08-01-2018 Tri-City Area Sports

Press Box relives Top Five Moments in Sports; shares changes on the horizon

Each summer, I take the opportunity to relive the year in our local sports and select five of the biggest moments that were the most impactful on the community and players. The column celebrates my anniversary of writing the Press Box column, my love of sports, and my continued appreciation for the hard work of our local athletes.

The 2017-18 season was rife with fantastic plays, standout athletes, and incredible coaching calls, so it’s hard to whittle the list down to the top five moments.

But, once again, the cream of the crop rose to the top. Without further ado, here are the five top moments in Coloma, Hartford, and Watervliet’s 2017-18 sports seasons.

Top Sports Moment of 2017-18

The highlight of the year, not just for Coloma but the entire Tri-City Area, was the school’s varsity softball team’s come-from-behind victory in the Division 3 Michigan High School Athletic Association’s state finals.

Coloma’s team was rock solid this year – from Morgan Wagner behind the plate to Kayla Yore in centerfield to the lethal pitching duo of Skylar Crisenbery and Jaidyn Hutsell. Add to that mix the impressive batting of lefty Megan Koenigshof, as well as her speed once aboard the bases, and the Lady Comets proved to be unstoppable.

TOP MOMENT OF 2017-18 SPORTS… The members of the Coloma varsity softball squad brought home the school’s first Michigan High School Athletic Association state title in the sport following a 7-6 win over Millington in June. (TCR photo by Kristy Noack)

The Comets rolled to a 12-0 undefeated record in division play, including six shutouts, which gave them the Southwestern Athletic Conference SAC championship.  The squad then topped all challengers in district play, defeating Bloomingdale, Watervliet, and Hartford for the crown.

Coloma chalked up an 11-0 shutout over Jonesville and 5-1 victory over Constantine to hoist the regional trophy hardware.

The ladies enjoyed a 14-0 five-inning cakewalk over Stanton Central Montcalm in state quarterfinals action and found themselves two steps from a state title on the diamond. What followed would be two intense games culminating in one impressive result.

In state semi-finals, the #2 ranked Comets faced Clinton and went on to win the contest by a score of 5-1. With that victory in hand, Coloma headed into a battle royal against Millington at Secchia Stadium on the campus of Michigan State.

Coloma kicked off the game with one run in the first inning; the Comets held that lead until Millington tied the game in the third.

Millington put up four big runs in the fourth to take a 5-1 lead. Coloma soared back with three runs in the top of the sixth to close in 5-4. But, Millington tossed in another run in their half of the sixth to lead 6-4.

It was the top of the seventh and Comet fans’ anxiety was running high. Coloma scored three times in the inning and held the door closed on Millington in the bottom of the seventh to win the game 7-6.

It was euphoric. It was pandemonium. It was one of those moments where your heart is in your throat. You swear your will alone could propel the Comets to the title. You wanted those young ladies to succeed. You feared the devastation that would follow a loss. You gave thanks as the players surrounded each other, then gathered at the fence and belted out the Coloma fight song. Hail, oh hail, indeed.

While Coloma adds a new trophy to its impressive display housed in glass and while a new banner proclaiming “State Champions” is printed, the team did much more for the community. They offered a chance for its citizens to rally behind something good, something pure, something tangible. The win and state title gave the athletes a chance to shine and community members a chance to support a well-deserved coaching staff and team. It wasn’t just about a title, though. It was a moment that bound together a team, a community, and its citizens. It truly showed the power of sports.

Sports Moment #2

While moment number one showcases the moment a legacy begins, moment number two in sports reflects and celebrates that legacy long after its start date.

On March 1, Watervliet Athletic Director Ken Dietz’s dream became a reality as the school inducted 10 members into its inaugural Hall of Fame class.

Dietz had long considered the best avenue to recognize Watervliet’s best of the best in terms of students, athletes, and coaches. He outlined a plan, formed a committee, solicited nominations, and created an impressive and positive way to acknowledge and make permanent the school’s rich history.

