Sarah Wright does her thing in the circle for Kentwood. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Sarah Wright does her thing in the circle for Kentwood. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Kentwood outlasts Auburn Riverside in heavyweight clash

Sarah Wright dazzles and the offense gets the job done in 2-1 win.

The fastpitch season is just trudging along in 2024. As the soccer regular season comes to a close with baseball not far behind, the fastpitch girls are right in the thick of their season. For both Auburn Riverside and Kentwood, they have gone through their league schedules like a hot knife through butter.

Outside of a 5-3 win over Tahoma, Kentwood has dominated the league. In their three other league games (KC, MTR, FW), the Conks have outscored their opponents, 46-0. So naturally, a difficult non-league schedule benefits Kentwood tenfold, and Auburn Riverside is that challenger.

The two sides clashed on May 1 at Auburn Riverside — and showed what competition looks like at the highest level. The Conks defeated Auburn Riverside 2-1 in a tightly contested matchup.

“We live for these games. We’d rather have a game like this with everyone on edge because that’s how this game is meant to be played. They don’t want easy games,” said Kentwood Head Coach Sydney Eacret.

In the circle for Kentwood was the most feared pitcher in the state, Sarah Wright. It had been a while since Wright had thrown in a game — 31 days to be exact. It was hard to tell that she hadn’t thrown at all in the month of April because she was that on.

In her seven innings of work, she gave up four hits, one unearned run and struck out 16 Ravens, in the 2-1 win. Her yearly stats are just unbelievable. In just five starts (33 IP), she has five complete games, just five earned runs, 83 strikeouts and nine walks. Her strikeout to walk ratio (9.22) would put her third in the entire MLB just behind Seattle’s George Kirby. She is striking out opponents 65% of the time — best in MLB is Mason Miller (53.5%). Her WHIP (walks, hits, innings pitched) is .6969, which would also be second in MLB.

“It was fire. But it was a whole team energy tonight,” Eacret said.

The last couple of years, Wright essentially ran out of gas when the postseason came around. This year, there in an emphasis on rest and recovery, so she is ready when the team needs her most.

“She get gets so worn out... We’re really keeping that arm fresh for her and keeping it ready so she can go multiple games in the playoffs,” Eacret added.

Wright’s stats go on and on, but that is just one side of the ball. The Kentwood hitters still have to get on base, which they did from the jump against the Ravens. Sofia Mottern Salinas and Wright both singled, and with a fortunate bounce from a ground ball by Gabby Greenwood, Kentwood struck first in the bottom of the opening frame.

The rest of the game saw a lot of Conks putting good swings on a difficult pitcher to face in Danica Butler. There were a lot of balls in play, and Kentwood got rewarded in fifth, which turned out to be a crucial run when all was said and done. Sophia Sappa punched a double down the left field line just over the head of the Raven third baseman. Then Mottern Salinas recorded her second hit of the night, scoring Sappa.

The Ravens didn’t fold following that 2-run deficit. They also pestered the Conk defense with balls in play and playing the small ball game, trying to put pressure on the infield. It worked too — there were a couple of balls that got away from the Conks. But with a lot of training off the field, the confidence never wavered.

“We really talked about ‘How can our pitchers be confident if they don’t feel confident in their field behind them?’ That comes down to leadership on the field, and how can we make those younger players feel more comfortable and confident. The chemistry is unreal with these girls,” Eacret said.

Kentwood’s three biggest challenges remain on the schedule in Auburn Mountainview, Kentridge and Decatur. But if this team shows up like they did against the Ravens, the league could be doused in black and silver with a hint of green.

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