Same league, same overall record, same ZIP code.
There isn’t much that separates Kentlake (18-6) from Kentwood (18-6) this year.
On Friday, at 1 p.m., they’ll also share the turf at Safeco Field when they face each other in the Class 4A state semifinals.
It is a testament to how far Brett Jaime has brought Kentlake’s baseball program the last few seasons.
It is also a testament to Mark Zender’s ability to sustain excellence as this will be Kentwood’s second semifinal appearance in a row.
Last year, the Conquerors routed Woodinville 9-0 in the semifinals, then came up just short, falling 2-1 to Skyline in the championship game.
“There’s depth in the program. There’s a lot of kids with talent and it’s been that way for a while,” said Zender. “That is a big factor, because it isn’t so much that you keep having kids who are good players, of course that’s kind of the obvious, but what it does is it pushes kids to give their very best every day because they have to compete internally just for playing time. So I think that’s a big factor why we’ve had consistent success.”
Zender coached 11 years at O’Dea High School in Seattle before joining Kentwood in 2009. He led the Conquerors to a state title in 2012.
“We don’t do a lot of fancy things, we focus on pitching the ball well, fielding it well, being able to execute offensively,” Zender said. “The other thing is, as a program, we want our kids to enjoy being here. We want them to have fun, love being in the program so that playing baseball is a game and it’s fun.”
Tuesday’s practice included country music, a relay and a water balloon fight. Seniors Shane McGuire and Nic Roes, who are key leaders for the Conquerors on the field, planned the water balloon fight.
“It’s something to take the tension off and ease the mind,” said Roes, who plays first base. “Last year, I remember before we went down to Pasco, because that’s where the final four was, we had a big ultimate frisbee game for our conditioning at the last practice. That was really fun for us to just kind of relax before we headed to the big stage.”
Six miles away, at Kentlake’s practice, the mood was a bit more serious. No loud music played over speakers. Ball hitting bat was the loudest sound.
The last time the Falcons were in the state semifinals was 2008.
They’ve already accomplished a lot this season. They upset Kentwood 9-6 when they faced their league rival back in April. They went on to win the North Puget Sound Cascade league with a 12-2 record and knocked off Issaquah and Sumner in regional play.
“We’ve been consistently getting better as the year goes on, which is big, especially the last few weeks we’ve kind of ... turned a corner and sharpened things up in a lot of different areas,” said Jaime, who is in his fourth year with the Falcons.
Jaime said that a key to the success of his program this season have been guys like junior right-fielder Jacob Butler.
“Last year he was a swing guy between varsity and JV, didn’t get many varsity at bats,” Jaime said. “This year, right now, he’s batting lead off and probably the most dynamic hitter in our lineup. He embodies what our team is like. He’s really a five-tool athlete and can have great games in a lot different ways. He’s kind of a microcosm of the entire team.”