PREP SOFTBALL

The big-hit kids keep Portage's playoff run alive

2013-06-05T20:00:00Z 2013-09-16T18:57:21Z The big-hit kids keep Portage's playoff run aliveSteve Hanlon steve.hanlon@nwi.com, (219) 933-4198 nwitimes.com

PORTAGE | When Portage plays Franklin Central Saturday for the Class 4A state softball championship, Indians fans might be pulling for Alexis Johnson to strike out.

"Yeah, that might be a good thing," Portage senior Lauren Murray joked after Wednesday's practice.

"That usually gets me mad," said Johnson, a junior.

These two Indians have had some of the most clutch hits in Portage's remarkable run. All of Johnson's white-knuckle ropes were preceded by a swing and a miss.

Like in the sectional semifinal against Crown Point, Johnson whiffed against Miranda Elish and later launched a huge home run with an insurance policy wrapped around it.

Or in the semistate championship when Johnson's two-out single in the seventh tied the game against Huntington North, which was won in the ninth.

"I was feeling really nervous," Johnson said of the semistate game. "I felt like if I didn't get a hit I'd let the whole team down. It felt really good. Especially since I'd struck out earlier."

Murray has had her own big-game heroics, which have been made bigger due to a knee injury that didn't allow her to play until halfway through this season.

The rust had been in and around her swing until the postseason started.

She had a huge hit against Hobart in the sectional championship game and another in the semistate.

"Last year was my breakout season," said Murray, who batted .395 with 26 RBIs. "The injury really stunk. It put me behind. But I've started to feel it since we got to the playoffs.

"I knew if we didn't get it done the season would be over. I did not want that to happen. That was my motivation."

Being a senior, it would seem the pressure would way as heavy as a piano on Murray's back. But that hasn't been the case thus far and will likely not carry over to Saturday's championship game at Indianapolis Ben Davis High School.

"We were supposed to be out after the second game of sectionals," Murray said. "Everyone's counted us out."

Portage coach Lisa Hayes has been extremely pleased with the money ball her team is playing. When you have nothing to lose, it is much easier to just play a game.

The Indians have been underdogs in every game so far, so one more should not be an issue, especially with two hitters like Murray and Johnson in the lineup.

"All of them, every kid, has kept fighting," Hayes said. "They never give up. They believe in each other. Yes, those were big hits by Alexis and Lauren. But the way this team is playing, it did not surprise me at all.

"I expected it."

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