Cougars look to smack way to state

CK junior Drew Vettleson hit .449 with 33 RBI, 23 runs, seven doubles, two triples and six home runs in 2008. - Jesse Beals/file photo 2008
CK junior Drew Vettleson hit .449 with 33 RBI, 23 runs, seven doubles, two triples and six home runs in 2008.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/file photo 2008

Rich with talent, despite losing a few key players from its 2008 squad, the Central Kitsap baseball team once again has its sights set on the Class 4A state tournament.

And for good reason; the Cougars, coming off a berth to the state quarterfinals, have power at the plate — real power — in Howard McDonald, Casey Bohlmann and Drew Vettleson, who combined for 65 RBI during the 2008 regular season.

The team also has at least one reliable pitcher in Bohlmann, who coach Bill Baxter called “the anchor of our pitching staff.” Bohlmann was 6-1 with a 1.72 ERA during the 2008 regular season.

But despite the deep pool of talent and the team’s past success, Baxter said the Cougars can’t take anything for granted. Not only is the Narrows League strong top to bottom, Baxter said, but it’s impossible to predict what may happen between now and the postseason. Thus, the team must take it one game at a time.

“Our mentality has got to be to get out of the Narrows League,” Baxter said. “There are too many variables ahead.”

To capture the Narrows League, or at least finish high enough to secure a postseason berth, the Cougars must win games against league opponents South Kitsap, Stadium, Olympia, Gig Harbor and Bellarmine Prep, schools Baxter said should vie for a league title. CK also has non-league games against North Kitsap, Todd Beamer, Kentwood and Woodinville.

“If we can make it through (the Narrows League), then we’re going to know we earned our spot,” Baxter said.

Much of the success the Cougars had last year started with Vettleson at the plate. The left-handed hitting junior, who is rated the No. 1 prospect from the state for the Class of 2010 by Baseball Northwest, hit .449 with 33 RBI, 23 runs, seven doubles, two triples and six home runs in 2008. Those numbers could grow this season.

“When he gets a hold of it, the ball goes a long way,” said Baxter of Vettleson, who also pitched in 2008, finishing 1-1 with a 4.05 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 19 innings. “He’s got the sweetest left-handed swing I’ve ever (coached).”

Baxter said he also expects McDonald and Bohlmann to carry a significant load at the plate. Both seniors, the pair combined to score 43 runs in 2008, hitting .383 and .351, respectively.

The Cougars have a few major holes to fill, however, particularly that of Caleb Brown, who was drafted in the 42nd round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox and currently plays at the University of Washington. Brown was named the Central Kitsap Reporter’s 2008 Male Co-Student Athlete of the Year after hitting .453 with 24 runs, 23 RBI, six doubles and three home runs in 2008.

“It was a pretty big hit,” Baxter said. “But I think I’ve got some good talent coming back.”

In addition to Brown, the team also lost 2008 stars Dan Zylstra, who hit .380 as a shortstop, and outfielder/designated hitter Glen Hewey, who hit .308 with four home runs, 21 runs and 16 RBI.

Senior second baseman Nate Roberts possesses both the glove and bat to fill at least some of that void and become an impact player, assuming additional responsibilities on both sides of the ball after hitting .379 with four doubles, 20 runs and 16 RBI in 2008. Cameron Salley, who pitches, also returns, giving the Cougars another solid arm on the mound.

With power at the plate and what should be solid pitching, coupled with the experience gained from last year’s run to state — it ended with a 9-2 loss against eventual champion Snohomish — there is little reason to believe CK won’t make another deep run.

“It was pretty exciting, but we fell short,” Baxter said, referring to last year’s playoff run. “They know what it takes to get there.”

The team hosts Gig Harbor at 4 p.m. today before visiting Wilson at 4 p.m. Monday.

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