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Mira Mesa seniors take charge

05/29/2013, 8:42pm PDT
By John Maffei

Marauders win four straight to earn spot in Division I championship game.

Mira Mesa senior Joey Portugal, shown pitching last spring, didn't allow a Carlsbad runner past first base in Wednesday's playoff win.

— A little more than a week ago, faced with the task of winning four straight games just to gain the right to play for a championship, pitcher Joey Portugal and Mira Mesa High’s senior baseball players had a little meeting.

“There was some doubt we could do it,” Portugal said. “So the seniors met and to a man, we vowed to get it done.”

Facing elimination at every step, the No. 8-seeded Marauders beat No. 5 Cathedral Catholic, No. 4 Montgomery and top-seeded Carlsbad.

Wednesday, Mira Mesa had to beat Carlsbad for a second straight day, and it was Portugal who stepped into the spotlight.

The left-hander threw a six-hit shutout, striking out four. He didn’t allow a Carlsbad runner past first base as Mira Mesa punched its ticket to the San Diego Section Division I title game with a 2-0 win.

The Marauders (22-14) will play No. 2 Grossmont (25-8) at 7 p.m. Friday at USD.

“I was really nervous at first,” said Portugal, who improved to 6-1. “I felt it at school all day. But once I threw my first strike, it was game time, and I was OK.”

Portugal helped himself by picking off two runners.

And his defense was stellar as center fielder Michael Bingham tracked down long drives by Nick Anderson and Nathan Mann, left fielder Zak Ollila hauled in a Chris Lutz smash, and right fielder Tyler Thomas pulled in a Lutz drive with a man on to end the game.

“Tip your caps to Mira Mesa,” said Carlsbad coach Chris Greene. “They had to beat us twice at our place, and they did it. Portugal was really good. He changed speeds, mixed up his pitches and kept us off balance.

“And every time we hit a ball hard, they seemed to have a guy in the right spot. We hang our hats on pitching and defense. Slater Lee pitched a great game for us, but we didn’t play defense behind him.”

For the second straight day, the Lancers (24-8) had a three-error inning. It cost them Tuesday and again Wednesday as Mira Mesa scored both its runs in the third inning on three errors and Trey Lomax’s RBI ground out.

“We did it the hard way,” said Mira Mesa coach Ben Rosenthal. “This team learned and progressed over the course of the season.

“Carlsbad is a good team, a really good team. But they made some mistakes, and we were able to capitalize on them. And we pitch. It’s hard to say who our No. 1 guy is, but Joey is a four-year varsity letterman. He’s tough and experienced. We have great outfielder defenders who can run down balls with the best of them.”

Asked if he honestly thought his team could win four games in a row and play for a section title, Rosenthal said, “Yes. I saw something in their eyes that I really liked the last couple of weeks.

“I thought we had a chance because we have arms that we can rely on. And we have the ability to scratch out runs.”

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