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Sequim’s softball sisters
Depending on the day and who is wearing whose clothes, the Bentz sisters – Makayla, 18, Mckenzie, 15, and Jordan, 14 — may be a battling bunch.
Jordan, a freshman, said the trio fights, like any sisters, but five minutes later they are over it.
“It’s usually over clothes and using others’ things without asking,” she said.
But when it comes to chemistry on the field, there’s no contest.
“Softball is a huge priority in all our lives,” Mckenzie, a sophomore, said.
“If (something) conflicts with softball it’s not happening. We kind of like it that way. It’s never really a question.”
Makayla, a senior, said she rarely wants to be somewhere else.
“If I could pick anywhere to be, it’d be on the softball field 95 percent of the time,” she said.
The three sisters may be a first for Sequim softball, too. While the fastpitch squad has seen a number of sisters play together, the Bentzes may be the first trio on the team at once.
This year, Mckenzie catches for Makayla, an ace pitcher, while Jordan plays varsity and JV in various roles. Mckenzie fills in at catcher for 2013 graduated catcher Bailey Rhodefer.
“This is really the first season (catching her),” Mckenzie said.
“If (Makayla) needed to pitch on the front yard, I’d sit on a bucket and just catch. I didn’t really like it at the time. Now it’s cool.”
Makayla said she’s played with Rhodefer since she could remember but finds good chemistry with her sister.
“If one of us is irritated, we know that we can say something and nobody gets hurt feelings,” Mckenzie said.
Mike McFarlen, varsity fastpitch coach, said there’s been a good transition at catcher.
“Bailey just had more time to catch (Makayla),” he said. “Mckenzie is a good catcher. She loves it.”
And while Jordan’s varsity time may be minimal, he said she’s on varsity for a reason.
“As she matures, she’ll be more successful,” McFarlen said.
Ace up her sleeve
So far, Makayla has been ahead of the curve of even her stellar previous seasons.
She’s 9-1 with 64 strikeouts in 54 innings and a 0.65 ERA through Monday. Two of her games feature double-digit strikeouts including a perfect game on March 26 against North Kitsap.
“I threw to 15 batters and struck out 13 of them,” she said. “I didn’t give up any hits. No walks. It was my 18th birthday and we won 18-0.”
Jordan even made a play at second to stop a hit and keep her sister’s perfect game in tact.
Yet a perfect game isn’t even the one that stands out the most for the soon-to-be Sequim High School valedictorian.
As a freshman, Makayla was brought along with the varsity squad to the state tournament as a substitute.
In the opening game, Sequim, the district champions, were up 10-3 over Lynden which surged back in the sixth inning. Makayla was put in with runners on base and gave up a run tying it at 10 but finished the inning. The Wolves scored two in the bottom of the sixth and Makayla pitched a scoreless seventh inning for the win. Sequim went on to win the state championship that year.
“I was this little freshman who had never really thrown at varsity who kind of saved the day,” Makayla said.
“Oh she saved the day alright,” Melanie Bentz, the girls’ mom, said. “She didn’t even warm up.”
“I literally walked out of the dugout and onto the field,” Makayla said. “Had we not won that game we would not have been able to win state. That was pretty cool.”
“It was awesome,” Melanie said. “Who gets a win at state as a freshman?”
McFarlen said Makayla understands and echoes the team-first mindset he tries to instill.
“I tell the players that no one player is more important from the pitcher to the girls on the bench,” he said. “We try to instill to play as a team and we’ve been successful.”
He said Makayla is a confident pitcher who works hard and goes out and does what she sets out to do.
For example, Makayla said she wanted to improve her strength and pitching velocity in the offseason, so she worked out for three months everyday and gained 15 pounds of muscle.
Alexas Besand, first basemen and one of the team’s three seniors with Makayla and Melissa Lewis, said Makayla is consistent on and off the field.
