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Wild walk-off gets TK another district title

After celebrating with teammates behind home plate, Thornapple Kellogg senior Evan Sidebotham (6) rushes to find some more out in the infield after scoring the winning run in the Trojans' 6-5 walk-off victory against Allegan in the Division 2 District Final at Hopkins High School Monday. (Photo by Brett Bremer)

Sports Editor, Brett Bremer, Evan Sidebotham strode a couple of steps off the bag at second and Levi Vanderheide worked his own lead off of first.

Allegan pitcher Jayden Smith fired a low strike in on Thornapple Kellogg senior Matt McNee, working the count full after being in a 3-1 hole with their teams knotted at 5-5.

McNee knocked Smith's next offering towards the Tigers' second baseman Tristan Jacobs - not quite hard enough to be a line drive and not quite high enough to be a pop up.

That's when all heck broke loose.

The Thornapple Kellogg varsity baseball team clinched its third consecutive district championship, taking a 6-5 walk-off win over the Allegan Tigers in the Division 2 District Final at Hopkins High School.

McNee's batted ball glanced off the Tigers' second baseman, who spun around to snag it.

”I was looking from second,” Sidebotham said. “I had myself turned around. It hit off (Jacobs’) glove and then it hit the ground. I looked to Dylan (Podbevsek) and he was just sitting on the bag (at third) and then he took off for a little bit, and then he got back. I was confused.”

From the Tigers’ dugout along the third baseline, the angle where the Allegan fans and Podbevsek were watching from, it appeared Jacobs had spun and snagged the deflection out of the air.

Podbevsek initially broke for home from third, then turn back to the bag to tag up. Jacobs fired to Tiger catcher Hayden Kruithoff at the plate, forcing out Podbevsek. Sidebotham knew Podbevsek had been forced out at the plate, and broke safely for third.

With his entire bench in his ear screaming for him to throw to first, thinking Jacobs had made the catch initially, Kruithoff fired the ball to first expecting to double off Vaderheide who’d rushed to second.

“They were all confused if he caught the ball or if he didn’t catch the ball,” Sidebotham said. “I took advantage of the confusion and I just took off. My coach didn’t say go or don’t, but I just took off. At home plate I kind of just moved out of the way and got in.”

It took a moment before the Trojans erupted in celebration and many of the stunned Tigers headed for their dugout still wondering what had happened or upset by it. The umpires made no signal for an infield fly.

“That last play, I swear he caught it,” Podbevsek said. “I was all ready to sprint home, but then I saw him catch the ball and I was like I have got to go back. It was just the one thing that I had to do. Next thing I know, he throws down to home and I realize I messed up.

“Then I see Evan coming up the sideline, just cookin'! When he touched that plate I knew it was all over. I was about to cry. There is no better feeling in the world. That was amazing. Seeing my coach like that, back-to-back-to-back, that must be a great feeling.”

Before long, Sidebotham was lifted off the turf with his fists raised to the sky by Colson Brummel, who had been awaiting his turn in the batter’s box.

Brummel, a junior, is the only Trojan player who has been a part of the 2017, 2018 and 2019 district championships. Podbevsek, McNee, Sidebotham and Jordan Hey are the Trojans’ four seniors this spring, all a part of a district championship baseball team for the second time.

TK was scheduled to head back to Hopkins Wednesday for its regional semifinal match-up with Otsego, with the winner of that ballgame moving on to Edwardsburg for regional final and super regional (formerly state quarterfinal) ballgames Saturday.

The district wins over Hopkins (19-9) in the semifinals and Allegan (4-23) in the final were just the fifth and sixth wins of the season for the TK boys, who upped their record to 6-23 on the way to the district title. Allegan defeated Wayland 11-5 in its district semifinal Saturday morning before storms moved in postponing the rest of the tournament to Monday afternoon.

“We were definitely the underdogs in this too for sure. We only had like five wins on the season, six wins,” Sidebotham said. “We had the mentality to come out. We had the heart to do it. The goal we set at the start of the season was to three-peat at districts, which had never been done at our school before. We came out and just got it done. We played with our hearts.”

The Trojans and Tigers were back and forth throughout the late afternoon. Allegan took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning, only to have the Trojans jump in front with three runs in the bottom half of the innings. Allegan evened things up at 3-3 with a run in the top of the second.

From there, Allegan pitchers Kruithoff and Smith and the TK starter Brummel matched zeroes until Allegan snapped the tie with two runs in the top of the sixth. TK got those two back in the bottom half of the sixth to send the game into the seventh tied at 5-5.

Brummel allowed five runs, four earned, on six hits and five walks through six innings. He struck out four. Levi Vanderheide came on to start the seventh and walked the first batter he faced, bringing coach Hobert out of the dugout to quickly replace him.

Isaiah Postma took over on the mound and promptly struck out the first two batters he faced and then got a pop-up that Sidebotham snagged in foul territory in front of the Allegan dugout.

Postma is one of four sophomores in the Trojans' regular starting line-up, and one of nine on the team.

McNee was 3-for-4 with a walk and two runs in the win. TK had six hits in all, with Postma, Sidebotham and Brummel each singling once. TK also managed nine walks. Vanderheide had his team's lone RBI. Sidebotham and Alex Bonnema scored two runs each.

Smith, Kruithoff and Mason Sousley had two singles each for the Tigers. Kruithoff2-for-3 with a walk and three RBi to lead the way. He scored once. Smith scored a pair of runs.

Podbevsek started that seventh inning rally with a walk. Bonnema got a bunt down to sacrifice him over to second. The Tigers intentionally walked Sidebotham to set up forces around the bases. Vanderheide reached on an error to load the bases.

“They just play hard. These kids have worked hard all year. Don't even look at our record. We're a better baseball team that what our record is,” TK head coach Jack Hobert said. "We just come together. These guys wanted another one. That's three in a row.

“We had great practices leading up to this weekend. you could see the kids were really focused. You can't look at the record. if you look at the record you're going to go ah, it's a fluke, but these kids are better than that. they just finally put it together. I always say districts are a brand new season. Forget about everything else and that is what they did.”

TK opened the afternoon in Hopkins with a 7-1 win over the host Vikings.

Junior pitcher Dawson Hamming held the Vikings to one unearned run on four hits and four walks. He struck out two in the complete game win.

TK had just three hits, a pair of singles by Brummel and one from Postma. The Trojans made the most of six walks and six Hopkins errors.

Brummel was 2-for-4 with a run and two RBI. Postma scored one run and drove in one. Sidebotham walked twice and scored twice. Bonnema also walked once and scored a run. Vanderheide scored once for the Trojans as well.

Brummel and Hey had one stolen base apiece.

Ezran Tehennepe was 3-for-4 at the plate for Hopkins, with a double and a pair of singles.

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