High school baseball teams eye a return to state

North Kitsap High catcher Nick Benish warms up Monday at the school’s baseball field in Poulsbo. The North Kitsap and Kingston High teams are hoping to return to the state tournament this season. - Brad Camp/For the Herald
North Kitsap High catcher Nick Benish warms up Monday at the school’s baseball field in Poulsbo. The North Kitsap and Kingston High teams are hoping to return to the state tournament this season.
— image credit: Brad Camp/For the Herald

Recent weather may beg to differ, but spring is upon North Kitsap, and with it comes a new baseball season.

Play begins today, as the North Kitsap High baseball team hosts the Chimacum Cowboys at 4 p.m. The Vikings see the game as a chance to redeem themselves after losing last year’s season opener to the Cowboys.

“Last year, we kind of got a bad taste from them,” North Kitsap outfielder Daniel Jewett said. “It’s definitely going to be a good game, and it’s kind of a revenge game for us.”

Chimacum, the 2007 Class 1A state champion, went on to place third in the state tournament last season. The Vikings qualified for the state tourney at the Class 3A level last year, but were knocked out by Seattle’s O’Dea in the first round. This year, they’re eyeing a return to the playoffs.

“We have pretty high expectations for this year,” North Kitsap coach Jeff Weible said. “Our pitching is a little deeper than it was last year. If something major doesn’t happen, we should make a pretty good run.”

The Vikings have a number of key returning players from last year’s squad, including a strong core of seniors. Jewett, who also pitches, leads the seniors along with utility player Berkley Nilles and infielders Trevor Bennett and Austin Abrahamson. Junior catcher Nick Benish leads a talented group of underclassmen, including pitcher Alex Smith and infielder Zac Smit, who each had breakout seasons as sophomores last year.

“We have a bunch of good players coming back,” Nilles said. “If we play up to our capabilities we can match, if not do better than, last year.”

In addition to making it to state last season, the Vikings won the Olympic League title and placed second in the West Central District III tournament.

At the moment, the team is focused on starting the season off right. The Vikings know better than to overlook the Cowboys in today’s season opener.

“It’ll certainly be something where we can’t just go through the motions and expect to win,” Weible said. “Our biggest challenge is just to not think we’re so good that we don’t have to compete.”

Kingston addressing pitching challenges

The Kingston High baseball squad is also hoping to return to the state tournament this season.

The Buccaneers improved on their 2008 performance by reaching the state quarterfinals last year. This year they’ll have to make do without an ace on the mound. Kingston’s Tyler Sullivan, who had a 1.7 ERA along with 53 strikeouts and a no-hitter in 2009, graduated last year, forcing the Bucs to fill his shoes with a small army of pitchers.

“We’ve got to come up with pitching,” Kingston coach Scott McKay said. “It’s going to be kids that didn’t throw so much last year at the varsity level stepping up. It’s going to be pitching by committee.”

McKay said his players are working to fill the void left by Sullivan and the rest of last year’s graduating class. This year’s squad features a majority of seniors.

“We’re going to be a senior-dominated team this year,” McKay said. “The expectation is that we go out and play excellent baseball every opportunity we get. And if we do that, I think we’re going to do really well.”

Any pitching strength the Bucs lost has shifted to the plate. Kingston’s top two hitters — catcher Curtis Wildung and first baseman Danny Orr, who averaged .511 and .490 last year, respectively — are back in the lineup this year.

“I think we’re going to be an awfully solid hitting team,” McKay said.

Orr, who also pitches, leads a group of seniors that includes pitchers Tyler Klopp and Austin Overton, and infielders Max Sagdahl and Rico Lemay. Wildung, a junior, leads the underclassmen with center fielder Stephen Gorman.

“We have a solid core group of guys that are returning,” Orr said. “We have a lot of power in the lineup this year.”

McKay said the team is still adjusting to the new style of play, with the focus on the plate and field instead of the mound.

“This first week of practice, we’ve seen young kids step up,” McKay said. “We believe we can be competitive, not just at our league level, but also at the state level.”

Kingston plays at 1 p.m. Saturday in a jamboree at Steve Cox Memorial Park in West Seattle. The Bucs’ first home game is at 4 p.m. Wednesday against Shelton High.

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