POULSBO — Playoffs, it is said, often bring out a team’s true colors — what they’re made of, and what they’re willing to do to go all the way.
For the North Kitsap Babe Ruth 14s All Stars, that meant a change of strategy.
“Throughout the season offense has been key,” said NKBR 14s coach Mike Jones. “But lately it’s been the defense.”
Such was the case in North’s semi-final and final games of the state tournament versus South Kitsap and Yakima, one which saw the team give up only one run — while it only produced fourth runs — to take the state title and advance to regionals.
“To come in and shut down (Yakima’s and South Kitsap’s) offenses is great,” Jones said. “The kids came out focused and determined. They were fired up.”
NK will travel to The Dalles, Ore. for regional action beginning Aug. 5.
North Kitsap put up three runs in the first two innings and maintained a two-run margin behind the pitching of Jamaal Smith to bounce cross-county rivals South Kitsap from the tournament in the early game Monday, 3-1.
Smith struck out seven in seven innings on the mound, and added an RBI in the second to garner MVP honors in the game.
“He really shut us down,” said South Kitsap coach Dan Cooper. “And we couldn’t adapt to him.”
“He’s a big strong kid and he throws hard,” added Jones. “And he throws strikes.”
Joe Seitz started the game for South but gave up two walks to North’s Jordan Tucker and Taylor Zehrung to start the contest. NK’s Marcus Harris brought Tucker home on a fielder’s choice and Kyle McCowan brought in Zehrung on a single to put SK in the hole 2-0.
“We came out hungry — we wanted this game,” said Jones.
Cooper, however, said just the opposite of his team — that South came out tight on both offense and defense.
“Fighting the nerves and the jitters really hurt us,” Cooper commented. “We came out nervous and could never get on top.”
North’s Tucker was again the culprit in the second, hitting a lead-off single and stealing two bases. He was driven in by pitcher Smith to put North ahead 3-0.
South’s Jesse Seitz picked up the lone RBI in the third to put his team within two runs, but SK was not able to pull even with a nearly errorless North defense.
In the finale versus Yakima, North was again able to pin down a run early — all that would be needed to ensure a championship with an impregnable defense.
Chris Jones pitched a complete game shut-out to give NK the win, 1-0.
“Pitching a complete game for a championship is quite an accomplishment,” Coach Jones said of Chris Jones. “He was in control and he maintained his confidence the whole game.”
In the top of the first, Tucker again got on base with a lead-off walk and stole second. Zehrung hit Tucker to third on a single, and James Smith drove Tucker home on a sacrifice fly.
For his work behind the plate at catcher and his game-winning RBI, Smith also received the nod as tournament MVP.
“He’s a warrior,” Jones said of Smith. “He likes a challenge and he steps up for one. He’s a true competitor.”
North Kitsap won every game in which it played in the Babe Ruth 14s tournament. The team had previously beaten Oak Harbor last Wednesday 8-3, won 14-0 over Spokane last Thursday, beat Eastlake 7-2 Friday, and won against Central Basin 10-3 Saturday, before beating South Kitsap and Yakima Monday.
Coach Jones said he’s confident North can give a good showing in The Dalles, starting tomorrow when the tournament opens play.
“I think if we keep playing the way we’re playing we should be OK,” Jones said. “The boys are playing some really good baseball, executing plays well. And the pitching and defense have been outstanding.”