EAST BREMERTON — Central Kitsap needed four runs in the final frame to force extra innings against Peninsula, but the Cougars were only able to push across three. The Seahawks took the first of a two-game series by a score of 5-4.
For much of the game, all eyes were on the mound. It was a pitcher’s duel at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds with junior Greyson McCormick getting the nod for Central Kitsap and junior Joseph Pierce starting for the Seahawks.
McCormick quickly retired the side in the top half of the first and second innings without giving up a hit, though Peninsula head coach Kevin Owens felt there should have been at least one.
Senior outfielder Cooper Sims hit a slow-roller in the direction of Cougars senior shortstop Fred Buckson, who bare-handed the ball and fired a quick throw to first base. It was a close play, but Sims was called out and Owens expressed his disagreement.
Cougars head coach Bill Baxter said he couldn’t have asked for his starter to pitch a better game.
“He had good command, he got ahead early — he did a really good job,” he said. “Kept us in the game the whole game.”
Meanwhile, Central Kitsap took the early lead against Pierce. He gave up a single to Buckson to lead off the bottom of the first. The next three batters struck out, but Buckson used his legs to plate the first run of the game. He stole second base, reached third on a passed ball and came home on a throwing error.
“[Buckson] is a spark plug for us,” Baxter said. “First pitch of the game, bam, base hit sets the tone … he’s done a nice job for us at the leadoff spot.”
But one run wasn’t enough as the Seahawks clawed their way back into game with a couple of their own. McCormick’s only walk came in the third inning — and it later scored. Peninsula sophomore infielder Reid Sturn singled to bring home the tying run.
Seahawks infielder Andres Vogel stood tall in the batter’s box the following inning, and he nearly broke the 1-1 tie with a homerun to left field. Instead, the ball bounced off the fence and Vogel rolled into second base with a double. With the help of his defense, McCormick worked out of trouble to keep the game even.
“I swear I felt a breeze in my face when I turned around — it kept it in the yard,” Owens said.
Trouble came knocking in the fifth inning. Peninsula sophomore outfielder Peter King led off with a single and took second on a balk. A single and a fielder’s choice followed, allowing King to score and give his team the advantage.
There were some opportunities for Central Kitsap, but a miscue here and some bad luck there made it increasingly difficult as the game progressed. Senior infielder Teagan Taafe was caught stealing in what was supposed to be a hit-and-run in the third inning.
Taafe reached base again in the sixth and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Buckson hit a hard line drive that looked as if it was going to score Taafe, who immediately took off for third. Before he could get there, Seahawks senior shortstop Tyler Rogerson gloved the line drive and completed a double play.
Pierce, who wound up with eight strikeouts, showed no signs of a tired arm until the final inning. And even then, he almost completed the game.
“I thought he was excellent all the way through,” Owens said. “He said he was feeling good and he was pitching very well — and we needed every bit of it today.”
In the seventh, Peninsula reached on an error and a single, forcing Central Kitsap head coach Bill Baxter to go to the bullpen. Malo Castro entered the game, but a double, passed ball, error and two walks put the Seahawks up 5-1.
Heading into the bottom of the inning, Central Kitsap needed base runners and got them. With one out, junior catcher Austin McMinds singled, Tristan Barr walked and Reece Wood reached on an error.
A ground out scored one and a single by Carson Wiler brought two more home. He reached second on an error, but the potential tying run was stranded there as Taafe flew out to end the game.
“We can say the what-if game all day long, but it is what it is,” Baxter said. “The great thing about baseball is you get to come back tomorrow and get back at it.”