PHOTO GALLERY | Binaut, Portage battle back to edge Blacklick Valley in extra innings

NANTY GLO, Pa. – Earlier in his high school baseball career, Portage Area shortstop Connor Binaut might not have shrugged off a critical throwing error on a potentially game-ending play.

“I used to do that all the time. If I’d do a bad play, I’d mess up, I’d always bring myself down the whole game,” Binaut said. “My dad told me I need to stop doing that. Now I just work through it. I took breaths every pitch. It got me through. It was just awesome.”

A senior leader on the Mustangs roster, Binaut had a hand – and an arm – in his team’s extra-inning victory in Monday’s District 6 Class 1A quarterfinal. The seventh-seeded Mustangs held off second-seeded host Blacklick Valley 6-5 in eight innings.

Binaut’s sacrifice fly to left field in the top of the eighth inning drove in the eventual game-winning run. He took the mound in relief after a stellar outing by starter Jake McCoy and fanned three straight Vikings batters to strand a baserunner at third.

“Connor had a bad play that could have ended the game, but he walked out there on the mound and struck the side out,” said veteran Portage coach Larry McCabe, referring to a two-out throwing error that allowed Blacklick Valley to tie the game 5-all in the bottom of the seventh.

“That tells you something about a senior captain. I told him earlier in the game, ‘We need your excitement.’ Plus, he had the (sacrifice fly).”

Portage (10-12) will travel to Bishop Carroll Catholic for Friday’s semifinal. The sixth-seeded Huskies beat third-seeded Glendale 8-6 Monday.

“We know in baseball there are always good things and bad things that are going to happen. Some things, you can’t control,” said Portage second baseman Trae Kargo, who had two hits, a walk, one run scored and one run batted in. “It’s about how you respond to what happens.”

McCoy struck out 10 Blacklick Valley batters and walked two in seven innings. He scattered eight hits and battled through the back-and-forth contest.

“It was really up and down all day,” McCoy said. “You really just got to bounce back, shake off what happened, get to the next play and keep going.”

Portage scored two runs without a hit in the top of the first inning. Blacklick Valley tallied single runs in the second and third to tie it 2-all.

The Mustangs’ Binaut reached on a two-out error in the top of the fifth, stole second and scored on a Kargo single to center field.

Blacklick Valley tied the game again after Jordan Kotelnicki singled and scored on Alex Reba’s double in the fifth.

“They never quit,” Vikings coach Garry Wurm said after his team finished 12-7. “We battled. We were just one hit short of tying it back up. Great baseball game.

“You’ve got to tip your hat to Portage. They battled, too. Larry McCabe’s teams are always ready to play baseball. It was just a good playoff baseball game.”

In the top of the seventh, Blacklick Valley starter Hayden Williams left with two outs after throwing 102 pitches. Binaut greeted reliever R.J. Bartoletti with a double to left, and Kargo walked. Easton Slanoc singled home two runs.

“I really felt comfortable with us up two in that last inning,” McCabe said of the seventh. “We just fluttered and gave them momentum. They tied the game.”

With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Kotelnicki singled for his second hit, and Reba walked. After a flyout, Logan Kaschalk grounded to Binaut, but the errant throw led to a tie game.

The Mustangs loaded the bases in the eighth, and Binaut’s sacrifice fly plated a run.

“We got ourselves in position to win the game at the end,” Wurm said. “We gave ourselves opportunities to win. We gave them opportunities to win both ways. We had an opportunity to tie the game up, and we just didn’t put the ball in play. Their pitcher did his job and did what he had to do.”

Jake Noble was hit by a Binaut pitch to lead off the eighth. Two wild pitches put him at third base. Binaut struck out three straight batters – two looking – to end the game.

“I threw all fastballs,” Binaut said. “I threw one curveball. It didn’t seem like it was going to work. I wasn’t trusting it with a guy on third. I threw all fastballs, located them pretty good. They swung or just looked at them.”