For Dietz, the dream was realized the moment 10 athlete and coach names and accomplishments were read. Dietz was on hand to present plaques to each athlete or coach – or their designated representative – and see his dream come to fruition.

TOP MOMENT #2… Watervliet honored their own as Athletic Director Ken Dietz’s dream came to fruition with the induction of 10 members into the school’s Hall of Fame inaugural class. (TCR photo by Kristy Noack)

Prior to the ceremony, a dinner was held, giving the winners ample time to speak with one another and reminisce. Coaches spoke to former players, and former players who became coaches spoke to athletes who played in a different sport.

Watervliet’s Hall of Fame was created simply to honor those who walked the hallowed halls of Watervliet schools or played in Panther Stadium or coached hundreds of athletes. It was created to remind people that an athlete’s value doesn’t expire the moment they graduate, that their effect on the sport – their sport – doesn’t fade away as time slips by.

The Watervliet Hall of Fame was created to remember and honor and applaud the efforts and sacrifices of past Panthers. It was created to act as an inspiration for current students and athletes that they can achieve great things if they are willing to listen, practice, learn, and play.

The Hall of Fame is about its inductees, yes; however, it is also about leaving a legacy, rewarding hard work, and knowing that others in your hometown took notice.

As you stroll along the corridor outside the Panther gym, take a look at the maroon ribbon atop the doors. You will find 10 plaques bearing the names of Gerald Barchett, Geno Bednarowski, Ron Farac, Don Finnefrock, Richie Morlock, Rick Sprague, Tom Hutchinson, Dan Hutchinson, Jason Forrester, and Kim Gear. While their images and accomplishments bear witness to their successful careers at Watervliet, there is much more behind that recognition, including an athletic director who made it his personal mission to see others recognized for their impact on Watervliet sports.

Sports Moment #3

And speaking of legacies and dynasties and the like, the third top moment in sports comes from last season’s Watervliet football team.

If you are a fan of football, and Watervliet football in particular, you start itching for cooler weather, falling leaves, and the sound of whistles long about the time of late February.

You pore over the Panthers football schedule, sip coffee with your buddies as you dissect last year’s quarterback and his stats with this year’s starter. You analyze two-a-day practice sessions along with the list of returning lineman. You dig deep in your dresser drawers for your maroon Panther wear, all in anticipation of the first kick-off of the season.

This year will prove no different. However, it was last year’s much talked about squad that had the heartbeat of Watervliet thumping in unison with every hit, every long bomb, and every onside kick.

Jeremy Andrews has built quite a successful varsity program. Feeding that is an impressive JV program led by Josh Tremblay. Both coaches work together to ensure a seamless transition between JV and varsity programs which is why the varsity Panther squad is good, better, best in our area every year for the last nine years. In that time, the Panthers have made the playoffs eight times and tallied undefeated regular seasons twice (2013 and 2017).

Last season, Watervliet ended their regular season with a 36-14 victory over Red Arrow Highway rival Coloma, their ninth win of 2017. In seven of the regular season’s nine games, Watervliet scored 50 points or more.

With the perfect 9-0 record, Watervliet won the Southwestern Athletic Conference – Valley Division title.

Following a victory over Schoolcraft in the MHSAA Division 6 pre-district contest, the Panthers won a 58-50 shootout, led by quarterback Zack Pickens, over Delton Kellogg to claim the district title. It also gave the Panthers 11 victories in a season, matching the effort of the 1979 Watervliet football team, tied for most football victories in school history.

That sent the Panthers into regional competition. Unfortunately, Watervliet tangled with their playoff nemesis Jackson Lumen Christi and lost.

Andrews, who has helmed the Panthers since the 2006 season, has built impressive football teams. In his first two years at Watervliet, the teams went 1-8. In his third year, they improved to 4-5. Four years in, Andrews’ squad went 9-2, won the conference, and made the playoffs.

