EAST BREMERTON — Scoring runs hasn’t been a problem for Central Kitsap early on this season, but the Cougars were only able to bring home two runs in a March 14 game against Bainbridge, losing by a score of 4-2.
“Yes, it has,” head coach Bill Baxter said after being asked if this is the most quality pitching his team has faced in the short season. “These guys have, by far, the best velocity.”
Central Kitsap faced four Bainbridge pitchers, who combined to yield only six hits. However, the staff had to go above and beyond as the Spartans also committed five errors in the field. Central Kitsap ended up leaving eight runners on base in the final three innings.
“Our pitching is pretty deep, we’ve got eight guys that we’re confident in, and they can all throw hard,” said Bainbridge coach Bill Ackerly.
The Spartans opened the scoring in the top of the first by taking advantage of a one-out walk issued to Brooks Lierle, who moved over to second on a steal. Central Kitsap starter Owen Davies got Garrett Aichele to pop out to short, but Ian Matthews brought home Lierle with an RBI-single.
Central Kitsap responded with a run of its own in the bottom half. Senior shortstop Fred Buckson, who led off with a walk, reached second base on a pickoff error. Teagan Taafe laid down a bunt to move Buckson over to third base, but the throw by Spartans pitcher Jonah Giblin sailed over the first baseman’s head, allowing Buckson to score.
Sophomore left fielder Jonathan Kussie knocked in a RBI-single to give the Spartans the lead right back in the top half of the second. But again, the Cougars tied the game with their bats. Juniors Rylee Orteza and Malo Castro drew consecutive walks and then executed a double steal with two outs and nobody on base. Buckson’s clutch single brought Orteza home.
“I never go out there and say, ‘Oh, we’re going to run,’” Baxter said. “I like the running game, I like to put the game in motion, but I also don’t like to run myself out of innings.”
It looked as if the Spartans were going to score at least another run in the top of the third inning. The bases were loaded, but Davies worked out of the jam to keep the game even at two.
Nobody would score again until the top of the fifth inning when Bainbridge’s Aichele launched a shot to left field. Tristian Barr ran up on the ball, leaped in the air but couldn’t come down with it. The ball sailed over his head and to the wall for a triple. Matthews picked up an insurance run on a sacrifice fly that brought home Aichele to give the Spartans a two-run cushion.
“The players are looking for a rhythm and we don’t really give it to them yet, because we’re moving guys around in ways they’re not used to,” Ackerly said. “So anytime you can do that and still play well enough to beat a team as good as Central, that’s a good day.”
CK had plenty of chances at the plate to mount a comeback, but couldn’t capitalize. In the bottom of the fourth, Castro placed a near-perfect bunt that straddled the first-base line. Orteza went for third base after rounding second, but was thrown out.
“We had opportunities throughout,” Baxter said.
The Cougars also found themselves with runners in scoring position in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings with perhaps the team’s best chance coming in their final at bat.
Third baseman Reece Wood reached on a throwing error and then junior Carson Wiler followed up with a double, putting the tying runs in scoring position. But Matthews induced a ground out and then struck out the next two hitters, cementing the victory for Bainbridge.
“One thing I told my guys, if they come out here early and there’s good pitching, you better swing well,” he said. “I think we took too many first pitch fastballs … I think we need to do a better job of playing the count in our favor.”