CK punches tickets

Central Kitsap pitcher David Stilley gets mobbed by teammates Nate Roberts (3), KJ McLean and Daniel Beckon (catcher’s gear) after CK topped Kentridge 5-1 to advance to state. - Photo by Jesse Beals
Central Kitsap pitcher David Stilley gets mobbed by teammates Nate Roberts (3), KJ McLean and Daniel Beckon (catcher’s gear) after CK topped Kentridge 5-1 to advance to state.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

TACOMA — Central Kitsap’s David Stilley finished his high school career the only way he knows how: giving 100 percent.

Stilley, slated to undergo Tommy John surgery today, went out on the highest of notes last weekend with the Cougars topping Kentridge 5-1 at Heidelberg Park. The win propelled CK to the first round of the state tournament for the first time since 1996.

“That was the most exciting game of baseball I’ve ever been in,” Stilley said. “I’ve never had anything that exhilarating in my life. I can’t even describe it really.”

In a total team effort, Stilley struck out 9, CK got a number of big plays from the defense and a big fifth inning from the bats.

In the fifth inning tied at 1-1, CK started early with a single by Andrew Braun leading things off. Dan Zylstra then bunted him over. Glen Hewey came up and drew a four-pitch walk, putting runners on first and second for CK Casey Bohlman. Bohlman reached on a fielder’s choice as Hewey was out at second. But with two outs, CK came up big.

Caleb Brown began the rally with an RBI double that hopped high over third baseman Spencer Graham’s head. Howie Kim then came up and crushed a bases-clearing triple to center. Scoring ended after Brad Durham singled Kim home to give CK the 5-1 edge.

“Oh my gosh, it’s amazing,” Kim, a senior, said. “I felt like I lost 100 pounds. Something was off my shoulders.”

Kim said he remembers watching his friend’s brothers at state when he was growing up.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment since I was 10,” Kim said. “I had friends’ brothers at state. I was just like, ‘Oh man.’”

For Baxter and the team’s returners from last year, the win triggered a collective sigh of relief. Last season, CK was heavily favored at districts, but failed to advance.

“This is a lot better,” Cougar coach Bill Baxter said. “We don’t have to come back. The kids worked very hard and they deserve this.”

Part of last year’s experience helped this season, Baxter said. He said last year, after giving up a homer like the one Graham hit in the second inning, the team would have had a hard time rebounding.

“It’s knowing what to expect,” Baxter said. “Not coming out and being flat. We gave up that home run early, but we didn’t go, ‘Uhhh.’”

If anything, last year’s trip to districts only fueled CK’s competitive fire.

“Last year, we thought we’d punch our tickers but we didn’t,” Baxter said. “I think now, the goals are a little higher.”

As for Stilley, he said he couldn’t have pictured a better ending under the circumstances.

“It feels great, you know,” Stilley said. “The last time I’ll be pitching for the Cougars. It’s a good feeling, a really good feeling.”

On the same token, he knows it’s going to be difficult to watch from the dugout the rest of the way.

“It’s kind of depressing,” he said. “I felt like I did my part in helping bring us there. Now I want to finish it. But things happen. I believe in this team. I believe we an go far.”

Baxter echoed the sentiment, saying the team’s firepower should help pick up the other arms.

“It’s tough, but it’s like I told the guys, we’ll miss him, no doubt. But we’ve got guys that can play and compete,” Baxter said. “We’ve got solid players. We’ll go out and battle.

“David was such a huge part of why we’re even here. But KJ (McLean) is gonna step up to the plate for us. Nate Roberts, Andrew Duke, all those guys. They’re gonna battle. If we score some runs and do like we have been, we’ll compete with anybody.”

Stilley said surgery won’t keep him from rooting on his teammates.

“I’ll be back,” he said. “I just don’t know how good I’ll feel.”

Kim said the team banded together to make Stilley’s final outing memorable.

“We wanted to give him a win so bad,” Kim said.

With such a strong team effort, Baxter believes his team is far from done. But as he pointed out, it only gets tougher from here.

“We’ve had good teams. It’s tough to get here when the league is so tough,” Baxter said of districts. “That team was tough. There’s no letdown at this point in the season.”

That said, Baxter said he’s having more fun than ever.

“It’s fun. It’s a blast,” he said. “I know how much fun I’m having.

“I can’t imagine being able to play.”

CK returns to Heidelberg Park Saturday for a 10 a.m. regional first-round game with Woodinville.

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