TOP MOMENT #3… The Watervliet varsity football team continued to build on its dynasty status as it recorded a perfect regular season, conference championship title, and district championship trophy for the 2017-18 school year. (TCR photo by Kristy Noack)

This season, Watervliet outscored their opponents 594-299. Pickens and Bryant Kieft broke school records. Andrews celebrated nine winning seasons out of 11 as head coach at Watervliet. The Panthers’ largest margin of victory last year was their 54-6 drubbing of Gobles.

Year to year, the team is deep on talent and Andrews is determined to mine the best out of his boys. He speaks, they listen. He is not only a coach but a thoughtful teacher on the field as he is in the classroom. He shares in their excitement when a play goes well. He instructs them on how to make a different move on the field when a play falls apart. He defends his players against bad calls. He rallies around them when the scoreboard shows they are trailing.

Andrews’ passion for the game and for his players is telling. It’s what keeps Watervliet football branded as the best in our area. It’s what puts fans in the seats and has them bleeding maroon and white. It is what brings former players, fans, students, parents, and community members together in one stadium for a night under the lights.

Sports Moment #4

When you think of Hartford sports, most people previously thought football. It was the mainstay sport of choice and a playoff berth was never out of reach.

However, Hartford varsity soccer coach and athletic director Nick Blackmer has spent years working to change that. When you think of Hartford sports, he wants you to think of soccer.

Blackmer, who is one of the biggest proponents of the sport, has turned in valuable currency to make the program a success. The currency is in the form of not just money but time, energy, compassion, understanding, and broad shoulders.

Blackmer is more than a coach to his players; he is another set of ears to listen to their problems. He is another set of eyes making sure their school work is done. He is another adult figure in their life from whom they can learn – about soccer and plays, about succeeding at college, about how to become upstanding young men who give back to their communities. Blackmer wants to give his players the desire to exceed expectations and, in fact, shatter them.

Nowhere is that more evident that on the playing field. Blackmer’s band of merry men takes soccer seriously. They are focused, driven, and hungry for wins. Last season was no different as the team had plenty of reasons to celebrate.

The team was fastidious in their efforts to dominate their opponents. They scored shutouts over Lake Michigan Catholic, Marcellus, Bangor, South Haven, Countryside Academy, Cassopolis, and Bridgman.

They fought to ties against Kalamazoo Hackett and Paw Paw, two of their toughest opponents. They relied on solid goaltending and strong kicking, on a tough defensive effort and a speedy attack.

The team posted a 4-0 victory on Senior Night. They won the Division 4 district championship by blanking Bridgman 3-0 at New Buffalo. They also topped LMC in the opening round 5-1 then crushed Michigan Lutheran in the semi-finals 8-0.

The Indians traveled to Hope College and faced rival Wyoming Potter’s House, a team they faced in the NorthPointe Christian Invitational earlier in the season and lost, 1-0.  This time around, however, Hartford was ready. The Indians held steady for a 1-0 win and berth in the regional championship game where they faced longtime foe Kalamazoo Hackett.

Competing against Kalamazoo Hackett, with whom they had tied 3-3 earlier in the season, took every effort the young men had. Talk about an intense outing! Despite 80 minutes of constant motion, driving, and aggressive play, the score was tied 0-0 at the end of regulation.

Unfortunately for the Indians, Hackett would go on to score the lone – and winning – goal of the game, dashing the dreams of a Hartford regional championship.

What is most telling about the team isn’t how they handle wins; it’s how they handle losses. Although emotions range from disappointment to frustration to sadness, Blackmer’s players handle defeat with grace, forbearance, and as a learning opportunity. They realize that life is not just today’s game. It’s about how you play, how you treat your competitors, how you overcome your deficiencies. It’s how you face each challenge – whether it’s a corner kick when you’re covering the goal, or a standoff at mid-field, or picking yourself up off the field – that determines whether you and your team succeed. It’s about the greater good. Blackmer certainly is teaching players the sport of soccer, but he is also teaching them how to be a successful young men.

Top Sports Moment #5

Number five on the list of the best moments in high school sports aren’t necessarily moments; it is made up of the people who made moments happen.

