Sports

Same old story: Cougs still team to beat

Central Kitsap coach Bruce Welling motioned the reporter over to take a close-up look at Sheena Stangler’s change-up.

The junior delivered the pitch.

The deception was uncanny as the ball floated toward her catcher and dropped about a foot.

“She’s got a devastating change-up,” Welling said.

Standing next to Stangler in the Central Kitsap gym, teammate Jackie Quint was popping somebody’s glove with her high heat.

And further down the line, senior Jackie Miller was throwing an assortment of pitches — drops, changes, knuckleballs, risers.

Talk about devastating depth at a position that’s so important in the sport of fastpitch.

“It’s definitely a strength, but pitchers can only do so much,” Welling said. “You can’t strike everybody out. I think we’re good enough defensively to make the plays and potent enough offensively to score some runs. We’ve got some power and we’ve got some speed and two very good catchers. We’re pretty solid all the way around.”’

Which is another way of saying, the Cougars will definitely have something to say about who wins the first Narrows League Bridge Division title this spring. Central won 10 straight Olympic League championships, advancing to state eight of those years — winning a title in 1993 — while compiling an impressive overall mark of 217-44.

And the Cougars are also fueled by a disappointing finish in 2001. After winning 19 straight games, Central lost its final league game to rival Olympic High, then was bounced from the district tournament in two straight.

“Last year at the end of the season, it wasn’t fun,” senior catcher Kara Griepentrog said. “We had a lot of other stuff going on.”

Miller, the league MVP a year ago, said, “We want this season to end like our sophomore year.”

The Cougars were were third at state that year.

Welling doesn’t use the disappointing finish as motivation.

“That’s all in the past,” he said. “We don’t even bring it up. We know what we have to do. This is a different team with different team chemistry.”

Miller, who plays shortstop when she’s not pitching, said Central can’t take anything for granted.

“It seems like everybody plays up to our level when they play us,” she said. “We’ve just got to be ready to play every game.”

By the way, Quint and Stangler combined to pitch a no-hitter and strike out 12 in their season opener, a 2-0 win over Puyallup. Miller and Stangler came back to pitch a 4-hit shutout in a 2-0 win over Lindbergh of Renton.

Central doesn’t have the corner on arms in this region.

Olympic’s hard-throwing sophomore Lauren Haas figures to keep the Trojans in any game she pitches. Olympic gave defending state champion Kentlake a battle before losing 2-1 on Thursday, March 14 in Kent.

“Lauren’s as good as anybody Olympic High has ever had,” coach Robin Campbell said.

Health, however, has been a concern at Olympic. Haas has been bothered during the school year by a knee injury that’s left her less than 100 percent at times. Standout catcher Sarah Pedroza has been lost to a shoulder injury and Celeste Kajiyama, who figured to be Oly’s No. 2 pitcher, has been troubled by an arm injury, too, and might not pitch this season.

Arm trouble has also sidelined Sarah Cooper of King’s West. Outstanding as a freshman, Cooper carried the Warriors within a game of the state A/B tournament a year ago, but hasn’t pitched since.

At Klahowya, there’s more pitching. Jill “Nitro” Bruins — her dad, Rob Bruins, was a former world-champion drag racer — should make the Eagles a contender in the Nisqually League. Bruins and her batterymate, catcher Karen Sjostrom, were both first-team all-Olympic League selections as sophomores

OLYMPIC TROJANS

Coach — Robin Campbell (2nd year).

Last year — 7-13 (Olympic League).

Returners — Kate Henry, OF, sr.; Stacy Stone, OF, jr.; Celeste Kajiyama, 3B/SS/P, jr.; Crystaleeanne Santos, INF, jr.; Melissa Schuschke, INF, sr.; Nicole Strickland, 1B, sr.; Angelica Gutierrez, OF/P, sr.; Melissa Perdue, INF/P, jr.; Roxanne Johnson, C/INF, sr.; Sarah Pedroza, C, jr.

Top newcomers — Lauren Haas, 2B/SS/P, so.; Sarah Lake, OF/C, so.; Laura Johnson, OF/C, so.; Hope Hillman, SS, so.; Shayla Anchors, OF, so.; Lindsay Neste, OF, so.

Who to watch — Kajiyama hit .407 and was a first-team all-league performer a year ago at shortstop, receiving some votes for MVP. Kajiyama, who also served as Oly’s top pitcher, will probably be used at third this season and as the backup pitcher, providing she’s free of arm problems. “She’s quick, has soft hands and really knows the game well,” Campbell said. ... Sophomore Haas is as good as any pitcher Olympic High has ever had, Campbell said.

Strength — Pitching, as long as Haas avoids injuries. The combination of Haas, Santos, Hillman, Kajijama and slick-fielding first baseman Strickland give the Trojans a tight defensive infield.

