The Portage baseball team continued to ride the right arm of its ace through the District 6 Class A playoffs Thursday.
Luke Dividock pitched a complete game to lead the fourth-seeded Mustangs to a 6-0 win over ninth-seeded St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy in the semifinals, earning a spot in the district championship game and clinching a berth in the PIAA tournament.
Portage coach Larry McCabe said Dividock threw 75 pitches in a win over Bishop Guilfoyle in the first round last Thursday and needed just 41 pitches in a 10-0, five-inning win over Conemaugh Valley in the quarterfinals Monday.
“His pitch counts way down,” McCabe said. “Today he only threw 85 pitches. He’ll throw next week in the district championship. There’s no doubt about it.”
Dividock and Portage (17-5) will take on seventh-seeded Juniata Valley in the district title game at Peoples Natural Gas Field in Altoona. The championship game was tentatively set for Tuesday before the start of the tournament. Juniata Valley beat Homer-Center 12-5 on Thursday.
St. Joseph’s (11-9) went into the day looking to make history by securing its first appearance in both the championship game and the state playoffs.
But the Wolves couldn’t break through against Dividock as he led the Mustangs to a breakthrough postseason win.
McCabe said it will be Portage’s first trip to the championship game since 2006. The coach said the Mustangs last won the title in 1986.
“We only have two district championships in any sport at all in the school, and they’re both baseball,” McCabe said.
Portage will look to add a third next week.
It started with Dividock on the mound.
He worked out of trouble in the first inning after allowing a leadoff single to Jack Mangene. Mangene later advanced to third on an errant pickoff throw to second, but Dividock got a popout and a strikeout to keep the Wolves off the board.
The Mustangs right-hander allowed just four hits, walked none and struck out seven in the shutout.
“We didn’t think we were going to see him, but he was tremendous,” St. Joseph’s coach Greg Herman said, noting his starts in Portage’s first two playoff games.
McCabe didn’t hesitate to hand the ball to Dividock again.
The ace was ready to go.
“I just did what I had to do for the team and for myself and for everyone in this community,” Dividock said.
He’s also one of the team’s three captains.
They have a pair of stars on the front of their hats, an idea inspired by Pittsburgh Pirates legend Willie Stargell.
“Stargell used to hand out stars to everybody because he was a captain of the team,” McCabe said. “Get your ‘Stargell star.’ I’ve been doing it for 38 years. My captains always have stars on their hats next to the letter ‘P.’ ”
Another captain, Cody Zdunczyk, delivered the first blow at the plate.
With one out and runners on first and third in the bottom of the first inning, Zdunczyk smoked a ground ball down the third base line for a two-run double.
Kyler Swires followed with a one-hop double to the left field fence to make it 3-0.
Herman thought nerves played a factor in the inning for St. Joseph’s freshman starting pitcher Ben Macafee.
“He didn’t get quite settled in yet,” Herman said. “He settled down after that and did a great job but the damage was done.”
Macafee allowed five runs and four hits in 4 1/3 innings to take the loss.
The Wolves couldn’t overcome the deficit with Dividock locked in.
The Mustangs pitcher also drove in the final run, finding the right-center field gap for an RBI double to push his team ahead 6-0 in the sixth inning.
He then finished the shutout, getting the final out by picking off St. Joseph’s Nick Shearer at first base to start Portage’s celebration.
“It was such a rush,” Dividock said. “It just all kind of hit us, and we all were just jumping for joy.”
The Mustangs continued to celebrate in right field, while the Wolves gathered in left field and quietly listened to their coaches.
St. Joseph’s then posed for some team pictures after the end of the program’s second season.
The Wolves made strides this year, earning their first-ever district playoff wins before falling just short of the championship game.
Said Herman: “(The program) came leaps and bounds.”