champ Andrean could reach Indy. I thought Wheeler had a good chance after surviving a tough sectional. And there were two or three other 4A teams I thought were better than Portage.

It’s nothing against the Indians, but they weren’t exactly in an easy sectional, let alone regional and semistate. They had to survive a ranked team in the sectional semifinal (Crown Point) and a tough final opponent that actually beat CP a week before the postseason in Hobart.

Munster in the regional? That wasn’t easy.

And then Portage solidified its new status as giant killer by taking down state-ranked No. 2 Northridge in the semistate semifinal, and No. 5 Huntington North.

Franklin Central isn’t close to the top 10. In fact, it got the same amount of votes in the coaches poll as Portage with both teams tying for 18th.

It’s a tribute to the players for coming together and being a little superstitious. Head coach Lisa Hayes missed two weeks early in the season after she gave birth to her second child, but the Indians kept plugging away. Then, when Hayes found a wooden plaque with the word “believe” on it, that one word became the team’s motto. She also got each of the players bracelets with “believe” on them, and that’s all they needed.

It actually should be the whole school’s athletic motto this year.

Portage senior Brandon Vickrey, who is also the editor of the school’s newspaper “Pow Wow,” put it best when he said on Saturday, “What a year for Portage sports.”

This spring the baseball team won its tough sectional. Girls basketball player Nikki Monahan was the Post-Tribune player of the year and last, but definitely not least, the gymnastics team won the state title, which was a Cinderella story in itself since Valparaiso and Chesterton have been the powerhouses in region and state gymnastics and the Indians hadn’t won a title since 1975.

Now the softball team will try to repeat that effort.

Pop quiz: When was the last time a region school won both the gymnastics and softball state titles? How about never. Merrillville was close with gymnastics title in 1992 and softball in 1993. Wheeler did win the boys basketball and softball state titles in 2010.

It would be a great way to cap off a great year for Portage athletics. You just gotta believe.

Oh, and for the record in case you were wondering, the “V” is missing in the believe sign because it fell off. But whoever gets the sign — usually the designated MVP of the last game played — still has the “V” that Hayes says stands for victory. Of course it does.



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