Portela rocks, Stingers roll against Bucks
WILLMAR—If the Polo Portela era had to come to an end, it might as well conclude in quintessential fashion.
Portela peered in at Waterloo batters for over seven innings on Thursday night, standing taller than his six-foot frame and unleashed upon them precisely the lethal combination that launched him to his Northwoods League dominance lethal combination for the entire season: masterful command of all four of his pitches and an unwavering, unmatched confidence.
The result for Portela, now commonplace but far from mundane by this point in the season, was one run and seven strikeouts over 7-1/3 innings as the Stingers edged the Bucks for a 2-1 win.
With the right-hander reaching his innings limit for the summer, it was known before the game that this start would be his last for Willmar.
"I don't show a lot of emotion, but it was a very emotional night for me," Portela said. "Just knowing that I was pitching for those guys for the last time was in my mind."
Fittingly, Portela entered with a 1.24 ERA—best in the North division—and exited with that very same figure still in tact.
The pinnacle of the night for the Sacramento City pitcher came after he handed the ball to manager Eric Vasquez with one out in the eighth inning, walked off the mound and doffed his cap to the crowd giving him a standing ovation at Bill Taunton Stadium.
"The standing ovation, there's no better feeling than that," Portela said. "I'll always be grateful for Willmar and everybody here."
Following Portela's exit from the contest, reliever Calvin Coker allowed one of two inherited runners to score in the eighth, and then escaped a jam in the ninth to notch a five-out save.
"You feel good with Calvin out there even with those guys on base," Vasquez said. "He came in and just said, 'Let's have some fun.' There was no shortage of excitement, that's for sure."
Coker surrendered a leadoff double in the top of the ninth, but some stellar defense from shortstop Josh Bissonette erased that runner and saved a run in the process.
Bucks catcher John Cable followed up the double with a grounder up the middle. Bissonette ranged to his left to field the ball, and noticing he had a chance to throw out base runner Charlie Concannon at third, he took the chance throwing behind him.
The defense of Willmar was a big story on the night, as well, with Bissonette's play adding onto diving stops from third baseman Nolan Bumstead and center fielder Marcus Still.
"Guys like playing behind Polo, and that really showed tonight," Vasquez said. "Just a great all-around night in the field."
It worked perfectly, giving the Stingers the first out of the inning. Coker surrendered another single, but ended the game with a flyout to shallow center and a grounder back to the mound.
Willmar's second half-opening win moved its record to 8-5, just one game back of Mankato for first place. Overall, the Stingers are 26-23.
The third inning provided two runs for Willmar, which would prove to hold up for Portela and Coker. After extending his on-base streak to 19 games in the first inning, Bissonette opened the scoring two frames later with a single to plate Still, who stole his league-leading 32nd base. Bumstead would drive in Luke Becker with a sacrifice fly two batters later to put the Stingers up 2-0.
Nothing else would be doing against Bucks starter Jared Crescentini, but that simply wouldn't matter on this evening.
It was the final Polo night of the year in Willmar.
Willmar 2, Waterloo 1
Bucks 000 000 010-1 6 0
Stingers 002 000 000-2 6 0
Hitting - Waterloo: Charlie Concannon 2-3 bb, Dalton Hurd 1-3 r ... Willmar: Marcus Still 0-2 sb bb r, Luke Becker 2-4 r, Josh Bissonette 2-4 rbi, Danny Rodriguez 1-4, Nolan Bumstead 1-3 rbi
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) - Waterloo: Jared Crescenti (L) 5.2-5-2-2-1-7, Carlisle Koestler 1-0-0-0-1-1, Tyler Booth 0.1-1-0-0-0-0, Ryan Dunne 1-0-0-0-0-2 ... Willmar: Polo Portela (W) 7.1-4-1-1-2-7, Calvin Coker (SV) 1.2-2-0-0-0-0