Sports

Optimism, expectations arrive with new baseball season

Olympic High School catchers work on their stance during a workout at the team’s second day of practice Tuesday.  - Wesley Remmer/staff photo
Olympic High School catchers work on their stance during a workout at the team’s second day of practice Tuesday.
— image credit: Wesley Remmer/staff photo

With regular-season openers less than two weeks away, area schools are preparing for the 2010 baseball season.

Here’s a look at what Central Kitsap High School, Klahowya Secondary School and Olympic High School face as the 2010 campaign gets underway:

CENTRAL KITSAP

There is no player in the area more recognizable than senior Drew Vettleson, an ambidextrous slugger who will play at Oregon State University next spring.

But when Central Kitsap opens the season, he will be one of the few familiar faces on the field.

The Cougars lost seven of nine starters from a 2009 team that reached the Class 4A state tournament. Coach Bill Baxter said that is the largest turnover he’s had in 20 years at the helm.

“The chalkboard has been erased and we really don’t know where people are going to fit in right now,” Baxter said.

Vettleson, projected to be picked in the 2010 Major League Draft in June, will fit in wherever the team needs him. He is the Cougars’ No. 1 pitcher and most prolific hitter.

The 2009 Gatorade Player of the Year hit .382 with four home runs and 18 RBI last season, while posting a 1.70 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 25 innings pitched.

“We’re going to need some guys to come up big behind Drew,” Baxter said.

Where that help will come from remains to be seen.

But Baxter said there is some talent joining the team, and also a few players returning who have varsity experience. There are eight seniors on the squad, but only Vettleson and Tyler Baumgartner have consistently started.

Seniors Karl Koemmpel, Ian Krein and Preston Nelson are vying for starting jobs, as are juniors Tevyn Toledo and Jake Brouker and sophomore Josh Sontag.

Kevin Norse, a senior who missed 2009 with an arm injury, could become the team’s No. 2 starting pitcher.

“There is going to be a lot of coaching done this season,” Baxter said. “But that makes it sort of fun.”

It wasn’t a fun ending to the 2009 season, when the Cougars were eliminated at state in a 14-6 loss to Lake Washington High School.

That was the last game in the careers of key players Casey Bohlmann, Nate Roberts, Cole Adams, Josh Winkler, Howard McDonald and Allen Hewey.

“If we make it back to state, that would be a major accomplishment,” Baxter said.

OLYMPIC

With a talented group of seniors and an ace pitcher returning, Olympic has the potential to make 2010 a special season.

The Trojans, who last season lost in the opening round of districts and missed state, are one of the most experienced teams in the Olympic League. The team returns seven senior starters, most of whom have been involved with the program since eighth or ninth grade.

“Our guys are hungry,” coach Nate Andrews said. “If they focus on their work ethic and the areas they need to improve in, everything will fall into place.”

One area that needs little improvement is the top of the pitching rotation, with ace Riley Crow assuming the No. 1 position for the third time in as many seasons.

The right-hander finished 4-1 with a 3.10 ERA in 40 2/3 innings in 2009, striking out a team-best 34. In 2008, he broke the school record for wins in a season with nine, posting a 1.33 ERA.

“He is our bulldog and a consistent competitor,” Andrews said.

Junior Joe Stevick, who last season was 3-1 with a 2.45 ERA, had a good offseason and is in position to secure the No. 2 spot in the rotation.

It is unclear who else will emerge as a reliable starter, if anybody. Andrews said there are a few younger, more inexperienced players who have the potential to step in.

The Trojans return four players who had at least 70 at-bats and a batting average above .300 last season.

Senior Blake Johnson hit .455 and scored a team-high 29 runs, while senior Christopher Campbell drove in a team-best 22 runs to go with a .475 batting average. Catcher Zach Bird, meanwhile, returns after a 2009 in which he hit .315 with 21 RBI. Jordan Halstead also figures to contribute, hitting .375 with 16 RBI a year ago.

In addition to providing offensive power, Andrews said those players will be relied upon as leaders in the clubhouse.

“Team chemistry and a mutual respect among the players is going to be a key to our success,” Andrews said.

There is no lack of motivation for the players, either.

The seniors were part of a 2008 team that advanced to the Class 3A state tournament, so they were left with a sour taste after missing it last year.

Andrews believes the Trojans can make a return if they work together, close out games when they have the lead and, most importantly, build team chemistry.

“We have some players who are the epitome of great teammates and true students of the game,” he said. “We want that to be contagious.”

KLAHOWYA

Despite entering the season with a made-over pitching staff, expectations are high at Klahowya.

The team who calls its home field “The Swamp” enters 2010 with an entirely new rotation. This comes after the Eagles rode the arms of aces Kurtis Pitcher and Eric Eley, as well as No. 3 pitcher Darrell Newman, to the state tournament in 2009.

Pitcher, a 6-foot-5-inch left-hander who is now playing at Western Oregon University, finished 2009 with a 2.33 ERA and team-high 63 strikeouts. Eley, a hard-throwing right-hander, posted a team-low 1.97 ERA in 53 1/3 innings and finished 6-3, striking out 58.

Newman, meanwhile, provided a reliable third arm to spell Pitcher and Eley.

“Losing any sort of pitching is tough, but losing Pitcher, Eley and Newman is hard to even think about,” coach Dave Neet said.Seniors Brandon Neet and Ryan Little and junior Joe Valley are now atop the pitching staff.

With that turnover, Dave Neet believes the team will need to produce more runs on offense than it did in 2009. Eleven of the Eagles’ 16 wins last season came when they allowed three runs or fewer.

When the bats didn’t deliver, the arms usually did.

Now the pressure to produce runs rests on the team’s top three returning power hitters, Steffen Jeffcoat, Seth Green and Valley. Brandon Neet and Joe Sawyers, considered two of the team’s fastest players, will be expected to get on base and score runs.

“We’re definitely going to be more of a hitting team than a pitching-dominant type of team,” Neet said.

The Eagles have advanced to the state tournament two of the past three years and have won the Class 2A crown in the combined 3A/2A Olympic League three consecutive seasons.

That success has the players accustomed to winning, something Neet expects to continue this season despite the fact the team lost eight seniors.

“The players are proud of their team’s accomplishments and know that hard work pays off,” Neet said. “The kids have to be ready for each challenge and ultimately be hungry to continue the winning tradition.”

Did you know?

Central Kitsap lost seven starters from last year’s team, the most in one season since Bill Baxter became coach in 1989.

Olympic needs one more victory to secure win No. 100 under the current coaching staff, which took over six seasons ago.

At Klahowya, the 42 players who turned out for baseball this season was the largest number in school history.

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