Nobody plays the unlikely Class 4A state baseball contender quite like the Kentlake High School Falcons.
And here they are in the championship hunt.
First, the No. 6 Falcons had to claim the unofficial city championship – and did with a nail-biting 5-4-victory over fifth-ranked and three-time 4A champion Kentwood in the state semifinals Friday afternoon at Safeco Field.
Kentlake (18-6) will take on No. 1 Puyallup for the 4A title Saturday at 4 p.m. on the Mariners home field.
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After watching the Conquerors to rally to tie the game, Kentlake scored three decisive runs in the sixth inning to regain the lead, 5-2.
And the Falcons needed all of them as Kentwood (18-8) scored twice, and had Tre’Sean Steele standing on third base before reliever Dylan Mackie closed it out by striking out Alex Yu, then getting Cole Trotignon to fly out to right field to end the game.
“We had to do the same thing a couple times last weekend (in the regional round),” Kentlake coach Brett Jaime said. “Again, when you get to this point, you’ve got to show resiliency.”
A rally cry doesn’t hurt, either.
A month ago, some of the Kentlake players were irked at a local media report calling them the “unlikely” leader in the 4A NPSL ahead of Kentwood.
But now, they’ve embraced that role. The team received its order of 80 T-shirts Thursday that have the word, “Unlikely” plastered over a silhouette image of Safeco Field.
“The whole season, we were not ranked very well,” said senior Caleb Jaime, the winning pitcher Friday – and the coach’s nephew. “People we beat were ranked ahead of us. No one expected us to be here. We all kept fighting.”
Kentlake jumped on Conquerors’ starter Dyson Johnson for two first-inning runs on Shane Nagel’s two-run single to left field.
But Kentwood scored once in the third inning – and tied the game at 2-2 on Steele’s run-scoring single to center field in the fifth inning.
“You always want to play well in the beginning of a ballgame – and Kentlake did, and we did not,” Kentwood coach Mark Zender said. “Now you are (going) uphill. That makes it difficult, because it zaps your energy and you have to fight your inner spirit.
“Our kids don’t give up. They really do fight.”
Justin Petersen led off the sixth for the Falcons with a double down the third-base line that chased Johnson.
Three batters later, outfielder Jacob Butler – who reached base in all four at-bats – broke the tie with his RBI single up the middle.
Jayke Chavez added another run-scoring hit, and Caleb Jaime took a bases-loaded walk to bring in the final run.
“It’s funny, we are actually unlikely,” Brett Jaime said. “I don’t think anybody thought we would be here. They didn’t get here from being overpowering with one or two pitchers, or with a lineup full of (NCAA) Division I players. They got here from playing a lot of really good baseball.”
Puyallup 5, Skyview 4: The Vikings aren’t undefeated like they were three seasons ago in capturing the 4A title - but it almost feels that way.
After two losses to begin the season, Puyallup now has won 24 games in a row, capped by its thrilling comeback victory over the Storm in the state semifinals.
“I think they put a lot of pressure on themselves early on,” Puyallup coach Marc Wiese said. “We weren’t very good the first two games, but we’ve got a 24-game winning streak right now.”
The Vikings jumped out for three first-inning runs off Skyview starting pitcher Brody Barnum, but were shut down for the next four innings.
And the Storm recovered to grab a 4-3 lead in the fifth inning on Michael Lundren’s RBI single to center field.
At that point, it looks as if Puyallup’s championship dreams were vanishing. But the Vikings regained the lead with a pair of runs in the sixth inning.
Gavin Grant hit a leadoff double. And Zack Larson followed with a strikeout, but reached base on a passed ball to put runners at the corner bases.
Two batters later, third baseman Carter Wallace hit a two-run single, which proved to be the game-winning runs.
The Vikings will make their fourth state championship game appearances - and first since winning the 4A title in 2014.
(Staff writer Luke Garza contributed to this report)