Central Kitsap, Olympic High School baseball teams set for postseason

Central Kitsap High School senior Tyler Baumgartner applies a tag to Olympic High School outfielder Blake Johnson during Olympic’s 9-2 victory over the Cougars Saturday at Gene Lobe Field at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds. - Courtesy photo
Central Kitsap High School senior Tyler Baumgartner applies a tag to Olympic High School outfielder Blake Johnson during Olympic’s 9-2 victory over the Cougars Saturday at Gene Lobe Field at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Now it’s time to play the games that matter most.

With decisive victories over two crosstown rivals, the Olympic High School baseball team continued its late-season surge this week and will enter the playoffs playing what coach Nate Andrews believes is its best baseball this season.

Olympic (14-5 overall, 11-4 league) defeated Central Kitsap High School 9-2 Saturday and Klahowya Secondary School 13-4 Monday to improve their record to 10-2 the past 12 games, adding to momentum established over the last month of the season.

The team concludes the regular season Friday against Kingston High School (11-4, 10-3).

“The guys have gained an understanding of what they need to do individually to help the group,” Andrews said, adding the team is more confident now than it’s been all season.

Friday’s regular-season finale will not affect playoff positioning because the Trojans have secured the Olympic League No. 2 seed to districts, the Class 3A West Central District III/Southwest District 4 Tournament. Olympic will face either the Seamount or South Puget Sound League No. 5 team in a loser-out game at 4 p.m. May 11 at Kent Memorial Park.

A win in that game would propel Olympic to a loser-out, winner-to-state contest at 7 p.m. May 12 at Kent Memorial, giving the Trojans an opportunity to return to state for the second time in three years.

Although Andrews and the players agree the team must focus on one game at a time, getting to state is on the minds of everybody.

“It means a lot to us,” senior outfielder Blake Johnson said. “This is the last time the seniors will play together, and we’ve all worked really hard.”

Olympic clinched second place among Class 3A teams in the Olympic League last week, a luxury because it allowed Andrews to rest players and set the pitching rotation for the postseason. Undefeated North Kitsap High School (17-0, 14-0), ranked No. 2 in the state, recently clinched the outright league title.

Some other teams, however, have been jockeying for playoff position, facing must-win games.

“Things have fallen into place for us,” Andrews said. “It’s worked out nicely.”

That success, Andrews said, is due in large part to Olympic’s pitching staff, anchored by No. 1 starter Riley Crow and the emerging arm of junior Joe Stevick.

Stevick, who is 3-2 overall and has a sub-1.00 ERA against playoff-bound teams, earned the victory against Central Kitsap by outlasting ace Drew Vettleson. Combine that performance with a start against Gig Harbor High School in a 5-3 win two weeks ago, and Stevick hasn’t allowed an earned run against a Class 4A team this season.

The right-hander also started twice against Port Angeles High School and once against North Kitsap, allowing one earned run before being taken out of the game due to a high pitch count.

“He’s been tested all season,” Andrews said.

Central Kitsap seeking consistency

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

That’s how Central Kitsap coach Bill Baxter described his young baseball team this season, inconsistent at times but great at others.

Now the question is, which version of the team will be on display Friday when the Cougars (13-7, 11-3) open the Narrows League Tournament?

“We’ve played some really good baseball this season, and we’ve played some really bad baseball,” Baxter said. “We are Jekyll and Hyde a little bit, but I think the kids know what they need to do.”

Central Kitsap will play its first game of the league tournament at 3 p.m. Friday at Heidelberg Park in Tacoma, and with a win would advance to the Class 4A West Central District III Tournament. A loss, however, would put the Cougars in a loser-out, winner-to-state game on the same field at noon Saturday.

The Cougars enter the tournament as the Narrows League Bay Division No. 2 seed and will have two chances to advance to districts. They received a bye in the first round by virtue of their No. 2 seed.

“It’s always nice to get a bye because it gives you a chance to rest your pitchers,” Baxter said. “And playing that loser-out game in the first round, anything can happen.”

Anything can happen when the Cougars take the field too.

The team has shown glimpses of brilliance — it shut out Bridge Division champion Gig Harbor High School 1-0 March 19 and scored a season-high 19 runs in a win over Bellarmine Preparatory School April 5 — but it also has struggled at times.

Central Kitsap lost its first two games of the season, against North Kitsap and Puyallup High School, by a combined score of 24-2. Then the Cougars lost by seven runs in the season finale against Olympic, 9-2.

But with a chance to reach districts, and in turn, the Class 4A state tournament for the fourth time in as many seasons, Baxter is pleased with the Cougars’ playoff position.

“I was just hoping we’d make it to the league tournament,” Baxter said. “I’m absolutely happy.”

The team lost all but two starters from last year’s state-tournament team, returning seniors Drew Vettleson and Tyler Baumgartner. That was one of the largest turnovers during Baxter’s tenure, giving the season a rebuilding feel before it even started.

But with Vettleson anchoring the pitching staff, and he and Baumgartner producing runs from the No. 3 and 4 positions in the batting order, the newcomers established confidence over the course of the season.

Baxter said there were between 10 and 15 Major League scouts at many of the games — Vettleson is projected to be drafted in June — so the younger players gained at least some experience in pressure situations.

How productive the supporting cast is throughout the playoffs will determine how far the team advances.

“My hope is that we put some runs on the board for Drew,” Baxter said of Vettleson, who will be the starting pitcher Friday. “It would be nice to give him some support.”

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