CK wins Legion Division crown

Olympic starter Riley Crow pitched a complete game shutout in the Tigers’ 4-0 win in a loser-out game against North Thurston.  - Phtoto by Aaron Managhan
Olympic starter Riley Crow pitched a complete game shutout in the Tigers’ 4-0 win in a loser-out game against North Thurston.
— image credit: Phtoto by Aaron Managhan

Silverdale is set to give Spokane a taste of Kitsap Junior American Legion baseball.

With Central Kitsap topping Olympic 17-1 Wednesday in the second round of the Junior American Legion Division III Tournament, the Cougars ensured themselves a berth to the state tournament, which begins Wednesday in Spokane.

CK upped the ante Thursday with an 8-5 win against River Ridge in the title game, earning the division title.

“It feels great,” CK coach Bill Baxter said. “It was great because we played a good game. It’s a good building block when you get to state because these are the kinds of teams you play.”

But they won’t be the only ones making the drive through the mountains to the far reaches of the state.

Olympic battled back from the 5-inning drubbing, dropping Foss 8-2 before blanking North Thurston 4-0 for the third and final state berth, also Thursday. River Ridge also advanced.

“They’re pumped,” Tigers coach Nate Andrews said. “These kids are winners. They want to exceed expectations and go as far as possible. I’m just really glad they worked hard enough and played well enough to get the opportunity.”

In the title game, CK’s Cameron Salley pitched four shutout innings as CK built a 5-0 lead. But the Hawks came back with 5 in the fifth, a combination an error, Salley leaving the ball up in the zone and reliever Kevin Norris walking back-to-back batters on eight pitches, both with the bases loaded. Baxter then brought in Allen Hewey to pitch.

“That usually spells disaster,” Baxter said of the comeback effort by River Ridge. “But Allen came in and shut the door on ‘em.”

Hewey went the rest of the way for CK, allowing no more runs while CK put up three more, scoring in every inning but the first. But Hewey said the result would likely have been the same no matter who was throwing the ball.

“It’s a team effort,” Hewey said. “If I didn’t do it, somebody else would have stepped up in there.”

But having already locked up a state berth didn’t hurt either.

“I was really relaxed out there when I came in,” Hewey said. “There’s pressure out there, but state’s ahead of us now. I’m looking forward to state.”

Mike Crowley led the offensive charge for CK, batting 3-4 with an RBI. Josh Winkler was 2-3 with a double and an RBI, while Hewey, Tyler Baumgartner, Howard McDonald and Brett McDonald each had a hit and RBI for the Cougs.

“It was nice to see,” Baxter said. “They got back on us but we kept the pressure on them. The kids, I’m really proud of ‘em. They just competed.”

Olympic had to battle back to earn its berth.

“CK put a beating on us,” Andrews said. “They did, they beat us up. To come back and turn it around the next day is big. They don’t quit. They don’t stay down. It’s a huge compliment to them and their character and competitiveness.”

In the early game, Oly built a big 5-0 lead before Foss got on the board in the fifth. It was too little, too late, however, as Foss’ two runs came on just two hits thanks to the pitching of Jordan Halstead.

With regular starters Elliot Thorsen and Riley Crow high in innings, and with Oly’s back against the wall facing elimination, Andrews decided to go with Halstead.

“As far as the draw goes, we were in the tougher side. It was kind of a pressure situation,” Andrews said. “I thought, ‘You know what? Jordan is good enough to beat a team in that situation.’ He helped the whole team.”

Halstead worked the complete game, getting the offense behind him and strong defense throughout. Zach Bird, Bryan Deszell and Thorsen all finished with big RBIs for Oly.

With Halstead going the distance, the Tigers were able to throw Crow in the third-place, loser-out game against North Thurston.

“Having Riley around was huge,” Andrews said. “He keeps guys off balance. He was strong. And he threw on a full day of rest.”

Crow also went a complete game, shutting out the Rams. Chris Campbell and Thorsen both went 2-4 in the fame, and Halstead and Thorsen both drove runs in.

Crow said bouncing back from the CK loss was the biggest obstacle.

“It’s amazing. It took a lot of teamwork,” he said of getting to state. “It was big time. You can tell the guys came in and flushed (the game with CK) all away. We just had an amazing game, everyone.”

Oly’s summer program, established in 2002, had only qualified for districts once previously, advancing to state for the first time.

“It feels good,” Thorsen said. “It’s the first time this team has been to state. It’s awesome. We just want to keep the season going. Stay as long as we can.”

For Central Kitsap, the trip to state vindicates the summer program, in its first year. Baxter said the advantages of the program have been many thus far.

“When we come back next year, it’ll be great because the kids already know the system,” he said. “It makes a great transition. And it’s building a winning attitude too.”

Andrews agreed, saying that getting the kids to buy in early is essential to translating summer success to next spring.

“I know for a fact that school ball carries into next school year,” Andrews said. “When we get back in school ball, the kids get excited.”

Thursday’s championship game exposed some of the gaffs Baxter hopes the summer program will help correct. After all, Baxter said, while winning is nice, it’s not the primary function of the summer program.

“We were making some basic mistakes, like in baserunning, hitting in situations, not knowing the strike zone, or not going to third base when the ball is hit in front of you; those type of things,” Baxter said. “Those are freshman and sophomore mistakes.”

On top of that, it builds high school-equivalent experience as teams are constantly restocking to replace graduated seniors.

“Going into next year, we’re really going to be young,” Andrews said. “But we’ll go in with a lot of experience because of what we’ve done.”

Building leaders for the team’s future is something both Baxter and Andrews said is another benefit of the summer program.

“It’s also building leadership,” Baxter said of sophomore summer players like Howard McDonald, Cole Adams and Crowley, among others. “Some of the guys that were sophomores, we need them. The team has to have that.”

Andrews agreed, talking about the strides Thorsen and Deszell have made.

“We want to ride those guys. Elliot is a leader. He crushes the ball, he’s a great hitter. He’s got confidence,” Andrews said. “Brian is a phenomenal quiet leader. He does everything we ask. He works hard. We try to train them to be leaders, to tae charge. Brian and Elliot have done that.”

As a player with time under his belt at the high school level, Hewey said it’s also nice to break new young guys into the program.

“I played with them for school ball,” he said. “Now we get the younger guys coming up, playing with us.”

Making the transition to high school baseball was certainly eased in Thorsen’s opinion.

“A lot,” he said. “It makes the shift so much easier from junior high. It’s just extra baseball, which is always better.”

And for new summer players like Crow, the experience is already paying off.

“I’ve learned so much, just him yelling at me,” Crow joked of Andrews. “He’s an amazing coach.”

With two teams advancing, Andrews said it speaks volumes for baseball in central Kitsap County.

“It’s awesome for our community to see two teams go on,” he said. “That doesn’t happen very often.”

With both squads set to depart for Spokane (things get started Wednesday), Andrews said he’s telling his kids to relish the experience. He added as a high school summer player, he remembered his team’s trip to state.

“That stuff you can’t pay money for,” he said.

Which is why he too is willing to cut a family vacation to Lake Cushman a little short, even if that might have other repercussions.

“I’m gonna have to cut my vacation short about five days,” Andrews said. “So I’ll get a couple days and be out of there. It’s OK though. My wife is very understanding.”

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