Bell tolls for Bellingham

BlueJackets shortstop Jamie Nilsen hits the ground while attempting to field a grounder in Thursday’s 11-2 win to sweep the Bellingham Bells.  - Photo by Jesse Beals
BlueJackets shortstop Jamie Nilsen hits the ground while attempting to field a grounder in Thursday’s 11-2 win to sweep the Bellingham Bells.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

In a game defined by one big inning, one big pitching performance and one big play, the Kitsap BlueJackets bounced back against Bellingham to a familiar tune Thursday, breaking out the brooms for the third time this year in sweeping the Bells (9-15) behind an 11-2 victory.

The win propels Kitsap (23-10, 15-9) back into a three-way tie at the top of the West Coast Collegiate Baseball League’s West Division alongside Bend (Ore.) and Corvallis (Ore.).

“It’s great. It sets us up real nice,” Kitsap starter Kyle Howe said. “And it keeps pressure on Bend and Corvallis.

“As long as we keep winning, they have to keep winning.”

The Jackets used a 9-run eighth inning to blow by the Bells after Howe and Bells starter Brandon Pullen dueled for 7 innings prior to the breakout inning. Howe, a Poulsbo native, improved to 3-1 after the eight-inning, four-hit performance.

The team batted around in the inning, with Joey Lind, and Brandon Kuykendall each getting two at-bats in the frame.

Kitsap shortstop Jamie Nilsen, who went 3-4 with a run, said it was nice to send Bellingham back with a bang.

“That was our last time against them all year,” he said. “It’s nice to demoralize a team like that. It makes it a long ride home for ‘em.”

BlueJackets coach Matt Acker said it was great to break out against a pitching staff like Bellingham’s, which is currently second to Kitsap in the WCCBL in team ERA, posting a 2.14 to Kitsap’s 2.08.

“It was good,” Acker said. “Their pitching, especially their starting pitching, has been phenomenal. They throw strikes, they go after you. But you take it when you get it.”

After playing in a number of close games this season, including 4-3 and 7-6 wins against the Bells Tuesday and Wednesday, Acker said it was nice to see the bats come up big again.

“What I was impressed with today was when they had a chance to do something offensively, they did,” he said. “They have a feeling of when to be offensive and when to be situational. That’s big.”

Kitsap’s all-stars stepped up in the game, something Acker’s been waiting for, with Lind going 2-5 with a double, run and three RBI, Ryan Voelkel batting 2-3 with a walk and Kuykendall finishing 1-3 with a run and a walk.

Those three, along with Nilsen, Howe and pitcher Matt Rossman, were selected to represent Kitsap at the 2007 WCCBL All-Star Game, pitting the best from the West against the beasts from the East Tuesday in Bellingham.

Acker said he was very pleased for Kitsap’s all-stars.

“It’s a great honor,” he said. “I’m happy for ‘em. It’ll be a positive experience for sure. And everyone else gets to rest.”

Howe, who made the all-star team as an alternate last year, said he’s excited to participate in the game.

“I am,” Howe, who’s matched a 3-1 record with a 1.23 ERA this season, said. “Last year I didn’t go because I was an alternate. This year it’ll be fun to hang out with the team, the other guys. I just want to soak it all up and put on a good show.”

Nilsen, who plays collegiately at Central Washington University, said he’s pleased to show the league that a big school doesn’t necessarily equate to bigger talent.

“It feels great,” Nilsen, a .295 hitter co-leading the league with 17 runs, said. “It feels good being from a smaller school and getting recognition with all the bigger guys. It shows ’em I can compete right along with ’em.”

Kuykendall, a former Green River Community College player under Acker, is now at Benedictine College. He agreed with Nilsen in saying he’s excited to prove people that just because some players aren’t at Division I schools doesn’t mean they can’t hang.

“I’m just looking forward to competing with the best in the league,” Kuykendall said. “It’s a test of how good you are. And it’s always an honor to get recognized as an all-star in any league.”

Playing right field in Thursday’s win, Kuykendall made a highlight-reel grab, elevating over the wall in right field to rob Bell Brian Boyd of a solo homer.

“Kuykendall made a great play,” Howe said, praising his defense throughout the game. “He saved a home run.”

“That was awesome,” Kuykendall said afterward. “That very rarely happens that you get an opportunity to do that. I was able to time it just right. It was kind of hanging up there a while. It was a good rush making that catch.”

Second in the WCCBL with a .352 batting average and slugging percentage at .493, Kuykendall co-leads the team with seven doubles and has 10 RBI. Lind is batting .305 with a team-best 13 RBI while Voelkel is hitting .299 with seven doubles and 11 runs. Rossman is 1-0 with a 1.88 ERA in eight appearances, two starts. In 14 1/3 innings, he’s record a phenomenal 17-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

While Kuykendall too is looking forward to the all-star game, the Bellingham series also had special meaning for him. Kuykendall is a former Bell, spending last summer in Bellingham.

“I was really looking forward to this series,” Kuykendall said. “We had a good time last season.”

Still at Green River at the time, Kuykendall said it was similar to playing Acker and the BlueJackets last year with Bellingham.

“Last year, I was excited to play against Ack,” he said. “It’s always nice to play against someone you know.”

While Acker was pleased with Kitsap’s all-star representatives, he knows there’s some deserving candidates that won’t make the trip.

“It’s outstanding. There’s a lot of good kids on the team,” Acker said. “I’m proud of all of ‘em. And there’s some good players that didn’t make it. That’s how it is.”

Among the most notable snubs were starters Aaron Bronson and Kyle Nunley.

Bronson is 2-2 with a 1.23 ERA in five starts while Nunley has yet to record a decision in five starts despite a 1.04 ERA. Closer Joe Hagen was also left out despite going 2-1 with a WCCBL-best six saves and a 1.93 ERA.

In Bronson’s case, Acker said it was the dual losses that did him in.

“That’s what got him eliminated was those two losses,” he said. “If you look, no one else with two losses is on that team.”

Outfielder Doug Buser extended his hitting streak to seven games thanks to a 2-5 effort that included a run and two RBI Thursday. Hitting .277. Buser is Kitsap’s best hitter not selected.

But those are just indicators of how good the league has become, Acker said.

“There’s no question,” he said. “The teams in this league, the parity is unbelievable. There’s good players everywhere. Winning games against the teams in this league is a very difficult thing to do.”

As evidenced by Kitsap’s results this season.

In the team’s 24 league contests, 13 have been decided by just one run. The BlueJackets are 6-7 in those contests. Overall, the Jackets have played 20 games decided by three or fewer runs.

“It goes back a couple weeks,” Acker said of the one-run nail biters. “It makes for a pretty interesting day at the ballpark.”

Kitsap hosted Kelwona (British Columbia) last night but results were unavailable at press time. The teams battle again at 7 p.m. tonight at Kitsap Fairgrounds Ballfields before wrapping up the series with a 1 p.m. Sunday contest to head into the all-star break.

Play resumes Wednesday with a non-league contest against Olympia. BlueJackets games are rebroadcast on the team’s Web site, around the clock prior to the start of the next game.

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