The Portage High School softball team sealed the deal on Saturday night at Ben Davis High School by knocking off Franklin Central 2-0 to claim the Indiana High School Athletic Association 2013 4A state title in the final chapter of a storybook postseason run. The Indians rode their season motto of “believe” all the way to achieving the ultimate goal for a team sport in the state of Indiana.
“They just kept fighting the whole time,” head coach Lisa Hayes said. “They just kept believing in each other and themselves, and that’s all they needed.”
The dominoes continued to fall into place the way they had throughout the magical run when Portage’s lone hit of a game came at the perfect moment. In the bottom of the fourth, Lauren Murray cracked a two-out double off the right field fence to plate courtesy runners Abby Alexander and Krystle Allison and send the hundreds of Portage fans that made their way to Indianapolis into a frenzy. Haley Hodges was hit by a pitch and Kiley Jones drew a walk to set up the scoring chance.
Murray was the hero for the second straight week after driving in the go-ahead run in the ninth inning of the 2-1 victory over Huntington North in the semistate championship on June 1.
“Last game, in the semistate championship, I knew I had to get something done and it was the same thing here,” Murray said. “We were getting nice hits, but they were just going to people. The pitcher (Gabby Snyder) was decent; she was good. I knew when she was throwing me screwballs that I had to take one of the inside pitches and I had to get something done.”
Murray battled through a trying regular season after missing the first half of the year with a severe knee injury.
“The injury really set me back a lot,” she said. “It made me really upset that I had to miss part of the season, because that wasn’t in the game plan, but I knew that I had to bounce back quickly and get the job done for the team.”
Murray carried a batting average of .281 into the state finals, but she picked the right moments for two hits that will forever be ingrained in Portage sports history.
“It was perfect timing,” Hayes said. “We were fortunate to get Haley and Kiley on base and Lauren came through at the perfect time.”
Kiley Jones went the distance, allowing just two hits, one of which was a pop-fly on the infield that fell between the mound and the plate and was ruled a hit. Jones finished the season at 16-4 and was the winning pitcher for six of Portage’s seven postseason victories.
“She did an amazing job,” Hayes said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better pitcher right now. Throwing a two-hit game in the state championship is phenomenal.”
When she took the mound for the top of the seventh with Portage leading by two and the fans squirming in anticipation, Jones reminded herself about a piece of advice from assistant coach Jay Hodges.
“He hands me the ball and says, ‘Just have fun kid,’” she said. “That’s the mindset that I try to keep. A lot of people ask me how I stay so calm and don’t show much emotion on the mound. It isn’t something I really think about or have to work on.”
Franklin Central’s Morgan Bruce popped out to Jones for the final out, sending Portage into pandemonium in celebration of the second softball state title in school history and the first since 2000.
Senior Haley Hodges received a cherry on top of her sundae when she was named the recipient of the 2013 IHSAA Mental Attitude Award, a prestigious honor given to a senior that excels in mental attitude, scholarship, leadership and athletic ability.
“It feels really, really great that people are recognizing what I do, not only on the field, but in the classroom,” Hodges said. “I feel really special to be recognized for that.”
The Portage battery Hodges and Jones have developed a special bond that played a key role in Portage’s state title run. The two have a friendship that does not stop outside the white lines.
“We’re not just pitcher-catcher, we’re best friends too,” Hodges said. “It’s been an honor for me to catch for her all season and it’s great to go out this year with such a good friend.”
According to Jones, she and Hodges got along well last year, but this year they have grown much closer to each other.
“I like to say there is an imprint of my body on her passenger’s seat in her car because we are together so much,” Jones said. “It’s just awesome to know that I have my best friend behind the plate winning these games with me and helping my team win these games.”
The victory over the Flashes, who appeared in the state final for just the second time in school history and have yet to win a state championship, was the latest in a series of thrillers. All seven Portage postseason games were decided by one or two runs.
The Indians suffered a surprising 8-0 loss to Kankakee Valley in the second game of a double header on May 11. They have not been defeated since.
The softball state title comes right on the heels of the Portage gymnastics team upending Valpo in the state meet. Portage High School has already won two state championships in the calendar year after a 13-year drought between titles.
“It was just awesome,” Athletic Direction Kelly Bermes said. “We saved the best for last. Kiley Jones just pitched the game of her life. I think it is even more fun the second time than it was earlier this year when we won the gymnastics.”