Juan Hernandez gives a scream after driving in the go-ahead run in the seventh. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Juan Hernandez gives a scream after driving in the go-ahead run in the seventh. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Kentlake steals a win on the road — and steals top spot

Falcons defeated Lions 3-2 in an intense battle for the lead of the NPSL.

After shutting out Auburn Mountainview on April 19, the Kentlake Falcons found their way to a tie at the top of the NPSL standings.

The back leg of the two-game series against the Lions was a pivotal game with only four games remaining after the two sides faced off at Auburn Mountainview.

“Our rallying cry all year is ‘fortitude.’ No matter what happens, we always have to believe we are still in it and get the job done,” Falcon skipper Mike Suguro said.

The two sides met again on April 22, and the game consisted of a playoff atmosphere that both teams were expecting coming in.

“Our team goal was to do the same thing (as Friday) and repeat it. We came out with great energy and maintained it the whole game,” Gavin Liechty said.

Kentlake got the scoring going early with a run in the second inning to settle the nerves. Devin Tep led off the inning with a single and came around to score on a JT Futch infield single down the third base line.

On the mound to start for Kentlake was the lefty Tep, who got off to a hot start, striking out four in two innings and allowing one hit. In his third inning of work, he couldn’t quite execute and walked three batters in the inning along with an error on a bunt. Two runs would score in that third inning, giving Auburn Mountainview a 2-1 lead.

Over 4.2 innings pitched, the Falcon bullpen consisting of Gavin Liechty and Joshua Manaois excelled under pressure. With no wiggle room to work with, the pair of relievers were like a spelunking duo in a tiny cave — getting out of trouble with little room for error.

“I knew I had my best stuff. I just wanted to see if they can hit it, throw it in the zone. Then see what they can do with it,” Liechty said.

Tep once again was in the middle of a rally for the Falcons in the top of the sixth inning. He started with a leadoff walk and stole second base. Liechty got it done with the stick in the game as well — he lined a single up the middle to tie the game 2-2.

The biggest bit of controversy occurred with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the sixth inning. With the bases loaded, Auburn Riverside’s Jeremiah Weatherford looked like he lined out to second base. But Matthew Ledbetter “dropped” the ball. Seemingly intentionally, he then stepped on second base and threw the ball home where the confused Lion on third base was stuck between home and third like a chicken with no head.

After a five-to-seven-minute deliberation with the umpires and coaches, Kentlake was given a double play, much to the dismay of the home side.

“They were just confused because there were a lot of bodies … I’d love to say we practiced that, or he did it on purpose. But it just happened and I think we just got lucky,” Suguro said.

From an unbiased viewer, the umpires made the right call. Whether it was a deliberate drop or not, there was an out recorded at home. So a run could not score, no matter what.

Then it came down to how the out at second was recorded, which was recorded via force out. The umpires had no indication there was an out caught on the line drive.

In the seventh inning, Kentlake took the lead with a little luck from Mother Nature. Christopher Moore reached base for the third time in the game with a one-out walk. He has gotten on base in 12 straight games dating back to March 15. Moore has only been kept off the bases one game this season, a 11-1 loss to West Seattle on March 13.

“He’s really locked in this year not hitting what you want to hit, but hit what you get… If they throw fastballs, he’s on it. If they throw breaking balls ,he is ready to go. I can’t say enough about that guy,” Suguro said.

With Moore on first, he stole second. With two outs, Juan Hernandez hit a shallow pop-up and the Lion centerfielder lost the ball in the sun. Moore was running on contact and scored easily once the ball hit the turf.

After the win vs. Auburn Mountainview, Kentlake sits alone in first place with two games against Auburn and two against Kent-Meridian.

“We know we have some of the best talent here. We just have to keep going with how we have been going, riding this high at the same level for the rest of the year,” Liechty said.

Last year, Kentlake was the number two seed in the district tournament and went 0-2. This year they played a more rigorous schedule prepare them for this time of year.

“We prepared to play against the best to be ready to play against the best. We’re just keeping our heads down and staying focused with a lot of fortitude,” Suguro said.

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Devin Tep delivers a pitch to Auburn Mountainview. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Devin Tep delivers a pitch to Auburn Mountainview. Ben Ray / The Reporter

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