BlueJackets best defending league champs in series opener

On paper, things aren’t looking much different for the Kitsap BlueJackets this season.

Through seven games, the Jackets have compiled the same 3-4 West Coast Collegiate Baseball League record they did in 2006.

But on the field, the Jackets could easily be 6-1, something that is very different from the team’s ’06 beginnings.

“We were in those games,” Kitsap coach Matt Acker said, referring to the team’s sweeping series loss to Moses Lake to begin league play last week. “But anytime at the beginning of the year it’s always tough.”

Kitsap responded by taking two of three on the road against Spokane however, and knocked off two-time defending WCCBL Champions the Wenatchee AppleSox 5-3 at home Thursday night.

“That’s two in a row,” Acker said. “One more and it’s a streak.”

After dropping a 3-2 game to Spokane Monday, giving up two runs in the eighth thanks to errors, the Jackets rallied to a 5-2 win Tuesday, taking the series from Spokane. Combined with the win against Wenatchee (2-5), Acker said his team has shown on the field just how far it’s come.

“We got to take the most out of it,” Acker said. “A couple plays here and there and we take two-of-three from Moses Lake. Moses Lake (6-0) and Spokane (3-3), they’ll compete with (Wenatchee) for the (Eastern Division) title.”

In Tuesday’s win, the Jackets got a great three-hit complete-game effort from Poulsbo’s Kyle Howe, striking out six while walking just two. Playing left field, Joey Lind went 4-5, scored once and drove one in. Center fielder Doug Buser was also hot at the plate, going 3-4 with two runs and an RBI, hitting a double. First baseman Ryan Voelkel continued to be a run-producing machine, drilling a two-run double in the game.

Thursday’s win against the AppleSox saw a strong performance from Brett Miller, allowing three hits and three runs in 5 1/3 innings. Joe Hagen pinned down his first save of the year with two strikeouts in the ninth.

With the departure of last year’s closer, Mike Tachell, Hagen said he’s more than up to the job.

“I just do the same thing I do every time,” Hagen said. “Just try to go one-two-three every time. When you’re pumped, it doesn’t really matter.”

It’s not Hagen’s first time in the role, as he is also the closer for Acker at Green River Community College. That experience has helped settle his nerves in the close situations.

“I got used to it,” Hagen said. “Coming in late in close games. You overcome it.”

At the plate, shortstop Jamie Nilsen was 1-3 with a run, Lind went 2-4 with two runs and Jake Owens (2-4, run) and Brandon Decker (2-3) also had strong games batting.

The win against Wenatchee was great for Kitsap, especially since the AppleSox took two of three when the Jackets traveled there last year.

“The first two years, we went over there,” Acker said. “It’s tough at their ballpark. They’re definitely a solid club. Getting home, starting off with a win against them is big. We know how good they are. You can’t take them lightly at all.”

2006 Central Kitsap graduate Tyler Owens, who competed against Kitsap while a member of the Tacoma Cardinals, made his BlueJackets debut last Friday as a defensive replacement.

“It’s been a lot of fun so far,” Owens said of the call-up. “He gave me a call on my way home from the last game. It was great.”

In five games, Owens is 2-15 with a double, two walks and four strikeouts, but has picked up three RBI. Acker said Owens’ versatility was a strength the BlueJackets needed on the roster.

“We needed a versatile player,” Acker said. “Tyler can catch a little bit, he can play third and outfield. We need him to pick us up.”

The BlueJackets hosted Wenatchee again last night but results were unavailable at press time. The two will battle once more tonight at 7 p.m. at Kitsap Fairgrounds Ballfields. The games, as always, are broadcast on the BlueJackets’ Web site,

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