Jackets win a wild one on the Fourth

The fireworks were exploding above the field Wednesday as the Kitsp BlueJackets celebrated the team’s annual Fourth of July game with an exciting 10-9 win and a 15-minute fireworks display. - Photo by Aaron Managhan
The fireworks were exploding above the field Wednesday as the Kitsp BlueJackets celebrated the team’s annual Fourth of July game with an exciting 10-9 win and a 15-minute fireworks display.
— image credit: Photo by Aaron Managhan

While fans waited for fireworks to burst overhead after the game, the BlueJackets were busy providing the fireworks throughout.

Kitsap (18-7, 10-6 in West Coast Collegiate Baseball League play) topped feeder Olympia 10-9 in a thriller Wednesday for the BlueJackets’ annual Fourth of July game, a contest that included some big hits and a late comeback rally.

After sprinting home to take advantage of a passed ball in the final frame to score the game-winning run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Jackets outfielder Brandon Kuykendall was mobbed by his teammates and cheered by fans.

“It was good,” Kuykendall said of the win. “It was real exciting. I was in the dugout trying to get the guys pumped. I just took that energy out on the field.”

Kitsap trailed 9-7 heading into the final stanza of a see-saw contest that saw the A’s (2-7) pull ahead thanks to a six-run seventh inning.

Jake Owens, a spark plug for the Jackets throughout the evening, led off the frame with a single. After Keegan McCamment struck out, Jamie Nilsen came through with another base knock. Central Kitsap alum Aaron Johnson then drew a walk to load the bases. Another walk to South Kitsap grad Josh Meeker scored Owens to cut the lead to just one with the bases still juiced. A Doug Buser sac fly scored Nilsen and Kuykendall, who entered the game in the ninth as a pinch runner for Johnson, found himself on third base.

Kuykendall said he just tried to be ready, approaching the stint as he normally would. So when Olympia reliever Nathan Roubicek fired a wild pitch, he was ready, making the 90-foot sprint in time for the game-winning running, sending the packed Fairgrounds Ballfields house into a fervor.

“I was just running the bases like I usually do,” Kuykendall said. “Just look for their mistakes.

“And try not to do anything stupid.”

Owens provided the most fireworks on the field for the Jackets, finishing a triple shy of the cycle in a 4-4 effort that include a double, a sixth-inning homer, four runs and two RBI. Not to mention a stolen base for the 6-foot, 2-inch, 255-pounder.

“It felt great. We worked hard all game. It was a great battle,” Owens said. “We tried to stay nice and relaxed throughout the game. The more you press, the more you’ll try to do things you’re not capable of. We just did what we all knew we could do.

“There were a few fireworks before the fireworks.”

Aggressive base running proved huge for Kitsap, as Owens, Joey Lind (6-2, 225) and Ryan Voelkel (6-6, 255) all caught Olympia off guard with their unlikely speed.

“We have a bunch of bigger guys on the team,” Owens said. “We hit the ball hard and far a lot of times. But we can move when we need to. It’s one of those deceptive things. I definitely think we caught them off guard.”

Acker said it’s been nice to see Owens step on and off the field.

“Jake’s been a leader for us,” he said. “He’s a heck of a ball player and he’s been hot. He really sparked us (Wednesday).”

The Jackets needed all the offense they could get.

Starter Brad Woodfield (Lafayette) had a shaky outing after being used primarily as a reliever, giving up three runs in the first inning. Overall, Kitsap walked six batters and hit four more with pitches.

“It feels good to come out with a ‘W’ after playing so poorly,” Kitsap coach Matt Acker said. “We needed to get guys some time and we did just that. Just like all season, we battled through adversity and found a way to come out on top.”

Wednesday’s game came at a weird time for Kitsap, following the team’s 2-0 loss to Bellingham on Tuesday. The team travelled back to Bellingham on Thursday, winning 1-0, and Friday, but results of that contest were unavailable at press time.

“It was a difficult trip (Tuesday),” Acker said. “We went home in the middle of the night, got up the next day and drove up there, played in a hostile place and drove back. But it’s no excuse. You still have to play the game.”

Owens said it was a trip that while “rough,” no one minded making.

“It’s a rough drive, but it’s one of those things where we love coming back to the home crowd,” Owens said. “We wanted to give them a show on the Fourth.”

And what a crowd it was. A packed house showed up to the game, with a large contingent staying for the postgame fireworks show.

“It’s great to have support,” Acker said. “The ownership group put a great show on. It was a great fireworks show. Everybody likes fireworks.”

The mid-series split ended up working in Kitsap’s favor, parlayed it’s gained momentum into a 1-0 win, scoring in the top of the ninth inning to beat the Bells.

“It’s definitely good. (Tuesday) we kind of stepped away from the things that have helped us win ball games to begin with,” Owens said. “By coming and doing this, it gives us a little bit of an edge. Really, it’s gonna be tough for Bellingham to match our intensity for the next couple of games.”

The BlueJackets return home on Saturday with a 7 p.m. game against the Corvallis (Ore.) Knights, formerly Aloha.

The two squads built up a rivalry last year that include tight games and some controversy.

“They’re still Aloha to me,” Acker said. “I’m excited to play them. They’re a good team, they’ve got good players. They’re very well coached.”

But both Acker and Owens agreed that there’s still work to be done in Bellingham.

“We’re just gonna play our game,” Owens said. “We can’t overlook Bellingham. They’re a good team. But it’s that rivalry. Everyone has that team they want to beat every year.

“I think there’s gonna be a little more added enthusiasm from our side.”

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