Weakness — Early on, it might be catching. With the talented Pedroza out with an arm injury, the Trojans don’t have a true catcher. Sophomores Johnson and Lake, both outfielders, are being converted to the position. Pitching depth, if Kajiyama’s arm doesn’t come around, could be a concern. Gutierrez and Perdue, who shared mound duties on the JV squad last season, would be needed to step up and give Haas a break.

Expectations — “If we can work a catcher in there that’s comfortable handling the pitchers and somehow Celeste can find out if she can pitch or not, we’ll definitely compete well with anyone in our league,” Campbell said. “Central, North and Port Angeles all have to be the favorites, but we feel we should be able to hang in there with anybody.”

CENTRAL KITSAP COUGARS

Coach — Bruce Welling (11th year).

Last year — 19-3 (1st in Olympic League, knocked out at district).

Returners — Jackie Miller, SS/P, sr.; Melissa Ryan, C/2B, sr.; Shannon Folsom, OF, sr.; Cori Simons, OF, sr.; Sheena Stangler, P/OF, jr.; Kara Griepentrog, 2B/C, sr; Rachel Gorman SS, jr.; Tiffany Myers, 3B, sr.

Top newcomers — Kristi Baumgartner, 2B/SS, so.; Dianna Holland, 1B, so.; Kara Welling, 1B/OF, so.

Who to watch — Miller, who plays for the Eastisde Elite of Bellevue, was MVP of the Olympic League a year ago. She heads a dominant pitching staff that includes juniors Quick and Stangler. Miller’s been offered a scholarship to NCAA Division I Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona, Fla., but she’s elected to keep her options open. The talented Griepentrog, who plays for the Olympia Heat, is also weighing her college options. Myers is a three-year starter at third.

Strength — Pitching, pitching, pitching. Defense and offense pretty solid, too. Miller set a school record for single-season batting average (.484) as a sophomore. Griepentrog and Quick also are dangerous with the bat. Griepentrog and Ryan give the Cougars two high-quality catchers.

Weakness — Nothing glaring.

Expectations — They won 10 straight Olympic League titles and they expect to win the Narrows League Bridge Division, too. Anything less than a first-place finish will be a disappointment. That might not be fair, but that’s what happens when you have the kind of success CK has had over the years.

KLAHOWYA EAGLES

Coach — Jody Woolf (2nd year).

Record — 10-15 (Olympic League, advanced to district, came within a win of going to state).

Returners — Britany Huey, LF, sr.; Jill Bruins, P/UTL, jr. Karen Sjostrom, C, jr.; Britini Hintz, OF, jr.; Rachel Fletcher, 2B/OF, jr.

Top newcomers — Stephanie Chissus, SS, so.; Andrea Henning, INF, so.; Caitlin Henning, P/OF, so.; Alicia Holloway, 2B, so.; Nikki Swanson, 3B, so.; Laura Dana, OF, so.

Who to watch — The battery of Bruins and Sjostrom were both first-team all-Olympic League picks a year ago as sophomores, and give the Eagles a pair of quality players to build around. When she’s not pitching, Bruins can play wherever the Eagles need her, but she prefers the outfield.

Strength — Pitching and catching.

Weakness — Inexperience. Six of the 11 varsity players are sophomores, although Woolf was impressed with their poise in a season-opening 7-2 win over King’s West. “That’s something we lacked last year,” Woolf said. “They kept their heads and made plays when they had to.”

Expectations — After coming within a victory of advancing to the state 2A tournament a year ago, Klahowya has its sights set on getting there this

year. The top six 2A schools in the Nisqually League will battle for three

state berths at the end of the season, and the Eagles will be disappointed

if they’re not in the hunt.

KING’S WEST WARRIORS

Coach — Rick Nohmy (2nd year).

League — Sea-Tac League (B).

Record — 16-4 (Sea-Tac League champions, knocked out at A/B district).

Returners — Taryn Hanley, C, so.; Gitta Rauen, P/INF, so.; Abby Morris, 3B, jr.; Heidi Broson, CF, so.; Amanda Hart, 1B/P, so.; Betsy Parker, LF, so.

Newcomers — Heather Fontenot, P/INF, fr.; Katie Owens, 2B fr.; Talia Tait, RF, fr.

Who to watch — Hanley is a top hitter and being a catcher, knows how to lead on the field. “She can run the defense, line people up and tell ’em where to go with the ball,” Nohmy said. Haney and Rauen, the No. 1 pitcher, are team captains. “They’ll pretty much motivate this team and get ’em going,” Nohmy said.

Strength — Hanley behind the plate, and overall team defense.

Weakness — Inexperience. Hanley, a member of the Snohomish Sidewinders, is the only Warrior who plays select softball. The only senior on the squad, Michelle Franks, is a first-year reserve. Pitching might not be a weakness, but it’s unproven. Nohmy’s asking Rauen, Fontenot and Hart to throw strikes and let the defense do the work.

Expectations — For the first time, there will be a state B tournament. “The top three in our league (Sea-Tac) goes to state and I think we should make it.” KW came within a game of reaching the combined A/B state tournament a year ago.

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