Youth was served last Friday night at Kent Memorial Park.
Behind sophomore right-hander Zack Wright and just enough timely hitting, seventh-ranked Kentlake upset No. 5 Puyallup, for the South Puget Sound League baseball championship, 4-3.
The unflappable Wright allowed two runs on six hits and struck out seven — several on his knee-buckling curveball — in six innings of work to get the win. Fellow sophomore Doug Christie, who came on for Tyler Walsh in the seventh, picked up the save.
But it was Wright’s calm demeanor early on that carried the Falcons.
Wright allowed three hits and two runs to the first five batters he faced, and was down 2-0 after just 11 pitches.
Then, Wright settled into an untouchable groove.
“I think you have to check his pulse once in a while to see if it’s still going,” deadpanned Kentlake coach Jason Evans moments after the win. “The guy has pitched up in age levels in select leagues and everything. Nothing fazes him. A big game like this tonight, a sophomore going against a team that’s ranked most of the year No. 1 in the state, and a fastball-hitting team at that … that’s huge.”
It’s Kentlake’s first-ever SPSL title. The school opened its doors in 1997.
With the win, the Falcons (16-4) snagged the SPSL’s top berth to the Class 4A West Central District tournament. Kentlake will play Beamer (13-6) at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Kent Memorial Park in the district opener. The win puts the Falcons in good position to advance to state for the second time in school history and its first since 2005. Friday night’s victory against Puyallup essentially gives the Falcons two chances to make qualify.
“I told my (assistant) coach, we weren’t supposed to win this game,” Evans said. “I don’t know if somebody didn’t get the memo or what, but we weren’t supposed to win it.
“It feels very good. First time in school history (to win an SPSL title).”
Early on, however, it looked as if the Vikings (17-4) would cruise.
It took Puyallup just two Wright pitches to put runners on first and third with no outs after a leadoff double and a bunt single. A sacrifice fly and an RBI single allowed Puyallup to take a quick 2-0 lead.
“I was a little worried,” the mild-mannered Wright said. “But I fought back.”
Indeed he did.
After the rough first inning, Wright didn’t allow another Puyallup hit until the sixth. In the process, he kept the Vikings off balance with a devastating breaking ball and a slow, straight changeup that he was able to throw in virtually any count.
“That kid can throw any single pitch on any single count,” catcher Marcus Evans said. “That’s how good he is.”
With Wright in control on the mound, the Kentlake offense did all the damage it needed in the second inning, scoring four runs on four hits.
Bobby Joe Tannehill ignited the rally, leading off the inning with a fading double down the right-field line. After a walk to Marcus Evans, Matt Smith drove home Tannehill with a line-drive single to left field.
Two batters later, No. 9 hitter Spencer Baldwin delivered a single into right field, scoring courtesy runner Ryan Dale and Smith, giving the Falcons a 3-2 lead.
“(Baldwin) has done that two or three times this year for us,” Jason Evans said. “When the time really matters, it seems like that’s when he comes through.”
One batter later, Andy Enders plated Baldwin with an inside-out single down the right-field line, pushing Kentlake’s lead to 4-2.
Puyallup didn’t threaten again until the sixth inning, but Wright was able to get out of a two-on, one-out jam with consecutive strikeouts.
“I had the adrenaline going,” Wright said.
Puyallup threatened to tie the game in the seventh, cutting the deficit to 4-3 with no outs after an RBI single from Joe Leinweber.
Kentlake’s Marcus Evans then delivered the play of the game – and possibly the play of the Falcons’ season. After Christie got Puyallup No. 3 hitter Ben Ruff on a swinging third strike, Evans gunned to first, picking off Leinbower.
Christie then induced Puyallup cleanup hitter Sal Arean into a game-ending flyout to right.
“I think it was mostly adrenaline,” said Marcus Evans, who couldn’t help but pump his fist wildly in the air after the play. “Our pitcher just got a big strikeout … that’s all I was worried about right there. And (Leinbower) was leading off, so I had my chance.
“It took a perfect throw and a perfect play by our first baseman.”