What a difference a week makes.
Doubt crept into the minds of Kentlake High fastpitch players 10 days ago after the team dropped both of its games during the South Puget Sound League tournament.
Those doubts, however, were quickly and emphatically erased Friday and Saturday at Sprinker Recreation Center in Spanaway during the Class 4A West Central District tournament.
The Falcons opened with a solid 3-0 victory against South Kitsap on Friday, then proceeded to thump Graham-Kapowsin in the quarterfinals later that day, 6-0, thereby punching their fifth straight state ticket and ninth in the school’s 11-year history.
“We think last week’s games (in the SPSL tournament) were an aberration,” Kentlake coach Greg Kaas said. “We came ready to play. We made plays when we had to make them.”
But there certainly was an edgy feeling around this bunch after their subpar showing at the league tournament.
“A big weight was lifted (with the two wins),” Kentlake senior Felecia Harris said. “After (the league tournament), we kind of got down about, ‘What if we don’t go to state?’ Of course, we came out here with confidence and a good attitude and got it done.”
Indeed they did.
After rolling past South Kitsap and Graham-Kapowsin behind shutouts from Caitlyn Duggan and Harris, the Falcons stumbled a bit, falling to Stadium in the semifinals, 5-1. But the Falcons bounced right back, beating Wilson, 4-1, to seal the tournament’s No. 3 seed to state.
Not bad for a team came out of the SPSL playoffs with the No. 5 seed.
The top six teams from the 16-team district tournament advanced to state, which will be played Friday and Saturday at South End Recreation Center (SERA) in Tacoma.
Kentlake opens the state tournament Friday morning at 9 against defending champion Shadle Park.
In picking up three district tournament wins, the Falcons (20-4) got a little something from everybody.
In their 3-0 opener against South Kitsap, Sam Beckler collected three hits scored a run. Harris delivered her finest pitching performance of the year in the 6-0 win over Graham-Kapowsin, striking out 10 and going 3 for 3 with three RBIs. Shortstop Lauren Nielsen added three hits and a triple in the win over Wilson.
Kaas said qualifying for state in a year when University of Washington-bound senior Harris had to endure pre-season shoulder surgery and, ultimately, re-invent her power-pitching style, was big.
“We did it differently this year,” he said. “We weren’t as dominant as in the past. We persevered and came through some tough times.”
Kentlake was the only SPSL North team to make it through the district tournament.
For the second year in a row, Kentwood came close. But the Conquerors couldn’t get past Puyallup for the tournament’s final seed, falling 6-2. Kentwood (15-9) had to battle through the consolation bracket after losing to Wilson in its opener, 4-1.
Kentwood responded with a 3-2 win over Jefferson and a 5-0 shutout of Graham-Kapowsin.
“It’s pretty disappointing,” Kentwood coach Jason Wisor said. “The players were in it the whole time. It just didn’t go our way.”
It didn’t go quite as planned for Tahoma (11-15) or Kentridge (12-11), either.
Kentridge was eliminated in two games, losing to eventual champion Central Kitsap, 2-0, in its opener and 3-2 to Bellarmine Prep in a consolation round game.
Tahoma started strong, beating Jefferson, 11-9 before losing to Wilson, 7-1, and Rogers, 7-5.
Despite the losses, Tahoma coach Tom Milligan was encouraged by what he saw from the Bears – especially in light of the fact that their lineup is loaded with underclassmen and the team lost star shortstop Tori Dudley at midseason with a knee injury.
“I start five freshman every game. It’s almost like we want to start tomorrow,” Milligan said. “I am pretty confident right now.”
Milligan didn’t have to look any further than Tahoma’s 11-9 opening-round win against Jefferson to get excited. The Bears entered the game having lost three times this season to the Raiders by a combined score of 31-1.
Sammii Jimenez and Emily Miller, both freshmen, combined to go 5 for 9 with three runs scored and three RBIs in the win.
“It’s a nice feeling,” Milligan added. “I feel bad for Tori, Robin (James) and Lauren (Gazdik), it’s their last games. But, gosh, at the same time, we have a little bit to look forward to.”