Central Kitsap baseball moves on

The Central Kitsap High School baseball team greets the Olympia High School squad after losing 12-3 at home Monday. - Mike Baldwin/staff photo
The Central Kitsap High School baseball team greets the Olympia High School squad after losing 12-3 at home Monday.
— image credit: Mike Baldwin/staff photo

Bill Baxter won’t call 2011 a rebuilding year.

His Central Kitsap High School baseball program lost Tyler Baumgartner and Drew Vettleson to graduation last season, the latter drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays. But the longtime coach didn’t make excuses following a 12-3 home loss to Olympia High School Monday.

He prefers to call this season a learning year for the Cougars, who went 15-7 and earned a state tournament appearance in 2010. Despite fielding a slew of underclassmen, mostly juniors and sophomores, Baxter won’t mutter the “R” word.

“We’ve got good kids working hard and doing well, so we just have to kick our level of play up a notch,” said Baxter, who is currently in his 18th season. “I don’t call it rebuilding. We’re capable of beating teams like Olympia as long as we cut out the mistakes.”

So far, the Cougars have weathered the storm with three top returning seniors, including Josh Kreifels, Brett McDonald and Brandon Bynum. The Cougars have earned a 7-4 record overall, 7-3 in Narrows League play.

But if Monday’s defeat to first-place Olympia serves as any indication of the Cougars’ most pressing issue, which Baxter said was pitching, the young staff faces an uphill battle as the tougher part of the schedule is on the horizon.

“We throw one good pitch, and then we’re all over the place,” Baxter added. “We’ve got to start getting ahead of the count. It’s a young group of pitchers and when we’ve gotten ahead, we’ve done a great job, but the schedule will get harder now.”

The team has a two-game series each with Gig Harbor and South Kitsap high schools before the league slate concludes. Both squads are competing in the top four with Central Kitsap and Olympia for playoff positioning.

Central Kitsap is allowing an average of six runs per game, which is average for the league this season. Junior Josh Sontag and sophomore Eric Braun lead the young pitching staff hoping to fill the void left by Vettleson, an ambidextrous throwing and hitting standout for the Cougars.

“Everyone needs to step it up now,” Sontag said. “We’re actually coming together more than I thought we would, and that’s because everyone’s picked up on their roles pretty quick around here.”

McDonald said after Monday’s loss that the team is transitioning well after losing Vettleson and Baumgartner. The senior outfielder added that the rest of the team learned a lot from the two all-league honorees, whose absence motivates this year’s squad.

“Since they’re gone, it’s now up to us and that inspires us to perform better,” McDonald said. “Expectations are higher now. They showed us how good ballplayers compete, and we look at that and try to pick up where they left off.”

In addition to its last Narrows League series, the Cougars also have non-league games scheduled against Bremerton and Bainbridge high schools.

“We need to get outs, and we can get them and stay at a high level at this point in the season,” Baxter said.

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