The Raines Delay: A long way for a familiar foe
Both across the Northwest Indiana region and around the state, the Porter County Conference likely has one of the smallest footprints anywhere.
The furthest distance between member schools is just 30 miles, which translates to a 36-minute drive between South Central and Hebron.
South Central and Morgan Township are even closer together — 16 miles, a 22-minute trip. But on Saturday, the Satellites will take almost two hours to travel nearly 100 miles to face Morgan in a Class A Frankfort Semistate semifinal.
It is South Central’s third consecutive trip to semistate, where its season has ended in the semifinals each of the past two seasons.
The only time the Satellites faced Morgan Township this season, the Cherokees won 5-1.
"We had one bad inning," South Central coach Tony Wallace said Thursday. "It was 1-1 through, I think, five innings, then we gave up four runs. One of their girls hit one out. It was a close one up to that point.
"There are good things and bad things about facing a team you’ve seen before. We know what we have to do — we have to hit the ball and we can’t make errors. We have a little bit of redemption we want to get, and this is the perfect opportunity for it."
The Satellites have cruised through the postseason so far. En route to their fourth consecutive sectional title, they won a pair of run-rule games. They repeated that feat in the regional championship game. And now they have to go 97 miles downstate to face a conference team that beat them during the regular season.
But the Porter County Conference has even more about which to toot its horn. Boone Grove won an epic two-day, 23-inning affair against Bishop Noll in that Class 2A regional and will also represent the PCC at the semistate level.
I asked writing buddy CJ Peters, who covered the game for another Northwest Indiana newspaper — and as a result missed our slow-pitch doubleheader on Wednesday — to give me some feedback on a tilt that came two innings shy of tying the state record. He wrote the following in an email:
"About an hour and 15 minutes in and the game is already in the sixth inning and I realize, ‘Wow, this game is flying, I’m going to have plenty of time to write.’ Little did I know, I was going to see seven more innings on Tuesday and then another nine on Wednesday as the game spanned two days and nearly five hours.
Boone was an out away from being eliminated twice (7th and 8th innings) and then goes on to win on a walk-off bunt by Gianna Hamady, because why wouldn’t a game that long end in that fashion? I went through four of my scoresheets, four notebook pages and even missed two softball games of my own but that ending was well worth it. The game still managed to have enough moments to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.
I came away most impressed with Boone’s resolve and how they continued to battle with their backs against the wall. They really showed why they’ve been to state the last two seasons. The fact they only committed two errors in 23 innings was also mighty impressive too. It’s cliché, but it was truly a game neither team deserved to lose."
This is the first time any conference has ever had three teams reach semistate in the same year.
"It says a lot about the conference. It’s pretty doggone good," Wallace said. "We know we’re playing quality teams. We played Boone twice this season, and ended up on the wrong side both times.
"This at least gives us a chance to get even with Morgan. I don’t expect it to be a rout either way. A team will have to play really well to get the win."
Wallace took over the South Central program in 2015. The team formed in 1994. In the 20 seasons in between, the Satellites had been to one semistate — in 2007.
After rolling to a third straight regional title, Wallace began to wonder whether to program has been getting better or the local competition has been getting worse.
"It’s hard to quantify," Wallace said. "We try to play a bigger schedule, against a lot of (Class) 2A and 3A and some 4A schools, and I think that helps us in the long run.
"This is the third straight semistate for our seniors. They’ve got some unfinished business down there. They say the third time’s a charm, and I hope that holds true. I hope we break the semistate curse."
If the Satellites are able to defeat Morgan Township in the 10 a.m. CT semifinal, they’ll face either Tri or Frontier in the 6 p.m. championship game.
South Central is already driving a long way to face a PCC rival. Here’s hoping it doesn’t also go 23 innings.