It’s Hartford’s AJ Jackson. From her position under the rim, she guided Hartford on the basketball court all season long. She used her height to her advantage and towered over her opponents. Her short jumpers led to innumerable Indian points but it was her leadership and intelligence on the court that made her a star. That’s why she made the list.

TOP MOMENT #4… Hartford’s successful varsity soccer program continued to shine as the Indians won the district championship and first round regional game. (TCR photo by Kristy Noack)

It’s Anthony Wade playing in his senior year of football for the Watervliet Panthers. Following his return from an injury the previous year, he was pumped, he was ready, and he attacked his opponents’ offense. Wade was a lightning rod that sparked the Watervliet defense all season long. That’s why he made the list.

It’s Coloma’s Jamane Smith Jr. who put together a heck of an undefeated streak his senior year as he went 46-0 before losing a match; he would finish the year 47-1. The powerhouse wrestler proved immoveable during the season. His brute strength was tempered by a charming smile and quick willingness to help his teammates train. Smith had an incredible season on the mat, including notching over 100 career victories, winning a conference title in the 189 lb. weight class and taking third place finish at state. That’s why he made the list.

It’s Robert Ledesma Jr. Hail to the chief Indian running back who pushed, plowed, and scampered past defenders to get just one more Hartford yard. That’s why he made the list.

It’s Kyah Sexton, a freshman discus and shot put star who stormed into competition. The rising Panther star won both events at the Benton Harbor/St. Joe Rotary meet. She also took home a championship in the SAC divisional meet and finished third at regionals in the shot put. The scrappy Sexton may be small but, like her fellow Panthers, she is mighty. That’s why she made the list.

It’s Derek Plitt from Coloma’s track team. He shot off the starting line like a rocket during his track events, legs churning, arms pumping, and chest forward as he crossed the finish line. That’s why he made the list.

This list is not meant to be inclusive of all schools, all sports, or all athletes. It’s just a smattering of what you will witness when you attend a local high school sporting event. There’s talent on our fields, in our gyms, and on our courts. Get your tickets and support local athletics!

With the top five moments in sports reviewed and recaptured, I’d like to add a personal note.

I have had the pleasure of reporting on the high school varsity sports for Coloma, Hartford, and Watervliet since 2014. It has been my honor and a true privilege to watch your kids and grandkids as they grow into student athletes. Writing sports for the Tri-City Record has been a dream of mine, now fulfilled, that I am ever grateful to have had the opportunity to do.

I have watched plenty of incredible and indelible sights – of heartbreak, of thrilling victory, of hurt, of friendship, of frustration. The action that occurs, whether it’s on the field, court, green, track, or diamond, mirrors and mimics the world around us.

I am turning over the writing of the sports pages to Benny Loshbough, a 2015 Watervliet High School graduate, sports fan, and a morning co-host with Phil McDonald  on WSJM Sports.

Loshbough will rebrand the sports pages into his vision. I know he will bring you concise, accurate coverage and will take the pages to a new level. Please welcome him with open arms. His job, like mine was once, is to continue to weave the thread of sports, connecting people to athletes to schools to each other.

Before I sign off, there are a few people I would like to thank for making my job so much easier.

Karl and Anne Bayer and Amy Loshbough took a chance on me when they didn’t have to. They gave me the opportunity to write for them and represent their paper. I appreciate that more than they will ever know.

I’d like to also thank my husband Mike Noack for his help, not so much with sports because that wasn’t his thing but for running me memory cards or batteries when I forgot to put them in my camera.  (You would not believe how often that happened.) He acted as a substitute photographer who bailed me out of a few scheduling jams. He also held down the fort when I was gone four nights a week or traveled to the other side of the state for wrestling competitions. Thank you.

I extend a huge thank you to Gloria Reeve, Shawn Mead, Angie Johnson and Sherri Ulleg for covering for me when I was out of town. You certainly capture great images!

