Healthy Tomlinson Gives Portage Northern Major Reason to Dream Big

By Pam Shebest
Special for

May 14, 2024

PORTAGE – Ty Tomlinson ended last season as a member of the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association all-state Dream Team.

Southwest CorridorThis season began as more of a nightmare for the Portage Northern senior.

The lanky shortstop stepped up to the plate for his second at-bat of the Huskies’ opening game and started legging out a double.

“On my way to first base, my first step out of the box, I heard a nice little pop,” Tomlinson said. “Coach (Ben) Neal was screaming at me because he thought I wasn’t hustling. Turns out I was just barely making it to the base.”

That’s because the “pop” was a hamstring injury that sidelined him for nearly half the team's games so far.

“It was rough,” the senior said. “Definitely not how I wanted to start my year. I played three years without getting hurt, and to start the year off like that, especially after all the work we put in this off-season, I was really excited to see it pan out.”

His dad, Ryan Tomlinson, said he knew right away what happened.

“I saw it,” he said. “I knew what happened without talking to him. He’s a very competitive kid.”

Ryan Tomlinson is no stranger to seeing injuries. After 20 years, he recently retired as Western Michigan University’s women’s tennis coach. The first thing he did after Ty’s injury was set his son up with a trainer.

Ryan Juodawlkis stands in for a pitch.“Ty would get up at 6 a.m. to work with my trainer, then go to school, then come home to work in the training room,” Ryan said.

The injury kept the shortstop out of the game, but not out of the action.

“It was hard on a personal level because I’ve grown up as a competitor, but we have so much depth,” Tomlinson said. “I did a lot of the pitch charting, so I was in the game every pitch. As much as I hated being away, we still played great.”

While Tomlinson was sidelined, senior second baseman Ryan Juodawlkis lost his infield partner.

“Me and Ty, we’ve been a duo for years,” Juodawlkis said. “We have great chemistry.

“We’ve played together a long time. We grew up together playing ball since 11-U. We’ve always been on the field together, talking to each other and communicating.”

With Tomlinson out, Brice Welke, one of two sophomores on the team, stepped in at shortstop. 

“It’s always harder to adjust to someone else, especially a younger guy,” Juodawlkis said. “It’s the communicating, who’s got the bag for a steal, who’s gonna hold a runner on.”

Prepping to contend

When the schedule comes out at the beginning of the season, the first two dates the Huskies circle are against Mattawan and Portage Central, Tomlinson said.

Central is the crosstown rival with players who are friends outside of school, and Mattawan is the team that ended Northern’s last two seasons in Division I District Finals.

Huskies coach Adam Cardona.Northern, ranked No. 15 in Division 1 this spring, was to take a 16-5 record against eighth-ranked Mattawan into a contest scheduled for last Thursday. But the devastation from the EF2 category tornado two days earlier resulted in school being canceled for three days, postponing the game.

“They know they still get to play, so they’re not too heartbroken about (postponing the game),” second-year head coach Adam Cardona said. “A few have been without power a few days, no one lost their homes, but some of their families have been affected, which I know is weighing on them a bit. Praise the Lord, everybody is safe.

“With everything that’s going on, I think they understand it puts baseball in perspective; there’s bigger things than baseball. I think they’re ready to get back into it and get some of that normalcy back.”

Games against Mattawan and Portage Central, especially, are a good indication of the Huskies' playoff potential.

“Our pitchers need to throw strikes and provide weak contact,” Juodawlkis noted as keys to making it past Districts. “Don’t try to do too much and put the ball in play.”

Senior catcher Braden Welke added, “It’s going to take better situational hitting and a lot better moving runners over (to advance).” 

Baseball is in the Welkes’ DNA.

Their father Ben played college ball, and their grandfather Tim Welke, as well as a great uncle, Bill, are former MLB umpires.

Catcher Braden Welke puts on his equipment. While their grandfather is at most games, he doesn’t try to “umpire” them.

“He more just talks and chats with the umpires. Both give me plenty of stories and pointers,” Braden Welke laughed.

Cardona said Welke is one of the best catchers in Southwest Michigan.

“That dude just loves the game of baseball,” Cardona said. “He’s happy to be out here every single day.

“Behind the dish, he calls everything. He sees the game and knows the game well.”

Welke said he likes being in control.

“I like being able to touch the ball every single play,” he said. “You’re always in the play, always talking. You’re kind of the leader on the field.”

Other seniors on the team are Maxwell Pidgeon, Jack Mick, Antonio Parsayar, Keegan McIntyre and Danny Tafoya. Juniors are Nolan Ratliff, Seth Bartlam, Drew Clyne, Thomas Horein, Mateo Icaza, Izaak Bobbio, Finn Malek, Nolan Wilson, Andrew Wagster, Braden Hembree, Mason Wesaw, David Li and Evan Elkins. Evan McIntyre is the other sophomore.

Diehard fans

While his dad played and coached tennis, Ty Tomlinson knew at an early age it was not for him.

“I grew up playing tennis along with baseball and other sports, trying other sports out,” he said. “Tennis was just not for me.

“I was not the fleetest of foot back in my day, so I couldn’t move around the court all too well,” he laughed. “Dad and I would kind of butt heads a little bit, so I was ‘I’ve got to move on.’”

Ryan Tomlinson is a huge Detroit Tigers fan.

So huge, that his three sons’ names are all derived from former Tigers greats including two Hall of Famers. 

Ty is named for Ty Cobb, while his 11-year-old brother is Graydon Gibson (from Kirk Gibson) and his 7-year-old bother is Myles Kaline (Al Kaline).

However, the two younger Tomlinsons are finding their niche in hockey right now.

Ty Tomlinson originally committed to play baseball at University of Michigan next season. But after feeling he found a better fit at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., the shortstop de-committed and opted to head south to play for the Division I Atlantic 10 Patriots.

“Plus it’s warmer,” he laughed. “I’m not a fan of the cold, and apparently neither is my hamstring.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Portage Northern’s Ty Tomlinson smiles during an at bat. (2) Ryan Juodawlkis stands in for a pitch. (3) Huskies coach Adam Cardona. (4) Catcher Braden Welke puts on his equipment. (Action photos courtesy of the Portage Northern baseball program; head shot by Pam Shebest.)

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.)