Sarah Wright eyes down the target as she pitches at Liberty High School. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Sarah Wright eyes down the target as she pitches at Liberty High School. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Softball: Kentwood wins thriller in extra innings at Liberty

Sarah Wright dominated in the season opener with 20 strikeouts, no earned runs.

As the months change from February to March, spring sports are getting under way. The weather, however, has decided how often teams can practice and work outside on the field in the baseball and fastpitch world.

For Head Coach Sydney Eacret and the Kentwood Conqueror fastpitch team, they have been outside just two times before entering the game against Liberty on the road on March 14.

“Our supposed first game of the season was cancelled. Thank god that we have our pitchers that we have because they have been throwing live nonstop this week … I am excited for practice tomorrow, it’s going to be fun,” Eacret said after the game.

In contrast, Liberty has played in a jamboree and played two full length games before dancing with the Conks. Kentwood used a clutch extra inning home run from JJ Ursino to take home the win for Kentwood, 5-3.

That time spent indoors didn’t seem to phase two-time NPSL MVP Sarah Wright, who didn’t allow an earned run in her eight innings of pitching.

Throughout the first couple innings, base runners were hard to come by. Both Wright and Liberty’s Avery Huh combined to let just two runners on base. But that all changed in the third inning when Emily Olmos led off the inning with a single, and with one out, Ursino followed suit with a single of her own.

The first run of the game came across when Ursino took off to second base. The throw from the Liberty catcher went all the way down to second base, which allowed Olmos to score on the throw.

In the following inning, Liberty fought back to tie the game and eventually took a three run lead. After back-to-back one out walks, Liberty caused problems on the base paths for Kentwood, and an overthrown ball to first base gave Liberty a 2-1 lead. The third run also scored on an error, giving Liberty an insurance run.

After the hiccup in the third, Wright hit a different mode in the circle. She retired the next 12 out of 13 Liberty batters, striking out 11 over the span. Wright pitched all seven innings and threw the one extra frame, and got down to business when her team needed it most.

“Over the last two years, she has grown into a leader. She is a special kind of player in the sense that she is very intense. She is ready to go 24/7,” Eacret said.

Kentwood was able to get to extra innings with some clever running on the base paths. Ursino once again was the catalyst of a productive inning on offense for the Conks. Her leadoff single in the top of the sixth kickstarted a Kentwood rally.

Ursino came around to score on some more first and third chicanery, where the throw went to second base and in almost identical fashion as the first run she scored. The game-tying run came on a bunt that caught the Liberty defense in no man’s land, which allowed Eacret to send Wright around third to tie the game.

“We had just four girls in the same spots at last year … It speaks to them as a team … To see that camaraderie with all my girls that went on the field today, they all know they have a role,” Eacret said.

Due to the game being a non-league game, the umpires and coaches decided to use the ghost-runner rule and put a runner on second base to start extra inning play. It turned out Kentwood didn’t even need that extra runner because JJ Ursino was going to do it by herself. She took a 1-1 fastball from Huh and hit a no doubt home run over the centerfield wall for the go-ahead homer.

“It was so well deserved,” Eacret said.

“She’s a one-of-a-kind athlete … She’ll get all her teammates literally dying of laughter with tears in their eyes one minute, then stone cold faced the next. She’s a special one. I’m going to miss her,” Eacret added.

Kentwood wasn’t out of the woods yet. Liberty had their top of the order step up to face Wright with the game on the line. A leadoff walk brought the winning run to the plate, and with one out, the at-bat of the game was taking place on the field.

Emi Connell hit 21 homers for Liberty last season, a school record. She had just gotten a base hit off of Wright in the sixth, for just the third Liberty hit of the game. After a passed ball, the tying run was on second base for the Patriots. The 1-1 pitch was popped up 50 feet in the air and Kentwood shortstop Joelyn Francis-Rodrigues was there to make the catch. Wright struck out her 20th batter of the game for the final out, and Kentwood escaped with a 5-3 victory.

“She’s here for the team. It’s not anyone else, it is her and her team,” said Eacret.

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JJ Ursino hits her first knock of the game against Liberty. Ben Ray / The Reporter

JJ Ursino hits her first knock of the game against Liberty. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Sophia Sappa gets ready in the box for the Conks as she faces the Liberty pitcher. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Sophia Sappa gets ready in the box for the Conks as she faces the Liberty pitcher. Ben Ray / The Reporter

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