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Close games could be the norm in Olympic League baseball
One team is undefeated, two others are winless.
But plan for close games this season in the Olympic League, some baseball coaches say, because the teams accustomed to losing have improved and there will be no easy victories, even for traditional powers.
"You're probably not going to see a team win the league with only two or three losses," Olympic High School coach Nate Andrews said. "There could be some teams at the top with five losses."
Seven games into the young season, Central Kitsap area teams are chasing the emerging leader of the league, North Kitsap High School.
The Vikings (7-0 overall, 4-0 league) have outscored their opponents 68-15, including a pair of 12-2 wins over Class 4A schools Central Kitsap High School and South Kitsap High School. They also defeated non-league opponent Bainbridge High School, the 2009 Class 3A state runner-up, as well as Olympic and Kingston High School.
But North Kitsap has yet to face Klahowya Secondary School, a formidable team with aspirations of returning to the postseason.
“Baseball is kind of that game where anybody can get anybody on a certain day,” North Kitsap coach Jeff Weible said.
Klahowya (2-1, 2-0) also is undefeated in league play and is aiming for at least a share of the 2A league title for the fourth time in as many seasons. The Eagles have advanced to the state tournament two of the past three seasons.
Last season the team used the one-two pitching combination of Eric Eley and Kurtis Pitcher to win a district title and advance to state. Although Eley and Pitcher graduated, pitching appears to be the team's strength again.
Senior ace Brandon Neet threw a one-hit shutout in a victory over Port Angeles High School last week, and No. 2 and No. 3 pitchers Joe Valley and Ryan Little have been consistent.
"A lot of people may have counted us out," coach Dave Neet said, referring to the loss of Eley and Pitcher, who combined for 121 strikeouts. "But we knew coming in we had some quality arms."
Kingston (3-1, 2-1) figures to compete with Klahowya for the 2A crown.
The Buccaneers lost to Klahowya in the district championship game in 2009 and have advanced to the state tournament two straight seasons.
But coach Scott McKay isn't taking anything for granted, especially this early in the season. He knows injuries could sway the power in the league as well.
“I don’t think any of us are so deep that we can afford to lose any of our top kids and be OK," he said, referring to injury.
The Trojans of Olympic have already been hampered.
Catcher and third baseman Zach Bird has been sidelined, as have a few other players, and the team's most experienced pitcher, three-year starter Riley Crow, has yet to hit midseason form.
Senior Chris Groat has stepped in for Crow, going 2-0.
"We didn't really have everybody conditioned and ready to go right out of the gate," Andrews said. "It's set us back a little."
But Andrews believes Olympic is capable of beating any team in the league, with six or seven reliable hitters and an experienced lineup.
The bottom half of the league features winless Port Townsend and Bremerton high schools, though both the Redskins and Knights have shown signs of improvement.
Bremerton (0-5) is led by freshman Kaden Tomlinson, who leads the team in nearly every offensive statistical category. Coach Rob Tomlinson believes Bremerton is on the verge of a breakthrough.
The Knights lost to Klahowya, 5-3, and nearly defeated 4A Shelton High School, losing 11-10. The team also kept a game close against North Kitsap, but allowed five unearned runs late and lost 10-1.
"Nobody is discouraged at this point," he said. "I see us winning some ball games soon."
Left-handed freshman Eli Fulz hasn't allowed an earned run in 10 innings, and Rob Tomlinson said seniors Josh Fisher and Bret Brown have logged productive innings as well.
What the Knights need now is some leadership from their experienced players.
"Our team needs some more seniors to step up," Rob Tomlinson said. "They need to work hard outside of practice and try to get better."
Port Angeles and Sequim high schools are hovering around the .500 mark and will be competitive, followed by North Mason High School.
“I don’t think you can really look past anybody," Weible said.