Spring sports preview: Baseball

When the Olympic Trojans met on Saturday at the Kitsap Fairgrounds Ballfields, they played an opponent they knew all too well — themselves.

Saturday’s intrasquad game between Team Olympic and Team Trojans officially kicks off the high school baseball season in central Kitsap County. And this year, the Trojans have a place to call home. Combined with a sunny, although still chilly day, everyone was feeling excited to be back on the diamond.

“You can’t go wrong with the weather,” Olympic coach Nate Andrews said. “And then, to be out on a field that’s ours, it’s kind of nice.”

Andrews said that showed in his players on Saturday.

“It’s a long winter,” Andrews said. “These guys have been working in the weight room, some all winter to get ready. They’re hungry for it.”

Team Olympic beat Team Trojans 13-2 in the game, giving coaches and players alike a good idea of what still needs work as the season creeps closer.

“Our go-to guys all played well,” Andrews said. It’s nice to see them back where we left off. We’ve got work to do and we see that. We’ll continue working with our young pitchers. It’s a good assessment day.”

Trojan senior Nick Bankus, who was unable to ski competitively this winter as a result of a knee injury that also sidelined the remainder of his football season, pitched three strong innings and hit well at the plate. Not wanting to push his knee too hard, the Trojans did use a pinch runner once Bankus reached first. Bankus described himself at being between 70-75 percent.

“He’s on a good pace,” Andrews said. “But time still has to pass on that. So he’s going to take it easy.”

Joining Bankus will be key returners Jason Bernett, Patrick Whalen (who belted two triples in Saturday’s game), Ronnie Purser, Xavier Mancha and Jimmy Groat.

While Bankus will again anchor the rotation, Andrews said Purser is ripe to step up.

“(Purser)’s going to be a real key on the mound for us,” he said.

With just Bankus, Bernett and Whalen returning as everyday starters, the team will look to its youth to fill holes at key positions.

“But that’s helped push us to look at where we want to be,” Andrews said. “Having that competition (for positions) makes you step it up.”

Among the younger players, Andrews said Tristan Marshall will be a key part of the outfield, while Jeremy Huffman will get a chance to take over at second base. He played behind Shea Baumgartner last season.

“Huffman, he can compete,” Andrews said. “He’ll be an important part of our middle combo. I like seeing Jeremy out there.”

With a young squad, Andrews said rather than think of league titles, he simply wants to see steady improvement.

“Our goal, I’m not looking for a playoff spot,” he said. “I just want to see continued improvement throughout the season.”

The Trojans went 9-10 overall last season, 7-7 in Narrows League play. This will be the last season Oly competes in the Narrows’ Bridge Division, as the school will join the Olympic League next year as a 3A program. But that doesn’t mean Oly’s going to simply let the season ride either.

“I’m always excited,” he said. “The kids are excited to get out. We’re going to grow a lot. We have a lot of room for improvement.”

Central Kitsap

The Central Kitsap Cougars will also look a lot younger on the basepaths this year after graduating a lot of talent as well. But much like Oly, the Cougars are coming out ready.

“I’m always excited for the start of the season,” CK coach Bill Baxter said. “They’re working hard out there and they’re excited about the season, too.”

After guiding CK to a 14-8 record last season, 9-5 in Bridge play, the Cougs earned a trip to the West Central District playoffs, where CK fell 11-6 to Tahoma in a loser-out game. But with a smaller core of returners left over from that squad, Baxter said the team will also rely on its youth to succeed.

“(The returners) did OK (last season),” Baxter said. “It’s good to have a good core come back. We have some holes to fill. So we’ll just have to wait and see how things work out.”

Returning will be top pitcher Zac Brown, Nate Wallen, Tyler Owens and Aaron Johnson, all of whom are seniors that played a role in last year’s success. Johnson was named a Puma Preseason All-American after participating in a wood-bat tournament last October in Peoria, Ariz. He was also first-team All-Narrows Bridge Division last season.

Among key newcomers for CK will be juniors David Beckon, David Stilley, Brad Durham and KJ McLean, all of whom Baxter sad will be solid all-around additions to the team.

“I think we’ll get some decent hitting out of them,” he said. “And some guys will help out with the

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