Thank you to Greg Krell, a gentleman who started out a stranger but is now a friend. I had no bigger cheerleader when I first began (except, maybe, my mom). Krell provided me with a wealth of information about Watervliet sports programs, athletes, and history. He truly is Watervliet sports and there is no bigger proponent of the Maroon Platoon.

Thank you to Nick Blackmer, Ken Dietz, and Wendy Goodline, the athletic directors of Hartford, Watervliet, and Coloma, respectively. All three have an incredibly time consuming job and do it with finesse and dogged determination.

A special thank you to Blackmer and Dietz who went above and beyond, making sure I knew of schedule or location changes, dates of importance including fundraising efforts and when student athletes would sign their letters of intent, coaching staff changes, and when school records were close to being broken. They didn’t have to include me in that loop, but they did and it was appreciated.

It has always been my contention that one component of having a successful sports program is to let others in the community know what you are doing. It was my job to spread the word, heighten the sports coverage they received, and feature their athletes in these pages. I hope I succeeded in that endeavor.

Behind every great A.D. is an organized, talented, creative assistant. Nancy Scowcroft, Jordan Parker, and Diane Evans answered numerous questions, provided images, and kept me abreast of changes as well. Thank you, ladies!

Thank you to Rodney Lynch, RoxAnn Rodney-Isbrecht, Tim Hildebrand, Chris Leach, Greg Krell, Bryan Conrad, and Tom Gear for their hard work as TCR Armchair Quarterbacks. Five months of football, week in and week out, is a huge commitment and they turned in predictions without protest.

Thank you to the coaches at Coloma, Hartford, and Watervliet. To those of you who sent in stats, updates, and story ideas, thank you. Thank you for taking time to send in your sports previews and giving me your most precious commodity – time… time to answer questions, time to confirm or deny a report, time to explain why you made the call you made.

It was sometimes difficult covering 15 sports during three seasons and you made it easier by getting info to me in a timely fashion. You added extra work to your job so I could do mine.

Thank you to Jeff Phillips of the Paw Paw Lake Yacht Club. Phillips was instrumental in making sure I knew about the sailing programs offered on Paw Paw Lake and partnership with St. Joe Junior Foundation. He is one of the most dedicated people I have ever met and he will continue to do good things in the name of sailing. PPLYC is lucky to have him.

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the parents of our local athletes. To those of you who sent a note when you saw your kid’s name in print or who asked if you could have a copy of an image, thank you. Thank you for buying extra copies of the newspaper to send to the grandparents. Thank you for sharing kind words about my writing or my images. You were the best perk – and now have a place of honor in my scrapbook.

A thank you to my own parents, Ken and Candy Evett, who faithfully read my article every single week, pored over my photos, complimented me with words on my words, and saved every newspaper I was in. I’m grateful to call you mine.

Finally, thank you to everyone who stopped me to tell me how much they enjoyed the Press Box column. It happened at parties, it happened in the grocery store, it happened at games. You never forget people’s kindness, and I won’t yours. Just think how much richer the world would be if we were all quicker to be kind.

There is no way I could possibly list every individual who assisted me with a story, caption, spelling of an athlete’s name, or confirmation of a score. But, know that your helpfulness was appreciated and thank you is inadequate to convey my gratitude.

I will continue to photograph sporting events and write some feature articles, so I’m not gone completely. However, Benny Loshbough, a third generation Bayer, will now be your go-to guy for all things sports related moving forward. Trust him to do a great job!

Watervliet announces fall practice times

All Watervliet athletes MUST have a physical on file with the athletic office and be registered in Final Forms prior to participating in practice.

If you have questions, please call the athletic office at 463-0733.

The schedule is as follows: JV Football – Monday, August 6, 4:00 – 8:00 p.m.; JV and Varsity Volleyball – Wednesday, August 8, 5:00 – 8:00 p.m.; HS Cross Country – Wednesday, August 8, 8:00 a.m.

