Fastpitch: Ravens come up short against Kentwood

Auburn Riverside falls 2-1 vs. Sarah Wright and the Conks.

If there is one thing to know about Auburn Riverside head softball coach Bryce Strand, it’s to know that he is going to challenge his girls any chance he can get. He did just that on May 1, as he hosted Kentwood for a non-league game in the midst of the regular season.

The Ravens fell 2-1 to Kentwood in a highly contested game from start to finish. The Conquerors just got a couple of balls to bounce their way, which was the difference in the game.

“They knew what they were up against… We probably left five runners in scoring position in the game and just couldn’t get them in. That is all you can ask for against a pitcher like Sarah Wright. You have to get in those positions and look for that one hit to get ‘em in and we didn’t quite get that,” Strand said.

Strand’s group knew they were going to have their hands full offensively with Kentwood’s Sarah Wright in the circle. But Riverside had their own star going in the circle, Danica Butler — and she answered the bell.

“I thought she went toe-for-toe with Wright. She had it workin’. She didn’t have her best velocity, but had it moving… She knows when she pitches like this and the team puts it all together, this team can beat anybody. Super proud of her performance,” Strand said.

The Ravens have cruised through the majority of their schedule so far this season. Their four losses so far have come against some of the best competition in the state — and those types of challenges are going to benefit the Ravens in the long run.

Kentwood got one run in the first after a difficult ball ate up Jossy Taylor, allowing the Conks to take an advantage. Kentwood then got a second run off Butler in the bottom of the fifth on a Sofia Mottern Salinas two-out RBI single.

Despite being down 2-0 and facing one of the best pitchers in the state, the Ravens still fought. What impressed Strand was the bottom of the lineup got the offense going in the final inning.

“I thought we put pressure on her (Wright) a lot. We had a lot of quality at-bats, she had a lot of strikeouts. But she really had to work for them and threw a lot of pitches,” Strand said.

Of the 16 strikeouts, six of them required extra pitches due to foul balls. Wright’s total pitch count of 129 is the second highest this season (137 at Liberty, March 14). But that game went eight innings, so 129 is the most pitches in a seven-inning game for Wright this year.

Ashley Langford led off the seventh with a sharp single up the middle that deflected off of Wright’s glove. Then with some luck on a high throw to first on a bunt, the Ravens put runners on the corners with one out. Langford came around to score on some first and third trickery to get Auburn Riverside on the board.

“Not only the last inning, but the bottom of the order. They found a way… I really thought all through the lineup our girls really battled. There was no easy out tonight. I think everyone in our lineup made her work and I was really proud of it,” said Strand.

The tying run was stranded on second as Wright slammed the door on Taylor and Lexi Vircks, as Kentwood snuck a win out from Auburn Riverside. But that fight and tenacity was something that made Strand proud of his girls.

“This is why you do it … Even in a loss, I hate losing. But it feels like you get better and it gives your team some belief. … It felt like a state tournament semi-final game. It really did,” Strand said.

If this Ravens side can find ways to win these tight, close games, they can cause a lot of problems for teams all over the state.

Danica Butler shoved for the Ravens against Kentwood. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Danica Butler shoved for the Ravens against Kentwood. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Kennedy Martinson takes a swing against Kentwood’s Sarah Wright. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Kennedy Martinson takes a swing against Kentwood’s Sarah Wright. Ben Ray / The Reporter