The Kentwood Conqueror softball team is back in the Class 4A high school state tournament for the second year in a row.
It’s the first Conk team to achieve this feat dating back to 2016-2017 when the baseball team reached the state tournament making the final four in each of those two years.
The last softball team to repeat at the year-end tournament was Kentlake back in 2011 and 2012. A member of that team? Current Kentwood coach Sydney Eacret.
“I told the girls I want you to be that team that takes the record away. I want you guys to be remembered for that,” Eacret said.
To advance to the state tournament, the Conks beat Olympia 4-2 on May 20 in the West Central District Tournament at the Kent Service Club Ballfields. The Bears got out to a 3-2 lead, and after a collision in right-center field, Kentwood’s JJ Ursino had a bloody nose and had to get checked by the trainer to continue playing.
Her injury occurred in the top of the fifth and in the bottom she was due up second. Ursino got on base via an error and stole second base. She later came around to tie the game in the sixth.
“She has that determination to reach the finish line. JJ holds a special place in our heart because when she’s on the field she’s a dead serious person … But off the field, she is just all smiles. She’s one of those unique players that when it’s game time, she brings a certain intensity that the team thrives off of,“ Eacret said.
After evaluations from her parents, Ursino reported no damage to her nose and is ready to go for state. She couldn’t be happier to be on the team with coach Eacret.
“She is everything to our team. She has incorporated things that we never had at Kentwood softball before. In this year we learned the importance of family and trust. I love that she can relate to us as female athletes and softball players because she is one and that makes us feel empowered and heard within our team,” Ursino said.
When she came up to bat in the fifth Ursino had a purple nose stuffed with cotton and seemed to be doing the job.
“I felt like I owed it to my team to go out there and give us a chance to tie the game. I dropped a ball in the outfield that turned into a run scored and I knew I could get on base and I trusted my team to get me in,” she said.
Both of the Conk wins against Sumner and Olympia count as come-from-behind victories. The team trailed the Spartans 4-2 and won 11-5 before taking on the Bears. The fight and versatility is something that Kentwood takes pride in.
“We left off yesterday not hitting very good. We came into today with intensity and hope that we can do this,” Ursino said.
Her coach echoed her response.
“We need to play as a unit. We’re gonna support each other no matter where you are in the field,” Eacret said.
Kentwood opened the district tournament with a 1-0 win over Union before losing 4-1 to Rogers of Puyallup. The Conquerors then beat Sumner in a loser-out game and defeated Olympia in a winner-to-state game to earn one of the seven district berths to state.
The Conks travel to Richland for state and take on Emerald Ridge on Friday, May 26, a team that they beat 6-4 earlier this season where Sarah Wright went seven innings and struck out 17 Jaguars. Facing a familiar foe, Eacret said: “The girls are pumped.”