With the opening game of any season there are going to be jitters.
While that was the case early on for the Portage softball team, the Warriors eventually found their swing en route to a 3-1 win over Oregon in Tuesday night’s season opener at Kiwanis Field in Portage.
“It was a great first start,” said Portage co-head coach Connie Wampler. “It was good to get some jitters out of the way and I think that’s what it was early in the game.”
After a scoreless first three innings, Oregon had a prime chance in the top half of the fourth as it put runners on first and second with two outs.
The Panthers were unable to capitalize however, as senior Julia Schmidt flew out to end the chance.
Like Oregon, Portage had a chance in the bottom of the frame and the Warriors were able to strike first.
Following a lead-off bunt single by junior Nicole Weiss, sophomore Joia Simonson connected on a two-run home run to left center field.
The shortstop’s shot just narrowly found its way over the wall, giving the Warriors a 2-0 lead.
“Joia had a great swing, her feet were still and it was perfect,” said Wampler. “And we asked Nicole ahead of time about bunting and she said ‘I got it.’ It’s a good spot for her to be in, she’s confident to do it and it worked out great.”
Portage had a chance to add to its lead after junior pitcher Meghan Witt cranked a double on the next at bat, but senior Alli Walker hit into a double play and junior Hanne Anderson struck out looking to end the frame.
After another scoreless inning in the fifth, the Panthers bit into the Warriors lead in the top of the sixth.
With two outs and a runner on first, senior Jayme Zander launched an RBI double to right field, scoring junior Kyrsten George and cutting the Warriors lead to 2-1.
Senior Julia Schmidt followed Zander’s double with a single, and after stealing second, set the Panthers up with two runners in scoring position.
Like before, however, Witt worked out of the jam and struck out Brooke McCallum to end the threat.
With their lead cut in half, the Warriors responded in the bottom of the sixth.
After a lead-off walk by sophomore Olivia Limmex, Weiss laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Limmex to second. The catcher smartly darted for an uncovered third base and scored on an overthrow to put Portage up 3-1.
With some breathing room once again, Witt worked a quick one-two-three top of the seventh to seal the win.
“It was a nice, deep breath for us,” said Wampler. “We could relax that last inning a little bit and Meghan was able to do what she needs to do, so the run was huge.”
Neither team did much early on as Witt and Oregon’s Hannah Christiansen both looked strong early on.
The pair of starters combined to retire 18 of the first 19 batters, including the first nine straight by Witt, who struck out 13 in the complete game win.
“She had excellent location and good movement on her pitches; it couldn’t have gone better,” said Wampler on Witt’s performance.
Despite the early struggles and some missed opportunities, Wampler and co-head coach Amy Zeihen know the Warriors will improve quickly and the season opening win is crucial.
“I think, especially at the plate, we had to make some adjustments and they came back around better the second and third time around,” said Zeihen.
Wampler added: “It’s just a huge confidence booster for the girls. There are a lot of kids who haven’t played varsity before, so getting this win under their belts is big.”