Sports

Jackets readying for season opener

BREMERTON — After preparing his team to take the field for the fourth time, Kitsap BlueJackets coach Matt Acker is still finding new challenges to overcome.

For example, in his first season, it was getting a late start on recruiting.

This season, the trouble hasn’t been finding guys. In fact, Acker said he’s tabbed about 45 players for the Jackets’ 26 roster spots thanks to changing collegiate requirements that are now keeping grads on a degree completion track.

While Acker said it’s great for their academics, it’s left him scrambling a little as more and more athletes are having to take summer classes to keep on track.

“Every year it’s a scramble to get everybody,” Acker said. “There’s some teams that didn’t see it coming.”

But the Jackets did, allowing them to minimize the losses.

“We were watching it,” he said. “As we were losing players, we were adding new ones.”

The end result is a BlueJackets team Acker said has the ability to take off where the 2007 squad left off.

“It’s a good mix of returning and new players,” said Acker, also the coach at Green River Community College in Auburn. “We have to prove it on the field, but on paper it looks really good.”

Last season, the BlueJackets finished 24-18, the runner-up in the West Coast Collegiate Baseball League’s West Division. Still, Kitsap made its playoff debut, falling two games to one in the best-of-three series with rivals Corvallis (Ore.).

Much of that team returns, as Kitsap brings back 12 BlueJackets from a year ago.

“It’s tremendous,” Acker said. “Not only do we have 12 returning players, but we have four others who have played in this league. That’s over half our team.”

Most of the returners are offensive, with Doug Buser and Jake Owens set to join Kyle Howe as the team’s only three-year players. Pitcher Sean Greer also returns for a third season.

“It’s just so rare,” Acker said. “And now we have three of ‘em.”

Buser, who plays for the University of Oklahoma, hit .245 and scored 22 runs for last season’s Jackets. Buser’s played in 34 games for Oklahoma, which is now in the NCAA tournament. Owens redshirted for St. Martin’s in Lacey this year. Last season he hit .245 with a homer and five RBI in 20 games for Kitsap.

Ryan Voelkel brings his bat back after hitting .275 with 18 RBI and scoring 18 runs. He also had 11 doubles, second in the league. Voelkel will be heading to Georgia State University in Atlanta after wrapping up his Green River career.

San Diego State University infielder Brandon Decker brings his slick glove back, joined by utility men Keegan McCamment (Austin Peay State University in Tennessee) and Max Kwan (University of Washington).

Central Kitsap graduates Aaron Johnson (The Citadel, South Carolina) and Tyler Owens (New Mexico State University) also return on the offensive end. Johnson spent his freshman year as a backup at The Citadel.

Joining Greer on the pitching staff as returners are James Douglas (Saint Martin’s-bound), who pitched in 14 games as a reliever, and Christian Scholl (Washington State University-bound), who went 2-0 with a 2.51 ERA in 11 games for the Jackets last year. Greer (Riverside Community College; Calif.) had a 3.29 ERA last year.

Of those three, Acker’s not sure if Scholl will be around much longer after posting a 5-3 record with a 2.84 ERA this collegiate season for Green River.

“Christian Scholl I don’t think will be here very long,” Acker said, indicating he may be drafted into the majors this year. “He’s a tremendous, tremendous talent. He’s one of — if not the — top arm coming out of the Northwest.”

With so many new pitchers, Acker said it’s great to see catchers Owens, Kwan and returning starting catcher Lawson Hipps (Arkansas State University) all coming back. That combined with pitching coach Scott Colby has Acker optimistic about his staff’s transition.

“It’s a lot of pressure on coach Colby,” Acker said. “But he’s capable of handling that.”

Four Jackets are coming in from other WCCBL teams. Last year infielder Cody Bartlett played for Corvallis, pitcher Zach Miller took the mound for Bellingham, pitcher Paul Dickey suited up for Bend and pitcher Jeff Brooks toed the rubber for Kelowna (British Columbia).

“They wanted to come here,” Acker said. “They liked the program. Kids were saying, ‘You want to play with Kitsap.’ You just don’t see Kitsap kids playing for other teams in this league.”

Also new to the team this year are pitchers Tommy Mackoul (UC-Riverside), Alec Reichle (Southern Utah), Jake Shadle (Green River), Chad Wagner (Lower Columbia), Mike Wolford (UC-Riverside) and Conor Whalen (Santa Barbara CC).

While Acker said all have flashed potential, he’s particularly excited to see Whalen.

“I’m excited about seeing him,” Acker said.T”he pitching staff will be just fine.”

Other new Kitsap position players include Hawaiian native and Southern Utah athlete Bucky Aona, North Dakota State’s Jordan Shadle and outfielder Curtis Dupart (Georgia Tech), Brian Heere (Kansas) and Justin Shultz (UC-Riverside).

“I’m ecstatic right now,” Acker said. “Now that the whole thing’s over, we ended up with a heck of a draw. I’m excited about the collection of kids and the schools they’re coming from.”

Joining the coaching staff this season will be Olympic College head coach Ryan Parker, another addition Acker is excited about.

“It’s great having Ryan on,” he said. “We’re excited about it. He does a good job and he’s a hard worker.”

Acker said the team is still looking for one more host family. Those interested can contact the BlueJackets at (360) 479-0123.

With the season close to starting, Acker said he can’t wait to renew rivalries with all the West Division teams.

“We all want to beat the teams in the East Division,” he said. “But now we all have a heightened awareness of the Western teams. We’ve definitely got our eyes locked on taking care of business in our division.”

The BlueJackets kick off the season June 5 at South Kitsap High School in a 5 p.m. game benefiting South Kitsap Little League. A similar fund-raiser takes place June 6 when the Jackets play at North Kitsap High School in an NK Little League benefit. The Jackets will take on feeder team Olympia in both those games before also taking on Olympia June 7 at St. Martin’s and June 8 at Tumwater High School.

The team’s home opener is Wednesday, June 11 against feeder Tacoma at 7 p.m. at Kitsap Fairgrounds Ballfields.

The team also is hosting youth baseball clinics June 14 and Aug. 9. Both sessions are from 1 to 4 p.m.. Sessions from 9 a.m. to noon take place June 25, July 2, July 16, July 30 and Aug. 6.

To register for the camps, which are for ages 5 and older, call the BlueJackets at (360) 337-5350.

Tickets for the BlueJackets games are available by calling (360) 479-0123. For more information, visit the Bluejackets’ Web site at www.kitsapbluejackets.com.

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