Big Bats Drive Portage Northern to 1st Title

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

June 15, 2019

EAST LANSING – Portage Northern has made a habit of getting on top of teams early this season.

There’s no secret to that success. The Huskies are just that good at the plate.

“We can all hit,” senior outfielder Tyler Helgeson said. “This is a great lineup, this is a great team, because if one guy is having an off day, you know that the whole team has your back.”

Pretty much everyone in the lineup had a good day Saturday as the Huskies pounded out 12 hits on their way to a 10-4 victory against Rockford in the MHSAA Division 1 Baseball Final at McLane Stadium on the campus of Michigan State University. The title is the first in Northern baseball history.

“It feels surreal – it hasn’t really hit me yet,” Hegelson said. “This is what we’ve all been working toward. This has been our goal for four years now, and to finally accomplish it, it’s very special.”

Saturday’s win was Northern’s 24th over its final 25 games of the season, with its only loss coming against Division 2 finalist Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in the final game of the regular season. 

“This group of kids is just phenomenal,” Northern coach Chris Andrews said. “They’ve been a selfless team, they’ve worked like crazy – we do mental conditioning, we practice then they do weight training twice a week, and these guys never complain. They put in all the work, and they play for each other. It’s just awesome.”

It was the second trip to the Finals for the Huskies (39-7), who had finished runner-up in 2015. Several of those players, as well as other alumni, were on hand to watch Andrews lift the trophy for the first time.

“It feels amazing,” senior first baseman Cam French said. “All of us seniors, we came in with a big goal, and we worked our butts off every day. Bringing home the first state title ever definitely feels good, and I feel like everyone knows that we earned it, so I’m happy.”

French and Helgeson had the biggest hits for the Huskies, as French drove in two runs during a four-run first inning and Helgeson hit a three-run home run over the wall in right field to highlight a five-run fifth.

They each had three hits on the day, as did Zach Quinn. Nolan McCarthy, Greg Lapetina (RBI) and Gannon Andrews (two RBI) each added one hit, while Parker Brey and Malcom Gaynor each added an RBI.

A balanced lineup has been key for the Huskies all season, as seven players hit above .380 for the year, and that doesn’t include the leadoff hitter Helgeson, who hit .355 with 30 stolen bases and will play at Eastern Michigan University next year. 

With four Rockford errors sprinkled in, it was more than enough for Northern to distance itself.

“They hit the ball well, and they put the bat on the ball,” Rockford coach Matt Vriesenga said. “We didn’t make a couple plays, and really when you’re playing against a team like Portage Northern, you have to make plays. They’ve hit the ball all year long. They’re a great team. If we make a couple of those plays, maybe it’s a one-run, two-run game, but they deserved to win.”

Xander Morris was the beneficiary of that run support, picking up the pitching win in a complete-game effort. The sophomore struck out four while allowing seven hits and one earned run.

“Xander Morris, he’s a sophomore, unflappable,” Chris Andrews said. “The kid just throws strikes. He’s got a wipeout curveball, he can throw it over for a strike. He’s an amazing kid. He’s planning on being a Navy SEAL, and with that effort, I wouldn’t doubt it.”

Rockford (28-10) scored two of its runs in the third inning to make the score 5-2 at the time, but never was able to get closer. A solo home run by Zach Schamp in the fifth inning gave the Rams some late life, and they threatened again in the sixth only to have that rally cut short by a Brey throw to the plate from right field to prevent a run and end the inning. 

“There’s no quit in them – they battled and they keep battling until the end,” Vriesenga said. “You know they’re not going to take an at-bat off. That’s what we’ve talked about; you might go 0-for-2 with two strikeouts, and the next time up you hit a triple, but you have to keep your head up and you have to stay in the game. A kid like Zach Schamp, to come up in his third at-bat and hit a home run – super proud of him and the rest of the guys.”

Grant Martin led Rockford with two hits, while Joe Kelley, Cody Sterkenburg (RBI), Isaac Toole and Owen Cairns each had one.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Portage Northern's Tyler Helgeson (7), Gannon Andrews (2), Zach Quinn (27) and Malcolm Gaynor celebrate during Saturday's Division 1 Final. (Middle) Andrews and a Rockford runner race to the plate.

