Jackets turn three on Bend

South Kitsap grad and Kitsap BlueJacket Josh Meeker avoids a slide as he tries to turn a double play Wednesday. The runner was safe at first, but Kitsap won 6-4. - Photo by Jesse Beals
South Kitsap grad and Kitsap BlueJacket Josh Meeker avoids a slide as he tries to turn a double play Wednesday. The runner was safe at first, but Kitsap won 6-4.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

In baseball, it’s only a matter of time before consistent contact leads to hits.

That caught up with Kitsap BlueJackets starter Aaron Bronson Thursday night.

Bronson, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning of Thursday’s rain-soaked series finale with the Bend (Ore.) Elks, retired 17 consecutive batters before Bend right fielder DJ Gentile laced a double to the left-center field gap, leading Kitsap to an 8-3 win and the team’s second-straight home sweep. The BlueJackets (15-5, 8-4) are now the winners of seven straight, having beaten Bend 8-2 Tuesday and 6-4 Wednesday.

“It feels good,” Kitsap coach Matt Acker said. “It always feels good. Streaks happen in baseball. You just have to ride ‘em.”

While Bronson has done more than flirt with no-no’s in the past, tossing one his sophomore year for Green River Community College (against Olympic College at the Fairgrounds), he said he certainly wasn’t trying to Thursday.

“It feels pretty good. I was just trying to get guys out,” he said. “I’m not trying to throw a no-hitter. I just felt good tonight.”

Acker said Bronson simply did a good job pitching like “himself.” Bronson now leads the league in ERA (0.50), opponents’ batting average (.055) and co-leads in wins (two).

“Bronson was phenomenal,” Acker said. “He threw strikes. He didn’t try to strike guys out. That’s Aaron. He showed a lot of maturity. He knows his abilities. He doesn’t try to be anyone but himself.”

Standing 6-feet, 4-inches and weighing in at 230 pounds, Bronson has the frame of a power pitcher. But don’t be fooled. The large righty relies on contact, as evidenced by his lone strikeout in last night’s game.

“I only struck out one guy,” he said. “I just rely on getting ahead early and having them put the ball in play. The defense comes along with it. They’re more on their toes when I’m throwing.”

That much was true Thursday. After committing an error in the first inning, the BlueJackets minimized their mistakes on the defensive end, with shortstop Jamie Nilsen making several tough throws look routine and Central Kitsap product Aaron Johnson making a great diving catch in left field.

Offensively, the BlueJackets got started early when Nilsen, who had been hitting just .205 coming into the game, drilled a lead-off double off Bend (5-7) starter Jeff Reekers. Utilizing small-ball philosophy, second baseman Brandon Decker then laid down a sacrifice bunt, moving Nilsen to third. A sac grounder by outfielder Joey Lind scored Nilsen to put Kitsap up 1-0 after one. In the second, center fielder Brandon Kuykendall beat out an infielder grounder for a single, advancing to second on a poor pick-off attempt. Catcher Lawson Hipps then put an RBI single back up the middle to put Kitsap ahead 2-0 in the evening’s steady drizzle.

But it was the third inning that virtually locked up the sweep.

Kitsap scored six runs in the frame by six different bats, starting when a Lind Texas leaguer scored Decker, who was hit by a pitch, and ending when Nilsen drove in the final run of the rally.

While the Jackets were solid all-around offensively, it was Nilsen who got the spark his bat needed, finishing 4-5 with a double, run, RBI and stolen base.

Acker said bullpen coach Dave Pearson noticed that Nilsen would often start games off with a hit. After that, however, Acker said Pearson noticed Nilsen had a tendency to swing at a high number of first pitches in his ensuing at-bats.

“Jamie had an outstanding day at the plate,” Acker said. “But give credit where it’s due. He adapted his approach, which is good.”

Kuykendall finished 4-5 with a double, run and RBI. Lind was 1-2 with 2 RBI, Hipps finished with two RBI and Doug Buser was 2-4 with a double and an RBI for Kitsap.

Bronson said ultimately, the game showed just how much the BlueJackets are playing as a team right now.

“The team has been playing well,” Bronson said. “The offense is hitting the ball, the defense has been solid. Even the starters and relievers; everyone is on the same page right now.”

Bronson, who acted as a closer at Centenary College in Shreveport, La. last season, has been on a flexible pitch count as he transitions back into a starting role. Acker said that transition was made easier in that Bronson, who earned 5 saves and a 3-2 record with a 4.68 ERA for the Gents, was used in more of an old-school closer role, lasting 2-4 innings per outing as opposed to the typical one.

With Bronson still building stamina, Acker said he could tell his large righty was starting to lose steam toward the end of the game.

“You could see it,” Acker said. “He went from ground outs to pop ups. All the sudden he’s giving up base hits.”

But Bronson said being in that closer role has only helped him overall.

“I go back and look at the school year,” Bronson said. “I’d been a starter my whole life. Being in those situations, those high-pressure situations, that helped me become a better pitcher all-around.”

The Jackets, 4-8 through 12 league contests last year, have turned around a slow start that included being swept by Moses Lake to start the season. Bronson said having gone through turbulence last year helped everyone.

“We have a lot of experience. We just talked to the guys, ‘Hey, stay up. Don’t get down. Stay focused,’” Bronson said. “We’ve been in almost every game this year. Now it’s just staying up. Everybody’s got a lot of confidence out there on the field.”

Acker agreed.

“A lot has to do with those returners,” he said. “The talent in the league has increased overall. The talent on the team has increased. We just have to stay above the Jones’. There’s some awfully good teams in this league.”

That’s why, as Kitsap traveled to Wenatchee (4-8) last night to kick off a three-game road stint, Acker said no one can be overlooked.

“It’s definitely a positive situation to be in,” he said. “But Wenatchee, don’t expect them to be down. Don’t expect them to be at the bottom of the league.”

Results from last night’s game were unavailable at press time. The BlueJackets take on the AppleSox again tonight and tomorrow before traveling to Bellingham. The team will be home Tuesday for a non-league game against Olympia in the team’s annual Fourth of July game, which includes a fireworks show afterwards.

Wednesday’s game will be broadcast tomorrow at noon by WestSound Community Television, shown in Kitsap on Comcast cable channel 12 and Wave cable channel 3.

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