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Corvallis wins round one with Jackets
If the Kitsap BlueJackets took one step forward in taking over first place in the West Coast Collegiate Baseball Leagues West Division, then they just got done taking two back from where they came.
After taking over sole possession of first place with a series win against Wenatchee at the end of June, the BlueJackets have been cold in a hot July, falling in two-of-three on the road to Bellingham before getting swept at home by Corvallis (Ore.), one of the teams biggest rivals.
After Sundays 3-2 and 1-0 losses, Kitsap (20-10, 12-9) has lost three in a row and five of its last six, vaulting Corvallis and Bend (Ore.) into a first-place tie at 13-8.
While the teams pitching has been as strong as ever, and the teams bats continue to amass hits, its a lack of big hits in big situations that saw the BlueJackets drop from first to third on Sunday.
Thats really what it was, Kitsap first baseman Ryan Voelkel said. We had runners on, we just couldnt get key hits at the right moments.
After winning 2-1 in another thriller with Bellingham Friday night, the Jackets fell 3-2 Saturday, then lost 1-0 in the first half of a doubleheader Sunday, followed by another 3-2 defeat.
While Voelkel and Kitsap coach Matt Acker both said Corvallis has a strong pitching staff, they also said the teams own mistakes is what ultimately hurt them.
Corvallis has a really good pitching staff, Voelkel said. And sometimes, you just hit the ball right at somebody.
They threw well and we made more mistakes than they did and we lost, Acker said. Thats just how it goes in this league. You make mistakes, you lose.
Kitsap outhit Corvallis 20-16 in the series, but left 28 runners on base to the Knights 17. Kitsap also committed five errors to the Knights two.
At some point, a kids got to step up, Acker said. Were hitting the ball, were putting the ball in play. Weve just got to get a little more clutch.
While neither said the team had gotten too high off the recent brash of early-season success that had eluded the Jackets previously, Voelkel said this proves the team is still human.
It kind of brings us down to earth, he said. We hadnt lost at home yet. It lets us know were human.
Right now, three of the West Divisions four teams have winning records (Bellingham is the only one that does not at 9-12). In the East Division, only Moses Lake, a league-best 14-7, sports a winning record.
I think the kids were excited about playing Corvallis, Acker said. Right now, Bend and Bellingham are looking at it going, Hey, we should have taken two of three from those guys. (Against Corvallis), we shoulda, coulda taken all three. What it all comes down to is making mistakes.
In Sundays doubleheader, the Jackets had opportunities to win both games. In the opener, just seven innings because of the double billing, the Knights were able to get their lone run off Kitsap starter Aaron Bronson in the top of the sixth inning.
Thats when the Jackets had their chance to strike back.
After Voelkel and Jake Owens both walked, pinch hitter Lawson Hipps grounded out, moving runners to second and third with just one out. But then Josh Meeker popped up the first pitch he saw and Brandon Kuykendall struck out to end the threat.
In the nightcap, Corvallis again went up first, building a 3-0 lead after six innings. But Kitsap chipped away with runs in the seventh and eighth, but couldnt quite come back.
Theres nothing really you can say to make em all feel better, other than flush it, take care of the next thing, Acker said following the losses.
Starters Kyle Howe, Bronson and Matt Rossman didnt allow an earned run in the series (all three runs against Howe came as the result of two Jacket errors).
Next up for Kitsap is a three-game stint with the Bells at home that began yesterday, but results of that contest were unavailable at press time. The teams battle again at 7 p.m. tonight.
Perhaps the biggest help in preparation for those games is simply having an off-day Monday.
I think were gonna be fine. The day off will really help us, Voelkel said.
Aside from July 2, the team will have played 19 games in 20 days, including travel from Kitsap to Wenatchee, then to Bellingham, back here for the Fourth of July game, back to Bellingham, then back home for the current stretch. While Acker adamantly said he loves coaching, he reminded anxious fans and onlookers that everyone needs a day off, even if they love their job.
Its always good. Our job is baseball. And its a fun job to have, Acker said. But I dont think people understand what its like sometimes. Its not an easy thing to do.
As far as the rematch with Corvallis is concerned (the teams battle against July 31 in Oregon), Acker said his team will be ready, but pointed out they were more than ready for this go-round too.
I think the energy was there already, Acker said. I think they wanted a part of us too. They werent kidding around.
Kitsap center fielder Doug Buser has quietly pieced together a four-game hitting streak heading into last nights game.
Bronson has the lowest opponents batting average in the league, holding hitters to just a .124 average. Howe is fourth with a .144. Howe is sporting a 1.09 ERA and Bronson a 1.23. Joe Hagen co-leads the league with 5 saves.
As a team, the BlueJackets co-lead the league in hitting with a .258 average, joining Moses Lake at the top. Kitsap is second in the league in runs and third in RBI. In pitching, the teams 1.99 ERA is second. Kitsap has also allowed the least hits.
BlueJackets games are rebroadcast on the teams Web site, www.kitsapbluejackets.com around the clock prior to the start of the next game.