No Runs, No Hits: East Jordan Aces Toss 4 Straight Shutouts, 3 Straight No-Hitters

By Tom Spencer
Special for

May 17, 2024

Playing shortstop this year for East Jordan High School admittedly has become rather boring at times.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThere hasn’t been a whole lot of action at what’s usually the busiest spot in the infield — no matter who is playing it.

Junior Eli Burns knows that better than anyone. He is the Red Devils’ regular shortstop. He also pitches.

Ryder Malpass knows what it’s like to play short this season as well – he’s normally in the spot when Burns is on the mound.

But he also has a feel for how little the shortstop does regularly for the Division 4 No. 16 Red Devils from his usual spot at catcher – receiving behind the plate for a pitching staff averaging almost two strikeouts per inning. 

Just recently, East Jordan put together three straight no-hitters and four straight shutouts.

“It’s good,” Burns said of playing short. “When you have confidence with your pitchers you don’t have to worry about the ball being hit to you that much.”

Ryder Malpass keeps an eye on a runner before making his move toward the plate. Malpass, a junior, started the shoutout string himself with a 4-0 win over Bellaire last week, when he earned the win throwing 5 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts while going 2 for 3 at the plate with a double and RBI. Junior Korbyn Russell closed out the game.

Then Burns started the no-hitter run in the second game that night with Bellaire, a 6-0 Red Devils win. Burns had 10 strikeouts and just a single walk allowed. He also tripled in the game.

This week the no-hitter string continued with 1-0 and 2-0 wins over Boyne City. Russell and senior Lucas Stone threw the Red Devils’ third and fourth no-hitters of the season.

Stone threw a perfect game across six innings. He struck out 12 batters on just 70 pitches and also went 2 for 3 with an RBI against the Ramblers. Russell earned the 1-0 win over Boyne City with 5 1/3 no-hit innings behind 11 strikeouts and with just a lone walk allowed. Stone followed Russell to pick up the save for the Red Devils, now 13-9-1 overall on the season and 6-4 in Lake Michigan Conference play.  

Russell is 6-2 on the season with two saves. Going into Thursday’s game with Charlevoix, he had struck out 92 batters over 42 innings while compiling a 0.86 ERA. Stone is 5-2. Before suffering his second loss of the season to the Rayders, his ERA was 1.17 and he had fanned 38 in 36 innings of work. Burns has racked up 17 strikeouts so far in just over 14 innings.

“It’s pretty special to be a part of something not many teams can do,” Russell said. “We have a special group of pitchers to get the job done.”

Stone credits the Red Devils’ defensive play for the pitching staff’s success.

“Our defense has helped the pitching a lot because they don’t make a lot of errors,” Stone said.  “It makes it a lot easier when you know they are going to make plays behind you.”

Korbyn Russell prepares to unload a pitch.East Jordan came into this week beginning to approach the state records for consecutive shutout innings and games. That ended yesterday in twin bill losses to Division 3 No. 11 Charlevoix. But the Red Devils still can chase the national record of nine no-hit games in a season. (No official record is kept for no-hitters by a Michigan high school team in a season.)

There is also no known record of any East Jordan team racking up three no-hitter wins in a row.

“I don’t think there’s been any stretch with three no-hitters in a row, so that is pretty special,” noted East Jordan coach Adam Grybauskas. “We’re kind of picking up where things were last year and trying to build on last year’s success and make it even better this year.”

The Red Devils captured a Division 4 District championship in 2023 and then a 9-6 Regional Semifinal win over Gaylord St. Mary. The season came to an end in the Regional Final with a 2-0 loss to Painsdale Jeffers.

Russel, Stones and Burns were on the pitching staff last year as East Jordan made that run. The Red Devils will host the District tournament this year as familiar opponents Bellaire, Central Lake and Ellsworth will vie to stop East Jordan’s attempt at repeating as champion. The doubleheader loss to undefeated Charlevoix ended the Red Devils’ hopes of sharing the LMC title with the Rayders.

“I think we’ve played a little bit better competition this year,’ Grybauskas said.  “Our focus this year is taking each doubleheader at a time, and try to get better each week.

“It’s really been game by game and week to week,” he continued. “You’re always looking to do better than last year so obviously that will be something we’ll talk about in the future.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) East Jordan’s Lucas Stone winds up during a game. (Middle) Ryder Malpass keeps an eye on a runner before making his move toward the plate. (Below) Korbyn Russell prepares to unload a pitch. (Photos courtesy of the East Jordan athletic department.)