JIM HUNSLEY: Youthful Portage softball makes early impression

2012-04-04T18:00:00Z JIM HUNSLEY: Youthful Portage softball makes early impressionBy Jim Hunsley Times Columnist nwitimes.com
April 04, 2012 6:00 pm  • 

I didn't blink about leaving Portage's softball team off The Times preseason Top 10 poll.

New coach. No seniors on the roster. Two freshmen on the pitching staff. It made perfect sense to me -- at that point.

Just a few weeks into the season, and I believe the Indians will have a permanent spot in the poll.

Entering today's Duneland Athletic Conference matchup with Michigan City, the Indians are 3-1. Their lone loss was a 4-2 decision to No. 2 Andrean. Victories include a 4-3 win over No. 8 Hebron.

A team that was 19-7 last season -- has a great shot to surpass that mark. I know it's just four games -- but I've been thoroughly impressed by the team's accomplishments.

Junior catcher Haley Hodges seems quite comfortable as one of the team's captains. She's 9-for-10 in the last three games with three doubles a triple, five RBIs and three runs scored.

The freshmen mound duo of Kiley Jones and Kaitlin Doud have already  picked up their initial varsity victories. Jones tossed a one-hit shutout with seven strikeouts in a 10-0 six-inning DAC win over Valparaiso on Tuesday. Doud tossed a three-hitter with nine strikeouts in a 9-0 win over Boone Grove on March 30.

I give a lot of the credit to new coach Lisa (Anderson) Hayes. This isn't her first varsity coaching stint, but she coached for just one season at Marquette in 2009. The last two years she assisted at Portage. To me, this appeared to be quite the step up -- both in tradition and competition. I thought that was a lot to ask of the 2003 Chesterton grad.

In a preseason interview with Hayes, I asked on how she would deal with newcomers, former JV players and veterans on the squad.

"For the girls that know me, I'm a friendly face," said Hayes, a 2011 inductee into the Indiana High School Softball Hall of Fame. "There wasn't the hall of fame when I coached these girls.

"Having that trophy might be a good way for the young kids to see that I've accomplished some things."

Many times throughout the interview, Hayes talked about respect -- and she appears to have gained that with this team.

"She's a great role model for us," Hodges said of Hayes. "She's intense, but she wants the best for us. She wants to make us better players."

"It hasn't been a bad transition."

For me, it's just a question of how high the Indians will climb in our poll. Only time will tell.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at jim.hunsley@nwi.com.

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