Sports

Former enemies unite in Kitsap BlueJackets dugout

Kitsap shortstop Brandon Decker tags out Moses Lake’s Nick Stiltner, who attempted to steal second base. - Jesse Beals/staff photo
Kitsap shortstop Brandon Decker tags out Moses Lake’s Nick Stiltner, who attempted to steal second base.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/staff photo

On the state baseball map, Silverdale is proving the middle ground between Bremerton’s Olympic College and Auburn’s Green River Community College.

Kitsap BlueJackets head coach Matt Acker, also the coach at Green River, and OC’s Ryan Parker, a first-year Jackets assistant, have gone from facing each other in opposing dugouts, to literally facing each other on opposite baselines, as the collegiate competitors have now teamed up with one goal in mind: Winning.

Acker approached Parker this offseason about joining the team’s staff.

“I was surprised,” Parker said. “Last I’d heard, I figured they had all their staff in place.”

But thanks to NCAA regulations preventing the return of former Kitsap coach Joe Dominiak, formerly the head coach at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, a spot became open.

With the two coaches facing off each year during the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges’ preseason, Acker and Parker became familiar with one another through competing during school ball.

“We got to know each other a little bit,” Acker said. “I like him. Not only do we have a good professional relationship, but I actually liked him and enjoyed talking to him.”

The fit has many parallels that go beyond each coach’s personal characteristics. When Acker began at Green River in 2002, the Gators were coming off their second-straight sub-.500 season. In his first year, GRCC finished just 11-28 overall. But slowly, Acker turned the Gators’ program around, culminating in 2007’s 34-18 record, taking third at the NWAACC Tournament.

“We’ve got very similar situations,” Acker said.

Parker took over an OC team two seasons ago that went just 6-34. In 2007, his first year, things were even bleaker, with the team going a dismal 2-45-1.

But this year, however, thanks to hard recruiting and a lot of dedication by all OC’s coaches, the team showed the biggest single-season turnaround in school history, wrapping up a 16-29 record. Parker was even named the school’s Co-Coach of the Year.

“We had the biggest turnaround in 61 years (in the NWAACC) — in the history of the school,” Parker said. “That was big for us.”

It was that kind of turnaround that caught Acker’s eye when GR and OC would play.

“They were absolutely a different team than we faced in the first year,” Acker said. “He’s doing a great job. His whole coaching staff does a great job.”

So who better for Parker to learn from during the summer season than a coach whose been through almost the exact same thing?

“That’s a big part of me wanting to do this,” Parker said. “It’s an opportunity for me to come in and learn. I’m learning from coach Acker and (assistant coach Scott) Colby, even the players and the different things they do in their programs.”

Parker is a lot more than a wallflower, however.

“It made sense,” Acker said. “He says all the time, ‘I’m here to learn.’ But he knows the game. I knew I wasn’t getting some rookie.”

The opportunity has allowed Acker and his staff to learn a lot too.

“He’s asked quite a few questions, which I appreciate,” Acker said. “I go by the philosophy if you’re teaching, you learn. We want to learn too. He does things in an entirely different way than any of the other coaches we’ve had here. It’s different. It’s good to see.

“I wouldn’t call us oil and water, but we’re different.”

Parker said he’s been able to take much from Acker, from in-game situations to program building.

“There’s been a lot so far,” Parker said. “A lot too is we’ll come across situations in one of the games or off the field and he’ll say, ‘Here’s how I handled it at Green River.’ He’s willing to offer his knowledge and advice to me. I’m very grateful for that.”

So far, the friendly spring rivalry’s gone Acker’s way more often than not.

“The first year, he got us twice,” Parker said of falling to the Gators. “This year, we got them one time. My goal is to even the series this year, if not go ahead with it.”

But now, having coached together, the early season series between the Gators and Rangers will take on a new meaning.

“I think knowing each other and knowing each other’s philosophies it’ll make things a lot more interesting,” Parker said.

“I think with all coaches it’s kind of a chess game,” Acker added. “I think there’ll be a little bit of that. He’s got an idea of what my style is gonna be. And I’ve got an idea of what his style is.”

But still, the preseason is primarily for figuring out line-ups and exactly what a team has.

“Do I want to kick their butt? Absolutely,” Acker said. “But I’ve got a plan (for Green River).”

While the early results for OC with Parker at the helm have been encouraging, Parker said he knows they’re far from done.

“My hope is we can continue to build every year,” he said. “With the recruiting class coming in and the group we have coming back, I think we’re gonna make improvements.”

And that all starts with recruiting.

“When we took over we knew we’d have trouble getting local kids to stay here because of how bad it was,” he said. “So it’s worked out well for us really. That’s what happens when you find small-town kids. The main thing is establishing those relationships outside the area.”

BlueJackets keep hot hitting going

The Kitsap BlueJackets kept right on swinging and winning Tuesday, dropping the Moses Lake Pirates 4-2 at Lobe Fields at the Fairgrounds.

The win improved the Jackets to 9-7 in league play, tied for second place in the West Coast Collegiate Baseball League’s West Division with Bend, which the Jackets took two games from last weekend. Kitsap won 14-4 Sunday and 13-12 Saturday after falling in last Friday’s opener, 9-8.

“I thought we had a pretty good-hitting team coming (into the season),” Acker said. “The hitting in this league is up tremendously.”

Tuesday, things got started early as Kyle Baskett slapped a single to right field. Doug Buser followed that up with another base hit, then Brandon Decker singled to load the bases.

After Central Kitsap grad Aaron Johnson struck out, first baseman Bucky Aona hit a grounder to score Baskett. With two outs, it seemed like that would be all Kitsap would get. But catcher Lawson Hipps drove a double deep to left-center field scoring Buser and Decker. Keegan McCamment then doubled Hipps before Justin Shultz popped out to end the frame.

Trey Watt was on fire on the hill for Kitsap, allowing just one run on five hits in seven innings, pitching himself out of some jams thanks to four walks.

Connor Whalen picked up his second save of the season, closing the door in the ninth in place of Ian Opsal, who allowed a runner on an error and walked a batter.

“The first game of the series is very important,” Acker said of the win. “It sets the tone.”

Kitsap played Moses Lake again Wednesday and Thursday before hosting Kelowna (British Columbia) last night. Results of those games were unavailable at press time. Kitsap hosts Kelowna again today at 7 p.m.

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