Growing foundation gives promise to KSS baseball

For coach Dave Neet and the Klahowya baseball team, 2009 is all about building upon an already established, growing foundation while striving to make a deep postseason run.

The ingredients, at least at first glance, seem to be in place; the Eagles return eight seniors and two juniors from a 2008 team that finished first among Class 2A schools in the Olympic league with an 11-5 record.

The team returns two shutdown pitchers, two capable backup pitchers and a handful of hitters who are capable of lighting up the scoreboard.

Neet said the primary challenge will be to replace — or adequately fill — the void left by now-graduated Jordan Green, the team’s 2008 starting center fielder who had a 1.000 fielding percentage, hit .512 with 10 RBI and now plays at St. Martin’s College.

“We lost one of the best hitters in the league last year in Jordan Green,” Neet said. “We’re not looking to replace Jordan because it’s hard to replace a guy like that, all we can do is fill his spot and see what the kid can do.”

Senior Brandon Neet, a shortstop who Dave Neet said would see action on the mound, perhaps as the No. 3 pitcher, assumes the leadoff position at the plate. Darrell Newman and Seth Green, Jordan Green’s brother, will hit second and third, respectively, setting the table for cleanup hitter Eric Eley, a 6-foot-3-inch lefty who also is one of the team’s top two pitchers.

“We were a good scoring team last year,” Neet said. “One guy didn’t score all our runs ... I think if we’re able to halfway fill the void that Jordan left with another kid, to go on top of the other players we have, I think we’re going to have a good season.”

The Eagles’ strength, however, could be on the mound. The team’s top two arms, Eley and senior Curtis Pitcher, offer a dynamic one-two punch in that Eley is a left-hander who mixes in off-speed pitches, while Pitcher, a righty, brings power.

“I’m excited about the pitching,” Neet said. “That’s something a lot of teams don’t have, is quality pitching that extends past two (pitchers). Both (Eley and Pitcher) are equally potent in every way in what they bring. We have a nice punch there.”

KSS has won the Class 2A

Olympic League crown the past two seasons, despite being the second-smallest school in the league, and Neet sees no reason why the team can’t three-peat, though he admits the competition is particularly stiff this season.

“We like playing the bigger schools because it prepares us for districts and a good run at state,” said Neet, who is in his third year at the helm. “Every coach will say this, but I think it will be a little more difficult this year, it’s going to be a tough league ... I’m excited for this league, I think this league is going to be competitive in baseball.”

Neet pointed to 2A Kingston, 3A Olympic and now-3A North Kitsap, which joins the Olympic League this year, as the frontrunners to vie for a league crown.

For the Eagles, Neet said, success in 2009 hinges upon consistent pitching as well as hitting, even without Jordan Green. And with more than half the team being seniors, the experience is there.

“These kids are a year older and a year stronger,” Neet said. “It’s going to be a lot of the same as last year.”

Top to bottom, Klahowya baseball appears to be gaining strength each year. Neet said 35 players turned out for the 2009 season, 26 of whom made either the varsity or junior varsity team. Neet also said the team’s summer program is picking up steam, enabling younger players to get in the system before high school.

“We’re starting to build a tradition, you feel and see that things are coming together,” Neet said. “It’s not just this year we’re looking at, we’re looking at what’s going on this year, next year and the year after, that’s pretty much how we put our team together.”

Rick Burleson, who is KSS’ middle school wrestling coach, steps in as the junior varsity coach.

The Eagles visit Olympic at 4 p.m. Monday.

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