FASTPITCH PREVIEW '10: Kentlake ready to rise back to top

There’s something to be said about possessing a winning tradition. Few athletic programs in the state have as much of it as the Kentlake High fastpitch team. Since the school opened in 1997, the Falcons have advanced to the state tournament nine times and either won or challenged for the South Puget Sound League North Division title in nearly each of those seasons.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Monday, March 29, 2010 1:14pm
  • Sports
Nikole Weber is one of the SPSL North's top-returning pitchers this spring. She led the Falcons past Kentridge this past Friday

Nikole Weber is one of the SPSL North's top-returning pitchers this spring. She led the Falcons past Kentridge this past Friday

There’s something to be said about possessing a winning tradition.

Few athletic programs in the state have as much of it as the Kentlake High fastpitch team. Since the school opened in 1997, the Falcons have advanced to the state tournament nine times and either won or challenged for the South Puget Sound League North Division title in nearly each of those seasons.

Which helps explain why last season was a tough one for Kentlake to swallow. Sure, the Falcons were good — even better than most, winning 16 games overall.

Yet, the bottom line for the Falcons always has been the state tournament, which is something they had to watch last year from the sidelines for the first time since 2003.

“We didn’t make it to state and that left a bad taste in our mouths,” said coach Greg Kaas, who enters his ninth season with a 173-59 overall record. “We expect to make it to state every year.”

Taking fourth in the SPSL North simply added to the Falcons’ frustrations.

“Fastpitch is a tradition at Kentlake,” said center fielder Erin Crowley. “Yeah, we had good players last year, but the team chemistry just wasn’t there. Last year, the want to win (attitude), it just wasn’t there like it is this year.”

If all the Falcons needed was a motivational push, it appears to have been done. The Falcons won their first four games of the season last week, including an 8-1 victory over rival Auburn Riverside, and appear primed to return to their elite status atop the North.

“We may not have big stars like we did in the past, but our team chemistry is so strong,” said Crowley, who led the North with a .541 batting average last year as a sophomore. “We have a well rounded team to where I think we could carry it further than we did last year.”

In a league that, on paper, doesn’t appear to have a definitive frontrunner, the Falcons appear as strong as any. At the top of the lineup is Crowley, a left-hander who can do virtually anything on the diamond. Not only did the Falcon center fielder lead the North in batting average, but she also delivered gap-to-gap defense that was unparalleled among her peers.

“She’s a dynamic kid at the plate. She can hit for power, go to all fields, slap, bunt ... she’s a five-tool player,” Kaas said.

But Kentlake’s optimism hardly stems from Crowley alone. In fact, with Crowley in center, Jessie Richardson at shortstop, Erika Smyth at second and ace Nikole Weber in the circle, the Falcons may possess the toughest up-the-middle combination in the North. Smyth tied for second in the league in runs scored (11) while Richardson filled a variety of roles and delivered heady play in the process. Meanwhile, Weber, who blossomed into her own last spring, is unquestionably one of the North’s top-returning pitchers. Weber struck out 74 batters in 77 1/3 innings pitched last season and threw 10 complete games.

So while the Falcons graduated all-league infielder Juliann Hartnett and honorable selection Sam Beckler, there’s plenty of reason for them to believe they’re going to be better this spring.

“A lot of these kids are unknown and it’s their time to shine,” Kaas said. “We’re not going to hit 25 home runs like we did a couple years ago, but they’re going to put the ball in play and make teams play defense. It’s a team that can flow at the top (of the lineup), the bottom and everywhere.”


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