This Kentwood High School baseball team can hit.
It’s a big reason why the Conquerors secured their fifth 4A South Puget Sound League Northwest title in six years with a 10-2 victory Monday against visiting Kentridge, the defending league champs.
Lenny Smith hit a triple to the wall more than 400 feet from home plate in center field, Mike Ciancio had a three-run double, and Kramer Sims had three hits as Kentwood (13-2 overall, 10-0 4A SPSL Northwest) had 12 hits total.
“Our whole lineup can really swing it, and so can our guys off the bench,” Kentwood coach Mark Zender said.
The one guy Zender brought in to pinch hit Monday — Nick Perry — sent a line drive to left field to score two runs and push the lead to eight runs in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“They are talented. We have awesome guys. Maybe the best group of guys I’ve ever coached,” Zender said.
He was speaking to how fun and close knit his players are more than their collective talent. Zender wouldn’t disrespect the two state-championship teams and two other state tournament teams he’s helped coach Kentwood since starting at the school as an assistant in 2009.
But this year’s team could still find itself with those others.
Especially combining Jordan Jones’ arm with those bats. The University of Washington recruit went all seven innings Monday, struck out seven and allowed two runs on five hits. He mixed his curveball and change-up with his two- and four-seam fastballs.
Jones’ wind up resembles that of Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez. He said it helps him hide his pitches until he releases the ball.
“When I was young and (Hernandez) first came up, I really liked how he threw and how he was able to hide the ball with his leg kick and turn,” Jones said. “I like that because you just rotate through and fire it.”
He can hit 90 mph on a good day, he said, but the location with his off-speed pitches is what makes him so tough to hit.
“He is a very polished high school pitcher,” Kentridge coach John Flanigan said. “His arm angle doesn’t change, his arm slot doesn’t change, his motion doesn’t change — nothing changes. As a high-school hitter, it’s tough.”
Kentridge (9-8, 6-4) stayed in the game early with its defense, including a diving stop and throw out of Jones at first base by shortstop Gerald Williams. The game was scoreless until the bottom of the fourth inning when Ciancio came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs.
He lined the first pitch he saw down the left-field line, clearing the bases.
“I was just coming up thinking if he gave me a fastball, I was going to drive it,” said Ciancio, a first baseman committed to Seattle University. “I saw it, I drove it and I knew it was getting down so I turned on the wheels.”
With five games left, Kentwood can already start gearing itself for the postseason.
“I told them afterward, ‘Hey, you’re league champs. That’s great. You get to hang something in the gym that will always be there and that’s awesome,’ ” Zender said. “But we’ve never focused on that. We’ve focused on process and that’s what we keep doing.”