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Kentridge chases a league fastpitch championship
Dust flies into the air as Jessie Cruz slides into third base.
"Down, down, down," Kentridge High School fastpitch coach Rachel Comstock says to Cruz. "OK, now go, go, no back."
Comstock is working on drills to help her players focus on coaches. Comstock directs her team with an assuredness that comes from many years of seasoned softball playing.
The 26-year-old coach, who graduated from Kentridge in 2006, made her varsity coaching debut this year, after coaching the girls C team in 2010 and making her way up to varsity assistant coach in 2013. It works out well, she says, because she already has good rapport with her players.
"I've known most of these seniors since they were freshmen and so I've gotten that relationship with them. I can count on them," she says. "It's nice that I already know what to expect from everyone, and they know what to expect from me."
Comstock inherited a solid team from her predecessor, Julie Taylor. The Chargers (3-1 league, 5-1 overall) carried a commanding 12-4 season, placing second in the South Puget Sound League North Division and third at district to Tahoma. This year, Comstock has her sights set on a first place league finish, with districts and state championships as a bonus.
"It's a lot of pressure, but it's good pressure," Comstock says. "We like that intensity and those games that we know will be hard but we can overcome it and actually do it."
That said, Comstock added that a key part of overcoming tough opposition is maintaining focus, a problematic issue for her team at times.
"From being a player, I kind of know what to expect," Comstock says. "Some of the games and innings it just can go on and on and on, so you really have to keep your focus and be in the game non-stop."
Sustaining a focused game will make the difference between walking a batter and striking her out, or picking up a double play to put the Chargers back in control. But as Comstock says, it has to be reinforced during practice.
"We just really have to start hitting the ball from the beginning so we don't have to deal with that," says Comstock. "We're solid all around but it's just little things that we just need to work on. It's just really being aggressive, both offensive and defensively."
It's a good and bad condition for the team. On one hand they respond well to pressure, Comstock says, but at the same time the team only gets momentum when they run into serious competition. It can be difficult for them to get traction until the opposing team has already put runs on the board.
"I don't know why we like to wait till the fifth, sixth, seventh inning," she says. "But when we do hit in the beginning we get in that pitcher's head and then we feel good about ourselves and keep that momentum going."
Leading the Chargers this year are pitcher Lizzet Dominguez, second baseman Jessica Torlai and catcher Chloe Meier as team captains. They'll be complemented by junior Brianne Drury at first base, sophomore Sam Noszlopy at third base and sophomore center fielder Kaylee Hamilton.
As for her rookie crew, Comstock expects good things to come out of shortstop Ashton Bledsoe who she says is "pretty phenomenal." Cruz, a versatile and multi-talented player and backup pitcher, will complete the lineup. "I can throw her anywhere and count on her," Comstock says.