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Trojans snap Wildcats' conference title string

The Thornapple Kellogg varsity softball team celebrates its 2019 OK Gold Conference championship after 6-3 and 6-0 victories over visiting Wayland Monday capped off a perfect 12-0 conference season by the Trojans. Team members include (front from left) Carly Grummet, Kara Burbridge, Brea Lake, Shylin Robirds, Audrey Mulder, assistant coach Jon Greenman, Bella VanTil, Paige VanStee, Julianna VanMeter, Mo Sprague, Anna Harmens, Natalie O'Riley, Ashley Snyder, Maleah Bailey and head coach Tom Hudson. (Photo by Brett Bremer) Brett Bremer

Sports Editor

The Thornapple Kellogg varsity softball team finished off an undefeated OK Gold Conference season with a doubleheader sweep of visiting Wayland Monday – finishing off conference play a perfect 12-0.

The Trojans, who shared the conference title with the Wildcats a year ago, snapped Wayland’s string of 13 consecutive conference titles by winning game one 6-3 and finished off the perfect conference season with a 6-0 victory in game two.

Wayland had a 3-0 lead after three innings in game one, but once the Trojans shook their early butterflies they held the Wildcats scoreless for 11 straight innings. Brea Lake earned the two pitching wins for TK with lots of help from both her infield and outfield defense, and Paige VanStee came on to get a save in game one, recording the final four outs.

Ashley Snyder and Kara Burbridge singled with one out and their team down 3-2 in the bottom of the fourth inning of game one. They both scored on a two-out single into left by Maleah Bailey, and VanStee followed with a double to right that scored Bailey from second. TK added a final run when Shylin Robirds beat out a bunt, colliding with the Wildcat second baseman covering the bag at first. The ball got away and VanStee came in to score.

TK never trailed again.

“Wayland is traditionally very good, and very well coached. When you get a win against them, it's great. We've got great respect for everybody. Today things went our way. We worked hard for it,” TK head coach Tom Hudson said.

Wayland scored a run in the top of the first inning of game one, on an infield single, a sacrifice and another single into right field. The Wildcats had runners on second and third with one out, after a Trojan error, but VanStee snagged a line drive at shortstop and then picked off the Wildcat runner who had strayed too far from the bag at second to tag up in time.

The Wildcats added two more runs in the top of the third with the help of a Trojan error that put runners on first and third. The Wildcat on third managed to steal home as the Trojans tried to chase down her teammate between first and second. A couple fielder's choices and a single into center field brought home the Wildcats' second run of the inning.

“Sometimes the ball goes in your glove and sometimes it doesn't,” Hudson said. “You've got to learn to play through it. That is why you play seven innings and not one. They held their composure pretty good. We always tell them, if we play perfect that is awesome. But, you can't let one run turn into two. They hung pretty tough. They did.

“Maybe early on, who knows what it was. They survived it and had some breaks definitely go our way late in a few of those innings and had some seeing-eye hits. It's pretty neat for these kids that is for sure.”

TK answered quickly with two runs in the bottom of the third inning. VanStee and Robirds walked with one out and then stole second and third together. A deep fly out by Mo Sprague brought them both home.

“I never lost confidence at all in my team. When it comes to coming out, the first couple innings, it is up and down, but then we usually pull it together. We have one really good inning and then for the rest of the night we're pretty solid,” TK senior centerfielder Burbridge said. “I'm never really worried about this team.”

The Trojan defense was outstanding the rest of the night, and just a little wildness by Lake and VanStee in the circle threatened the Trojan lead once they had it. The Wildcats worked three walks in the sixth and two more in the seventh. VanStee ultimately got a strike out to end both innings.

TK scored twice in the top of the third, twice in the top of the sixth and two more times in the top of the seventh to win game two. Ashley Snyder had a two run single in the seventh. VanStee and Carly Grummet also drove in runs for TK.

“I definitely think it is a lot better than sharing,” Burbridge said of winning the conference title outright this season. “Sharing was okay, because we fought really hard last year, but this year we were the team. We were the team to beat, and it felt really good to be that.”

Robirds described the feeling of sharing the conference title a year ago as a little “eh.” With a smile she said this outright title had her feeling, “dang!”

The two seniors, Burbridge and Robirds, are both forward to making some more good memories throughout the postseason with their teammates. Robirds and Burbridge are two of four Trojan seniors this spring, joining Lake and Grummet.

The TK girls will face Hastings in a Division 2 Pre-District ballgame at Hopkins Tuesday afternoon. The winner of that contest moves on to face Marshall in the June 1 District Semifinals back at Hopkins.

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