Mired in a three-game losing streak and having lost four of their last five, the Portage Skeeters desperately need a win on Sunday — and they got one, but barely.
Beau Zeihen delivered a two-out RBI single in the seventh inning and Kalen Mace pitched a two-hit shutout as Portage scratched out a 1-0 win over Monona in a Home Talent League Eastern Section game at Bidwell Field.
“It’s huge. If we would have lost this game, it would have been really tough to make the playoffs,” Portage manager Bill Greene said. “Hopefully we turn the corner and that was a great game to do it.”
Portage (8-5) scored the game’s only run on Zeihen’s single, but not without some tension. After a leadoff flyout, Travis Hamilton, who went 2-for-3, singled and Jakob Kastenholz doubled to put a pair of runners in scoring position.
Josh Krueger struck out swinging before Zeihen came through with a line drive up the middle to plate Hamilton and give the Skeeters a 1-0 lead. Kastenholz was waved around third, but he easily tagged out at the plate for the third out.
“Beau just poised up and got us the hit we needed,” Greene said. “We tried to get a little greedy there, but you have to take that chance.”
Jared Helmich skied a double down the right field line for Monona (9-3) to lead off the top of the eighth. But Mace struck out the next two Braves batters swinging before getting Kody Parman to ground out to short to end the frame.
After Portage stranded a pair of runners on base in the home half of the eighth, Mace shut the door for good in the top of the ninth. The fiery lefty, who struck out 11 and gave up just two hits in the complete game shutout, retired the Braves in order to finish off the win.
“No matter who you play, it’s always good to get a win, especially when we’ve been struggling to score lately. So just shutting them down, especially a top team is a good feeling,” Mace said.
“Kalen, giving up two hits all day, was on top of his game today. He was almost unhittable and it was pretty awesome to watch,” Greene said.
Scoring chances were few and far between throughout the game, with the Skeeters getting their first opportunity in the sixth. Ethan Greene led off the frame with a double to left-center and took third on a sacrifice bunt by Brady Greene.
With one out, Adam Walz laid down a suicide squeeze bunt, but Ethan Greene was thrown out at home and Mace struck out swinging to end the inning.
After the Skeeters missed their chance, the Braves had one of their own in the top of the seventh.
Mace carried a no-hitter through six innings but Casey Seelow’s leadoff single to open the seventh ended the no-no bid. Mace bounced back nicely, however, striking out the next three batters.
“I’ve never gotten a no-hitter, so it ticks you off a bit, but I think it fires you up more,” Mace said. “Also our defense is solid all around, so knowing if they do put the ball in play, we’re more than likely going to get an out and that’s a good feeling.”
The win revived Portage’s fading hopes for a fourth consecutive trip to the Eastern Section playoffs. Just a half-game separates the Skeeters from fourth-place Poynette following the Indians’ loss to Cottage Grove on Sunday, and the top five teams are all separated by less than 2½ games.
The home stretch won’t be easy for the Skeeters as they must hit the road for the first four of their final games, starting with a trip to upstart Rio next Sunday. As difficult as that sounds, Bill Greene and Mace both believe the win over the Braves is a great confidence booster.
“It’s definitely very crucial to our team, knowing and believing that we just beat the top team in our section, we can beat anyone going forward,” Mace said.
“They were the No. 1 team in the East and to be able to come out and show you can play with anybody is huge for the remainder of the season. Hopefully this will catapult us,” Bill Greene added.
PORTAGE 1, MONONA 0
Monona 000 000 000 — 0 2 0
Portage 000 000 10x — 1 8 2
Pitchers (ip-h-er-bb-so) — M: C. Schmidt (L; 8-8-1-0-4). Por: Mace (W; 9-2-0-1-11).
Leading hitters — M: none. 2B — Helmich. Por — Hamilton 2x3, Mace 2x4 2B — E. Greene, Kastenholz.