Ladies Monday Night Happy Hour Golf League

Golf report from the Paw Paw Lake Golf Club

Monday, July 9 Weekly Event winner – Cheryl Hutchins; Low Gross – Cheryl  Hutchins with 48; Low Net – Ursela Bansen with 28; Low Putts – Ursela Bansen with 13; Pars – Sandy Johnson #3,  Cheryl Hutchins #4 and #7,  Ursela Bansen #7.

Monday, July 16 Weekly Event winner – Katherine Rodriguez; Low Gross – Cheryl  Hutchins with 52; Low Net – Carol Klass with 37; Low Putts – Katherine Rodriguez with 15; Pars – Sandy Johnson #12, Katherine Rodriguez #14; Birdies – Cheryl Hutchins #14 and #18.

Monday, July 30 Weekly Event winner – Kathy Osborne; Low Gross – Cheryl  Hutchins with 45; Low Net – Cheryl Hutchins with 32; Low Putts – Cheryl Hutchins with 14; Pars – Charlene Durfee #12,  Cheryl Hutchins  #12 and #15, Kathy Osborne #14, Carol Klass #14; Birdies – Cheryl Hutchins  #13, Colleen McKeown #18, Carol Klass #18; Chip-ins – Carol Klass #18.

Press Box Player of the Week

Cayden Ryan of Watervliet is this week’s Press Box Player of the Week.

Ryan, 9, has been a baseball super star for five years. He is a member of the Watervliet Rec baseball team and played first base and short stop this season. He was coached by his dad Larry Ryan.

Cayden also played travel ball for the St. Joe South Coast Blues. In his inaugural year of travel ball, Cayden took the mound as a pitcher. He made quite a statement as he struck out 10 players in three and two-thirds innings. His South Coast Blues coach was Jason LeClear.

Cayden intends on trying out for travel ball again next year. Before that, however, he will return to North Elementary as a fourth-grader in September.

Cayden’s parents are Larry and Becky Ryan of Watervliet.

Congratulations, Cayden!

To nominate your rec ball star, please submit player details including name, age, school grade, city, team name and coach, favorite moment of the season, and parents’ names to tcrpressbox@gmail.com. There are a few more weeks to get your youngsters in the PPW column. Once school starts, the player of the week will be selected from Coloma, Hartford, and Watervliet varsity sports players.

Busch beats Suarez to Pocono punch Kyle Busch continued his track mastery Sunday as he outmaneuvered teammate Daniel Suarez for a ride to Victory Lane in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway. By claiming the title in the Gander Outdoors 400, Busch earned his sixth win of the 2018 season, this even after his car failed post-qualifying inspection and was moved to the back of the field. Busch wasn’t the only driver whose vehicle didn’t pass muster with NASCAR officials; he was joined by 12 of his closest competitors. Some cars failed the inspection three times. Even though Busch was relegated to a 28th starting spot, he drove like the six-time race winner he is this season. He also tallied his 49th career victory and led 52 laps of the overtime race. Suarez drove into second place, his best finish of his career. He also notched his first career pole position start and second top five finish this season. Suarez led 29 laps on Sunday. Alex Bowman took third place. He picked up his eighth top 10 this year. Kevin Harvick, who is also tied with Busch for wins this season, led 30 laps as he drove to a fourth place finish. Harvick was the Stage 2 winner at Pocono. Erik Jones rounded out the top five; he led 11 laps. Jones, who has one win this season, earned his third top five finish. The highest finishing rookie of the year was William Byron. He started in 38th place but improved his track position to end the day in sixth place. Byron also led 10 laps. The 21st race of the season featured 28 drivers finishing on the lead lap. There were 13 lead changes and seven caution periods for 29 laps. Drivers who led laps but didn’t finish in the top five included: Stage 1 winner Chase Elliott (14 laps), Kurt Busch (11), Denny Hamlin (5), Jamie McMurray (1), and Brad Keselowski (1). Race teams return to the track Sunday in the GoBowling at the Glen. Martin Truex Jr. won last year’s race at Watkins Glen International; he currently has four victories this season. Can Truex Jr. earn his fifth victory this year or will Kyle Busch post a consecutive win? Check back in next week’s Pit Stop to find out!


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