Central Kitsap baseball faces must-win

(Top) CK junior Drew Vettleson fires a pitch during the Cougars’ 4-3 nine-inning loss against Gig Harbor Monday. (Left) Catcher Cole Adams shows the umpire the ball after attempting a tag against a GH base runner. (Right) Allen Hewey slides into home. -
(Top) CK junior Drew Vettleson fires a pitch during the Cougars’ 4-3 nine-inning loss against Gig Harbor Monday. (Left) Catcher Cole Adams shows the umpire the ball after attempting a tag against a GH base runner. (Right) Allen Hewey slides into home.
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TACOMA — It was no concrete barricade, but the Central Kitsap baseball team hit a major speed bump Monday en route to the state tournament.

The Cougars, playing for the Narrows League No. 3 seed to the Class 4A West Central District III tournament, committed five errors, managed an uncharacteristically low three runs and blew a two-run lead in the bottom of the seventh inning in a 4-3 loss to Gig Harbor in nine innings at Heidelberg Park in Tacoma.

The loss dropped CK to the Narrows No. 4 slot, meaning it must win two consecutive loser-out games at districts in order to reach state for the third time in as many years.

While neither an impossible nor unfamiliar predicament, it’s certainly not ideal. The Cougars, who last year won two straight at districts to advance to state, would have needed just one win in two tries had they reeled in the No. 3 seed.

“We gave it away,” said coach Bill Baxter. “Our season will be done if we don’t play better, that’s all there is to it.”

With starting pitcher Drew Vettleson in cruise control, the Cougars built a 3-1 lead through six innings. Cole Adams delivered an RBI single in the bottom of the third following two passed balls that allowed Allen Hewey to score, taking third from second then home from third. Hewey reached base on an infield single and advanced to second when Casey Bohlmann went opposite field to left with one out. Adams’ hit plated Bohlmann.

Gig Harbor plated one in the top of the third to cut the lead in half, then both Vettleson and GH starting pitcher David Bigelow found grooves to keep the score 2-1 until the bottom of the six, when the Cougars added an insurance run to go up 3-1.

Then the errors — the most costly error, at least.

After Vettleson walked Scott Benedict to begin the seventh, GH dialed up a hit-and-run that thwarted what likely would have been a double play on a routine ground ball to second baseman Tyler Baumgartner, who was forced to throw to first rather than second, leaving Benedict at second with one out.

Benedict then stole third before scoring thanks to a low throw from Baumgartner to first baseman Bohlmann on another routine grounder. Baumgartner’s throw in the dirt allowed Mike Jones to advance to second. Jones scored on Jordan Pearson’s ensuing double to deep left, tying the score.

With the score deadlocked, Hewey relieved Vettleson and managed to escape with no further blemishes.

“Mentally, I think our kids stayed in it. But physically, we took ourselves out of it,” Baxter said. “It was hard to recover from those errors.”

Sails somewhat in irons, the usually hit-friendly Cougars failed to score in both the seventh and eighth, setting up what proved to be Mike Barnett’s game-winning RBI single to center in the top of the ninth.

A scoreless home ninth ended the game.

“Hopefully it’s a lesson well learned,” Baxter said. “Guys swung at bad pitches. We had opportunities to be ahead 3-1, 2-0 and we’re swinging at pitches above our head or pitches that we can’t drive when we’re ahead in the count. That’s tough.”

The road to state will be tough, too, but it’s a line Baxter believes his team can take. The Cougars face Curtis at 2 p.m. tomorrow at Kent Memorial Park and with a win would play either GH or Mount Tahoma in a winner-to-state game.

“These kids are good kids, they’re going to battle back,” Baxter said. “They know they didn’t play their best, and they know we had a good opportunity and we blew it. We’re going to have to work that much harder to get through it.”

What made Monday’s loss so painful — aside from the fielding errors — was Vettleson’s pitching gem going for not. Hewey also was effective in relief.

“You can’t ask for anything more,” Baxter said. “We kind of threw away two great pitching performances going into next week.”

Despite the stumble, both Baxter and Vettleson are confident the team can — and will — regroup. With five days between games, the Cougars are looking to shake the shock and move forward.

“I think if any team can come through the bracket and win two, it’s us,” Baxter said. “I’m confident that if we go out and play our best, we’ll be successful.”

Added Vettleson, “I’m not worried one bit. We’re not the type of team that’s going to dwell over this ... We’re going to come back even stronger, we’ve got something to prove.”

Gig Harbor 4, Central Kitsap 3

Gig Harbor 001 000 201—4 6 2

Central Kitsap 020 001 000—3 8 5

David Bigelow, Michael McCall (7) and Cameron Holcomb; Drew Vettleson, Allen Hewey (7) and Cole Adams.

Leading hitters—GH: Barnett 2-3; Holcomb 2-3 (2b). CK: Tyler Baumgartner 1-5 (2b); Vettleson 1-5 (2b); Casey Bohlman 1-3; Adams 1-4 (2RBI).

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