Rangers find their talent close to home

"No one could accuse Corky Franklin of looking to far afield to fill his 2000 Olympic College baseball roster.The second-year Ranger coach stayed almost exclusively in Kitsap County on his recruiting forays.That's gotta be your philosophy, says Franklin, whose team finished out of the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges (NWAACC) North Division playoff picture last year. If you can keep the local guys, that's what you should do. That's where you get your identity.Not that Franklin in particular or OC in general had done such a shoddy job of mining the local talent in years past. Indeed, the bulk of the Rangers' returning talent kept its roots squarely in Kitsap soil, including a large contingent from perennial state power South Kitsap.But this year, Franklin made an extraordinary effort to grab local talent and drape it in Ranger uniforms. Olympic, Central Kitsap and North Kitsap high schools all were ports of call on his recuiting agenda, and all yielded players that should help OC push upward in the division standings.The talent will be bolstered by a number of young locals, including All-Olympic League first-teamers Ryan Donaldson, a pitcher and outfielder from Olympic; Kyle Baumgartner, a shortstop from Troy who was a late-round selection in last year's amateur draft; Anthony Rodriguez, a second baseman from CK; and a pair of North Kitsap stars, catcher Ryan O'Connell and infielder Doug Brisbon.Franklin's job, as he sees it, will be to take those freshmen and turn them from good high school players into winners at the college level.High school effort doesn't get it done any more, Franklin said of the jump from the Olympic League to the talent-laden NWAACC North. If you're going to win up here, you have to do more.The preseason has been a learning process for the Rangers as they integrated all those youngsters into the mix. The nonconference slate, including a four-game California swing, yielded a 3-9 record and left Franklin with a dour expression.Frankly, I've been pretty disappointed up until the last couple of games, he said of the preseason effort. We beat Bellevue and Lower Columbia back-to-back (in conference games), and I started to feel better. Until then, we were making it too easy for other clubs to come in and beat us. In general, we just weren't playing very well.At this level, it's all about finding a way to win, and we weren't doing that. Our last two games, though, we started putting it together, Franklin said.Pitcher Nate Ferguson and first baseman Jay Powers, two of OC's many South Kitsap products, heads Franklin's list of returning players, along with outfielders Ryan Savery and E.J. Santos and ex-Bremerton High School pitcher Ryan Parker. Ervin McDermott, who played at Olympic High several years ago, returns to the area and will see time both in the infield and outfield.Donaldson, who shared Oly League Player of the Year honors with Rodriguez in football and was the league's MVP in baseball, is liable to step into the top spot in the Rangers' rotation, despite being just a freshman.He throws real well, Franklin says of Donaldson, who was the quarterback in the Trojans' pass-happy football offense and might well have garnered a look or two from college grid scouts had he not expressed a strong preference for baseball. He has a chance to win every game he starts.As Franklin spoke, Donaldson was coming off a 3-0 shutout victory over Lower Columbia.Rodriguez, Baumgartner and Brisbon will join with Powers to give OC a solid defensive infield, and Donaldson is likely to be in the outfield whenever he's not on the mound.Two more freshmen, Central's Chris Skilbeck and South's Chuck Cunningham, will add some potential to the pitching corps.A barometer of how well the youngsters have meshed with OC's sophomore nucleus will come when the Rangers play division favorite Edmonds this Sunday at Legion Field. The conference doubleheader gets under way at 1 p.m.They're everybody's choice to win the division, if not the conference, Franklin says of the Tritons. Their pitching is outstanding. But if our guys expect to be successful this year, they have to know they can play with them."

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