Olympic Tigers earn state tournament berth

Team advances to the state American Legion tournament with a walk-off win over Lower Columbia on July 15.

BREMERTON — The Olympic Tigers are headed to Walla Walla for this year’s AA American Legion State Tournament.

The group of baseball players from Kitsap high schools secured a spot in the Washington-wide 16- team tournament with a dramatic extra-inning walk-off victory over Lower Columbia at the Area 2 south district tournament on July 15.

Olympic High School junior Cale Dower was ultimately the hero in the 6-5 triumph with a 10th inning line drive to left that one-hopped the outfield wall and easily scored teammate Klahowya junior Ben Streck, who had been aboard through a leadoff walk and was bunted over to second.

“The challenge for us will be great, for sure,” said head coach Jon O’Connor. “I told the guys, ‘You’re in a tournament with the 16 best teams in Washington state.’ ”

The Tigers earned the No. 2 seed in their section of the state tournament bracket and will face the No. 3 seed from Area 3, the Spokane region. The Tigers’ first game is July 22 at 9 a.m., but their opponent was still unknown as of press time.

The tournament berth would not have been possible without several key contributors in the win over Lower Columbia.

Both teams got off to hot starts offensively, but after the fourth inning the game settled down, as did Olympic High School junior Keaton Dean, who dominated the middle innings and went on to strike out seven over 6 2/3 innings before being lifted due to the pitch count rule in legion baseball.

“We typically don’t let our guys get up to that point, but he was feeling good,” O’Connor said. “He probably would have put the ball in his pocket if I tried to take it away from him before that.”

Fellow Olympic junior Elijah Trottman came on to pitch three scoreless innings in relief, yielding just two hits and striking out five to keep his team in contention. He also picked up two hits in four at bats, including a double, and drove in two runs.

But the Tigers found themselves in trouble in the fateful 10th inning. With runners on first and third, it was North Kitsap sophomore Ryland Schmidt who came up with a tremendous diving catch in left field to keep Lower Columbia off the board and set the stage for the walk-off victory.

“If he doesn’t make that catch, we’re down two runs going into the 10th,” O’Connor said.

The state tournament should provide a difficult test for the young team. Olympic features two freshmen starters in Taylor Andrews and Charlie Hennessy — which O’Connor said is a rarity among teams that make it to the state tournament — but O’Connor believes his squad is ready for the challenge.

The top of lineup features excellent speed in North Kitsap’s Max Larsen and Streck, both of whom O’Connor referred to as “high on-base guys” and are important igniters for the offense.

Pitching depth is of utmost importance in the tournament format, in which teams could play six games in six days — even more for teams that must go through the loser’s bracket to reach the championship. The Tigers feature Dean and Dower as their top two arms — O’Connor considers both of them to be ace-caliber starters — but ten different players have pitched at some point or another this summer.

“We’re not a big bopping kind of team,” said the head coach. “We need to execute really well and use our speed to our advantage.”

— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. Contact him at mkrulish@soundpublishing.com