Portage's Kevin Jones and Ty Kniola are the best 1-2 pitching combination in the Duneland Athletic Conference that's not named Plesac. Jones, a transfer from Chesterton who somehow couldn't find innings with the Trojans last year, has a plus fastball and a sharp-breaking curve ball that should become livelier as the cold weather abates. The combination will hold the Indians steady through the upcoming glut of games prompted by last week's rash of postponements.
Speaking of which, Valparaiso hasn't played a DAC game as of this writing, and its depleted pitching staff has yet to be seriously tested. That will change this week with games every day and no Devin Bafia or Andrew Sykes to lean on. Bafia, the Vikings ace, is suspended for half the season and Sykes, who returned with the second-most innings on the staff, reportedly quit after facing the same penalty.
Perennial power Boone Grove has leveled off in the last few seasons, a but Rollie Thill's senior-dominated Wolves team is 8-1 after topping a decent Michigan City squad Saturday. It will be a factor in the PCC race as it begins to unfold this week.
Washington Township and South Central meet Monday in a match-up of PCC contenders. The Senators were expected to be in the picture, the Satellites not so much. S.C. graduated a ton, but is 5-1 under new coach Ryan Kruszka, with wins over Valparaiso and Morgan Township.
Merrillville isn't one of the DAC's contenders, but the Pirates are making strides under coach Mark Schellinger. They lost 6-0 to Crown Point in a game that was scoreless in the fifth and 2-1 on Saturday to Portage in a game that they led 1-0 in the fifth. They lack a true ace, but have enough talent to keep their Duneland foes honest. Now it becomes a matter of finding a way to win some of those games, a scenario Portage faced a few years ago before breaking into the top tier of teams.
Former Indians coach Tom Levandoski used to call LaPorte's Schreiber Field 'Dracula's Castle' because it wasn't a pleasant place for opponents to visit. Coming off a rare losing season, the Slicers' bite isn't what it once was. That was evident in Saturday's 15-0 blitzing by C.P. Ben Saliwanchik is a solid No. 1, but the pitching's iffy after that. With the overall strength of the conference on the rise, trips to LaPorte are no longer a sure 'L' for foes. Is the program headed the way of Hobart football in the post-Don Howell era? Could be.
Portage has quietly become one of the nicer ball yards in the area. Trees planted beyond the outfield fences years ago have matured, providing a pleasant backdrop, and the windscreens on the fences, featuring a logo and the words 'Indians Baseball' add some color. They have a full nine-inning scoreboard and the audio system brings a nice touch with player introductions and music for Portage batters. The site is certainly worthy of hosting a sectional, but it won't get in the rotation because it doesn't have lights. Just the same, the complex's progress has mirrored that of coach Tim Pirowski's rising program.