“She listens and gives good advice,” Besand said. “You can be yourself around her and on the field is no different. It’s been like that for years. She doesn’t give up, works hard and strives to be the best pitching wise.”
Shelby Lott, a junior center fielder, said Makayla supports everyone and always makes people smile.
“She’s a complete player and even when a situation looks like it can’t be won, she does what she can to get us through.”
Makayla and her sisters started playing baseball at age 5 or soon thereafter. Pitching caught her attention when she was 8.
“The first time I saw it I thought oh my gosh, I want to do it,” she said. “They were in control of the game and involved in every play. I thought the motion looked cool. I tried it and it stuck.”
Mckenzie has a good game of her own, too. She recalls pitching a perfect game, hitting a grand slam and a home run in one game while a seventh-grader.
Last year she was backup catcher, outfielder and pitcher for varsity while playing some on JV.
“I love catching,” she said. “If I could choose, it’d be catching but I’ll play where I’m needed.”
Melanie Bentz said Mckenzie is a player that needs to be in the middle of the action.
“She was the kid in the outfield picking flowers or drawing in the sand,” she said.
Given the option to pitch or catch, Mckenzie said she prefers catching.
“It’s not that I don’t like pitching. I love catching,” she said. “I go onto the field at practice hoping we do catcher drills and I get to do something in my catcher’s gear.”
Jordan said she loves playing second base and shortstop and hopes to be a regular for the varsity squad in the years to come. Earlier this year, she had a highlight reel moment hitting a home run, too.
“The coach looks at me as I’m up to bat. He gestured to hit over (the fence). I get up to bat and I hit it over. It was real exciting,” she said.
The Bentz girls got into sports through their dad Dave, now the girls’ assistant coach.
“He got us started and it became our own passions,” Makayla said.
Dave took over coaching duties for Makayla when she was 9 and has since become the family’s resident softball expert buying videos and books and watching tutorials online all about the game over the years. As for mom Melanie, she was a coach early on but has become more of a super fan for their squads.
“She’s never missed a game,” Makayla said. “Sometimes they have to split up if one of us is at JV and the other varsity.”
Sometimes that would become quite the task for the Bentz parents with their girls on multiple squads.
Mckenzie said she remembers going to three practices in one night while in middle school for tournament basketball and soccer teams and the softball team.
Melanie said she hardly remembers much of the early days.
“It was a blur,” she said. “We had three kids in four years. I love it now. They’ve all gone through phases … But they can’t imagine not having each other around.”
This fall that will change when Makayla attends Pacific Lutheran University. Born and raised in
Sequim, Makayla said she picked it for academics, ignoring softball, and likes that the campus isn’t too far from home. She plans to tryout for the softball team this fall though.
“I’ve had the best experience playing here since I was really young. I’m going to miss it. Sequim is all I’ve known,” she said.
Mckenzie said it’ll be hard on the whole family, including her, since she considers Makayla her best friend.
“When Makayla is gone, I’m going to cry for months,” she said.
But the Bentz sisters have one last goal before Makayla graduates and that’s to see how far they can go this postseason.
“Last year when the seniors left I was a little bit nervous,” Makayla said. “We were losing four of our starting players. I think the girls who came up have filled those spots well. When we’re on, we’re on and we’re hard to beat. I can see us going far by playing the game we know how to play.”
Mckenzie said they can keep getting better, too.
“We can make a good run at districts and state especially for the seniors in their last year,” she said.
“That’s everyone’s goal to make a statement.”
Makayla Bentz’s pitching
2012: 8 wins, 1 loss, 67.2 innings pitched, 54 strikeouts, 2.90 earned run average in seven innings
2013: 17-2, 100 innings, 111 strikeouts, 1.61 ERA
2014: 9-1, 54 innings, 64 strikeouts, 0.65 ERA (through Monday, April 28)
Cumulative: 29-4, 231.2 innings pitched, 229 strikeouts, 1.77 ERA