Sports

Weather made for baseball

Olympic pitcher Nick Bankus works on his delivery during practice Friday. - Photo by Jesse Beals
Olympic pitcher Nick Bankus works on his delivery during practice Friday.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

It was typical baseball weather as the Central Kitsap Cougars prepared for Saturday’s Jamboree at Huey Field.

Unfortunately, that means rain in the Pacific Northwest.

CK fell 5-4 in a three-inning exhibition with Bainbridge Island while the Spartans and Klahowya squeezed just an inning in before umpires called the games. CK and Klahowya were also to play.

In the CK/BI contest, the Cougs showed lots of good, although most agreed the conditions made it tough to tell where the squads were at.

But CK coach Bill Baxter saw a lot of things to like.

“I saw good things,” Baxter said. “I just wish we could have played the other three innings.

“But we hit well. There are some good pitchers from Bainbridge. But we’ve got kids that can hit the ball. Last year we didn’t get timely hits.”

That lack of clutch hitting was one reason CK fell to 8-11 for sixth place in the Narrows League Bridge Division.

But with many returners, CK is ready to compete for the playoffs.

“We do have quite a few coming back,” Baxter said. “Hopefully they’ll play with more maturity than last year.”

Baxter said that lack of maturity led to a lot of unearned runs. He said if CK makes opposing teams earn their wins, they’ll be a lot better off at the end.

“If we play well, if we have good pitching and defense, we’ll be successful,” Baxter said. “But everyone can say that.”

With 35 kids between CK’s teams, the Cougars have more depth than ever, Baxter said. He said with more competition for playing time and roster spots, the team should naturally become stronger.

“The guys are picking each other up,” Baxter said. “We’ve kept more kids than ever before. If someone is not willing to play a role, they need to reevaluate their part of the program. But it does give you a lot of options. Hopefully, people will be willing to do that.”

CK looked sharp offensively against Bainbridge, as third baseman Tyler Owens ripped a two-run shot deep over the left field wall. And while Baxter said it is too early know where everyone will go, he’s starting to see the big picture a little more clearly.

“It’s the start of the year,” Baxter said. “We’re not exactly sure where guys are at. But Tyler should have a great year. Zac (Brown) should have a good year. But it’s going to be a tough year. It’s never easy. We need to come out ready to go or we’re going to get beat.”

In addition to Owens and Brown, CK will rely on the bat of Alan Stabler, the glove of Brett Murphy and the arms of James Lane and Bryce Wentworth.

But above all else, the Cougs will rely and a stronger sense of team unity, something CK has lacked in recent memory.

“Lasy year, we didn’t have a whole lot of team chemistry,” Baxter said. “We have three goals at the start of the year. Play hard, play smart and play together. If we can do that we’ll be successful regardless or wins and losses. That will be our key to success; play as a team.”

CK took on Skyview on Monday and Stadium yesterday. The Cougars will travel to Bellarmine for a 3:45 p.m. game today.

Olympic

Olympic baseball coach Nate Andrews knows that this year will be somewhat of an adjustment. After losing 12 seniors, the Trojans know it too.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t remain competitive.

After going 16-7, advancing to districts and falling 4-3 to Bay Division rivals Capital for a trip to state, the Trojans are hoping that taste of success will leave the young team hungry for more.

“It’s a pretty big hit no matter who we have returning,” Andrews said. “We have a lot of holes to fill. We can do it, but we have to gain a lot of varsity experience in a few games.”

Oly does return a strong core centered around Nick Bankus, Jake Garland, Shea Baumgartner, Jeff Olson and John Taylor. Baumgartner and Garland were the only everyday starters of the group.

And again, despite having a different make up, Andrews knows what gives this year’s squad an edge on last season’s.

“Last year we were really deep,” Andrews said. “We were very senior heavy. We were quick and very athletic. This team has a different composure. The personality is a little different. We’re a little more aggressive, which is a very big plus.”

That kind of aggression will be present in the Trojans’ offensive plans as Andrews said the team will have to use head-smart play to stay near the top.

“I don’t even know where I see us,” Andrews said. “We have a lot of potential, but I’m not sure. We should vie for a playoff spot.”

Olympic held its fifth annual 50-inning fundraising game over the weekend. The varsity and JV squads split into two enormous teams to take on the 50-inning task. Played 12 outs at a time, the fund-raiser asks players to get pledges for how many innings they play. Andrews said he hopes the team can raise about $3,000 from the event.

The Trojans went head-to-head with Olympia yesterday and will host Wilson at Huey Field at 4 p.m. today.

Klahowya

In his first season at the helm for the Klahowya Eagles, coach Vince Hlavaty is more than excited for the year to begin. And he’s not too shy about it either.

“Quite frankly, I see us taking the league,” Hlavaty said. “No question in my mind. Based on the effort they’ve put in and seeing our ability to rise to the occasion, I’m very optimistic.”

A quick look at the roster shows why Hlavaty feels so good about the Eagles chances.

It starts with 6-foot, 7-inch Joel Sheppard. The 15-year-old Sheppard will provide a spark in the middle of the lineup as well as a sizable target at first base.

“He is enormous,” Hlavaty said. “With that height, you’d think there’d be some uncoordinated movement. Absolutely not. He controls his body very well. And he’s a great basket at first base. He’s a very good opposite field hitter.”

Joining Sheppard will be fellow sophomore Isaac Solaita.

“It’s not very often in high school alone that you really do see a five-tool player,” Hlavaty said. “He is incredibly quick and has long range speed. He tracks the ball very well. He’s one of those kids that will definitely rise to the occasion.”

Hlavaty also believes he has an NCAA Division I-caliber player in senior Dan Leenstra as well. Senior Brandon Bennett will also provide a spark doubling up as a pitcher and catcher.

“Right now I feel like I’m very blessed,” Hlavaty said. “We have a really good mix and a very good core of seniors. As far as our seniors, Brandon Bennett is a valuable leader and an intelligent young man. He has no problem taking the lead on the field.”

Hlavaty said his Eagles will play ‘”straight up baseball,” but will intertwine small ball elements.

“The ball club has tremendous foot speed and the ability to hit the ball in the opposite direction,” Hlavaty said. “Right now, we’ll play straight up baseball.”

But the biggest thing aiding the Eagles this season will be the squad’s mental approach.

“We will take this league because you know what? The boys believe it,” Hlavaty said. “I see us going to Yakima. No doubt we can do it. This year, they’re ready to take it out on someone else for a change.”

The Eagles battled Hoquiam Monday and host North Mason at 3:30 p.m. today.

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