Sports

BlueJackets roster is long on talent

Fall baseball has wrapped up at universities around the country, allowing the Kitsap BlueJackets to all but finalize the team’s 2008 roster. Matt Acker, BlueJacket’s head coach, will welcome some familiar faces back to the Kitsap Fairgrounds Ballfields and expects some of the names to change before the season begins.

“Things are going good,” said Acker, who’s also the head coach at Green River Community College in Auburn. “We don’t usually find out about how fall went until January, so it’s kind of that wait-and-see time for us now. But we’re in a good position.”

Most of the team’s position players who are eligible to return have signed on including fan favorites Doug Buser (junior, University of Oklahoma), Joey Lind (sophomore, University of Washington) and Ryan Voelkel (sophomore, Green River).

“We’ve got almost the whole lineup back,” Acker said.

Last season, Kitsap finished 24-18 in West Coast Collegiate Baseball League play, second in the league’s West Division. As a result, the Jackets made their postseason debut against rivals Corvallis (Ore.), which knocked Kitsap out 2-1 in the best-of-three series.

With the bulk of the offense back, Acker’s encouraged by the 2008 squad’s potential and said pitchers are easier to groom than hitters.

It usually takes hitters in the WCCBL a full season to get comfortable, he said. Many players are acclimating to new surroundings, teammates and using wooden bats.

“What I’ve seen is a dramatic batting average jump in the second year,” Acker said. “There’s no better example than (2007 WCCBL co-MVP Brandon) Kuykendall.”

Kuykendall, who hit .315 with 20 runs, 10 doubles, two homers and 18 RBI in 39 games, had a much more productive sophomore year in the league. As a first-year player for Bellingham, Kuykendall hit just .222 with eight runs and three RBI in 30 games.

Kitsap’s pitching rotation was a strong last season, finishing with the fourth-lowest team ERA in the league at 2.74 (opponents had a 3.18 ERA against the Jackets last year). Players like Matt Rossman (3-0, 1.70, 35 strikeouts, two walks, 37 innings), Poulsbo’s Kyle Howe (5-2, 2.24, 39 strikeouts, 60 1/3 innings), Kyle Nunley (0-2, 2.21, 40 2/3 innings) and Aaron Bronson (3-3, 2.55) anchored the staff, while others like Joe Hagen (2-2, 1.14, 21 games, 9 saves), Barrett Kanyer (3-0, 1.96) and Travis McCracken (3-3, 2.66) helped anchor the pen.

But even with such a high pitching turnover anticipated, Acker said the staff is in place to help ease the transition.

“We’ve got a guy (in pitching coach Scott Colby) that not only has experience and is good, but is organized and direct,” he said of the Liberty High School coach.

The returning core offensive players, Brandon Decker, Tyler Owens, Lawson Hipps, Buser, Lind, Aaron Johnson, Voelkel and Keegan McCamment, have Acker optimistic about the season ahead.

“We were one of the best-hitting teams,” he said of last season’s squad.

Last year, Kitsap hit .261 as a team, good for third in the WCCBL. The team was third in RBI with 154 and tied for second with 184 runs.

Owens and Johnson are both 2005 graduates of Central Kitsap High School. Owens, at third base for Green River, just signed on to play the 2008-09 season with New Mexico State. He hit .204 in his debut last season, driving in 14 runs in 35 games, 26 starts. Johnson, at The Citadel, hit .289 in 29 games with 12 starts, scoring 10 runs.

“I think it’s great,” Acker said of returning Kitsap-born players. “They were both excited about coming back. It’s just neat when they’re excited to come back. They want to be here.”

Two names coming in Acker is already quite familiar with are brothers Jordan and Jake Shadle. Jordan Shadle, a sophomore at Green River, is slated as an option to replace Port Orchard product Jamie Nilsen at shortstop. Elder brother Zach was slated to play for the BlueJackets in 2005, but a broken hand kept him off the diamond.

Acker is looking forward to building on and improving last year’s record.

“That’s my goal every yearto become a little better as a team,” Acker said, “and become a better coach. That’s one thing I really enjoy working with with this team. I don’t want to be in a place that’s stagnant.”

Kitsap hosts one of the two games to kick off the 2008 WCCBL season when they host Corvallis on June 12.

Tickets are now available for the 2008 season. Season tickets are $175 for reserved seats; 10-game punch cards are available for $60 for reserved seats and $40 for general admission. For more information on BlueJackets tickets, visit www.kitsapbluejackets.com or call (360) 479-0123.

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