CK fired up at the right time

Aaron Johnson fires to first after barehanding a grounder Saturday. Above right, Zac Brown gets fired up after a big ‘K’. - Photo by Aaron Managhan
Aaron Johnson fires to first after barehanding a grounder Saturday. Above right, Zac Brown gets fired up after a big ‘K’.
— image credit: Photo by Aaron Managhan

Even the falling rain couldn’t dampen Central Kitsap’s intensity on the field.

The 2006 Narrows League Bridge Division champs beat Port Angeles 9-5 Saturday in a game that went the distance despite a soft but steady rain from the second inning on.

But the Cougars didn’t just win the somewhat meaningless contest. They sent a message.

For example, after the Cougs scored six runs in the first inning thanks to crucial PA errors, Cougar starter Zac Brown gave up two homers in the top of the second, making it 6-3 and anything but a runaway.

But rather than back down, Brown and the Cougars got fired up.

Facing one of the Roughriders’ top athletes in Cameron LeDuke, who hit a leadoff homer in the second, Brown didn’t back down. He fired a heater, a curve and another heater to blow LeDuke back the bench. Immediately after the strikeout, Brown started pumping his fists and his vocal chords.

Each CK player matched that intensity and kept pressure on PA, scoring three more across the fifth and sixth innings in a balanced team effort from one of the league’s most balanced teams.

“It’s a combination that’s all over the place,” CK third baseman/pitcher Tyler Owens said. “We don’t have one set lineup. We have good backups and legit starters.”

“It’s great,” teammate and infielder Aaron Johnson added. “Our pitching has been great this year. Hitting wise, everyone is clutching up. Everyone contributes. That’s why I think we’re doing well this year. Everyone knows their role and is doing the best they can.”

That ability to come together as a team is exactly what coach Bill Baxter said might make this one of his most complete squads.

“There’s been teams where guys would get grumpy playing roles, but (this team) hasn’t been like that,” Baxter said. “People are really root for each other and want to win.”

The team’s versatility allows it to give teams several different looks, whether it be looks at the lineup, the defensive arrangement or the pitching staff.

For example, say Brown, or fellow starter junior standout David Stilley (ranked No. 37 among the Top 75 Washington Class of 2007 players by Baseball Northwest) needs relief. It can use a reliever like KJ McLean or Calvin Kitts. It could swing Owens from third to the mound, shift Johnson from second to third and put in Shane Coxon at second without missing a beat. Or, outfielder Nate Wallen could come it and be replaced by bench guys like Jon Ramirez, who had a clutch single against PA that earned him a start in Monday’s game against the Roughriders (results were unavailable at press time).

But more than that, it’s accepting those roles for the better of the team that has made the difference.

“That’s been definitely important,” Brown said. “We play for each other. We want to make the team and ourselves better.”

Johnson agreed, saying the squad has had a little extra motivation from doubters this year too.

“Everyone was doubting us,” Johnson said. “Some were saying we were fourth at best. That was extra motivation to prove them wrong. We’re the team to beat this year.”

Owens took that even further, saying the next era of CK baseball has arrived.

“It feels great,” Owens said of the division crown. “I don’t even know. It’s sweet.

“It’s the next step for CK baseball.”

The Cougars will meet either Capital or Olympia at 4 p.m. Saturday at Heidelberg Park in Tacoma for the Narrows League Championship.

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