The Kentwood Conquerors evened their season record at 1-1 after a 6-4 win over Emerald Ridge on March 16.
“It was a great win. And the biggest thing was just seeing the girls come out and make adjustments. We have a very small team but one thing about these girls is they are one family,” said Head Coach Sydney Eacret.
Kentwood had a rough game against Rogers their last time out, losing 1-2, but the team responded well against the Jaguars.
“After that game, we didn’t even talk that night. We came into the locker room before practice the next day and the girls sat there and chatted going one by one asking, ‘How can we improve?’” Eacret said.
Last season, Kentwood was the number one seed in the state tournament, and Emerald Ridge was the 12th seed a year ago. The Conquerors look to be the first Kent school to get back-to-back state tournament bids since Kentlake made the year-end tournament for 10 consecutive seasons, dating from 2003-2012.
“We changed it up this year. We brought in a new coaching staff. It’s a group that most of us have known for years. It’s family first. It’s not about building a winning team. It’s about building a culture and a legacy that we’ll carry for years to come,” Eacret said.
A pattern that Emerald Ridge faced was being left stranded on the bases by standout pitcher Sarah Wright.
“First inning, I was a little rocky, but after that, I just locked my brain in,” Wright said.
Kentwood got on the board first against the Jaguars, getting going in the second inning. Gabby Greenwood hit a one-out triple and scored on a Sophie Sappa single. Sofia Mottern Salinas walked in the inning, and she scored with Sappa on a single from Joelyn Francis-Rodrigues, giving the Conquerors a 3-0 lead.
In the third inning, Emerald Ridge caused some problems for the Conquerors. Wright hit the first batter in the foot, and the next two batters hit ground balls back to her that she just couldn’t handle. Emerald Ridge closed the gap, but Kentwood still led, 3-2.
But she was able to stop the bleeding and proceeded to strike out the next three batters, holding them to two runs.
Wright got on a roll in the contest against the Jaguars, ending the game with 17 strikeouts. After the two runs scored in the third inning, she struck out 12 the rest of the game.
“She’s that special kind of person you don’t always see,” Eacret said.
The Conks’ offense scored another three runs in the bottom of the fourth. Greenwood got the inning started again, leading off with a double. Sappa also hit a double of her own, driving in Greenwood. Hailey Jones got in on the action with an RBI single, extending the lead for Kentwood. The final run was scored on a Emily Olmos single, increasing the Kentwood lead to 6-4.
The fifth through ninth batters went 8-14 in the game, carrying the offense: “The neat thing with us is we don’t have a bottom of the lineup… All of our girls are strong hitters,” their coach said.
The final challenge for Kentwood came in the top of the seventh. After a pop-out to shortstop Emily Olmos, Sarah Wright was hit by a line drive in the abdomen.
“I felt like I was going to throw up,” Wright said after that shot.
“Seeing her take a ball to the gut and finish the game. You don’t see those kinds of girls and they’re special,” Eacret said. But it’s the personality of Wright that really impresses Coach Eacret: “She’s always picking up her teammates. She exemplifies the family mentality and it’s not just on the field, it’s all around.”
Wright appeared to be in a little pain, but fought it off. She finished the game adding two strikeouts in the final frame, but the Jaguars were able to get two runs across to cut into the Kentwood lead — but couldn’t get any closer.
“We have a couple of new starters in the field and they’re working their butts off…We’re going to have to just keep practicing and keep working because we got a lot of season ahead of us,” Wright said.
Kentwood opens their league schedule against Kennedy Catholic on March 28.
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