MERRILLVILLE | Portage baseball players gave locker room speeches in the offseason about what winning a sectional would mean.
More work in the weight room pushed the Indians through the cold months of the winter.
Portage's first step in the postseason came with a 14-3 five-inning win Thursday against host Merrillville in the Class 4A sectional. With it came homers from Andrew Brown and Dave Jercha and a seven-run third inning.
The Indians will face LaPorte today, following the 4:30 p.m. Valparaiso vs. Crown Point game in the semifinals. The Slicers were 11-0, five-inning winners against Hobart in the late game.
"In the winter, that's all we talked about was winning the sectional," Brown said. "We've done a really good job coming day-in, day-out and working hard."
Brown drove in four runs, three on a third-inning homer and another on a second-inning sac fly. Jercha scored twice, and drove in three runs, two on his second-inning homer off of starter Ian Stacks.
'We weren't really expecting it to go quite that way with the way we hit and scored, but it's nice to open the sectionals that way," Portage coach Tim Pirowski said.
Portage pitcher Kris Springman worked four innings, allowing four hits and three runs — one earned — while striking out five. In an effort to save Springman for the championship, should the Indians reach the Monday game, relief pitcher Tyler Kniola pitched the fifth inning, allowing a hit.
Portage (24-6) scored six runs — three earned — off of Stacks, who lasted two innings. He was pulled before the third for Jon Feliciano, who gave up the seven-run third inning.
Merrillville committed three errors as Portage scored seven unearned runs.
"Portage is one of the best teams in the area for a reason. They can hit one through nine and they showed that today," Merrillville coach Mark Schellinger said.
In the second game, LaPorte pitcher Tommy Snyder faced one more than the minimum batters and allowed three base runners on two hits. Snyder struck out five and let his defense do the rest.
"We did a very nice job of attacking and that's what we talked to them about before the game: it's tournament time and you've have to take advantage of the opportunity and produce," Slicers coach Scott Upp said.
LaPorte chased Hobart starter Brandon Murray — who struck out two as part of his new single-season school record for Ks — after the second inning with a two-out, three-run homer by Ben Saliwanchik in the first inning.
Murray gave up nine runs and reliever CJ Komosa allowed two before striking out the side in the bottom of the fourth inning.
"We try to preach to our guys all the time, and really showed in this game that anything can happen and will happen," Hobart coach Bob Glover Jr. said. "When it comes down to one singular game like that, it is what it is."