Sports

Flip-flop at the top pays dividends for SK

For all of the 2006 baseball season, seniors Kyle Pease and Kenny Ladenburg have been at the top of the South Kitsap order, batting either first or second in the Wolves’ lineup.

But now, as the Class 4A state playoffs get under way today, the No. 1 is all that matters to them.

As in finishing No. 1.

Pease and Ladenburg lead the 12-7 Wolves into their first state tournament since South won it all in 2003. South faces off against 17-5 Puyallup at 10 a.m. today at Everett Memorial Stadium. The winner of that game faces the winner of the Lake Washington-Jackson game at 4 p.m.

The loser is done for the year.

South will throw crafty left-hander Andrew Thatcher this morning while Puyallup counters with the hard-throwing Ryan Graves. Mitch Williams is slated to start the second game for South.

But a big reason behind the Wolves even being at this point is a switch coach Jim Fairweather made at the top of his order midway through the season.

For the first 12 games of the year, Pease was the Wolves’ leadoff man while Ladenburg batted second. But after the Gig Harbor series in mid April, the team went to Fairweather and suggested the two switch spots.

“We had a bunch of meetings toward the end of the season,” Ladenburg said. “We were just talking about ways we thought we could improve our team, and we thought that would give us a chance to score more runs.”

The genesis behind the move came because Ladenburg had a higher on-base percentage than Pease, who has more power than Ladenburg. And with the team struggling to score runs at that point, it made perfect sense to switch the two.

“It was just something that we tried to get them to fire up,” Fairweather said. “I said, ‘Whatever gets you excited about playing this game and enthusiastic and all the things that were missing up to that point.’ ”

And it clicked. Immediately.

In the season’s first 12 games, South scored 64 times for an average of 5.3 runs a game. In the seven games since the switch, South has scored 43 times, up almost a full run a game.

And the duo’s individual numbers have improved, as well.

Pease saw his batting average and RBI totals rise significantly.

Heading into today’s game, Pease is batting .303 with two home runs and 10 RBI, half of those coming in the past three games.

Ladenburg, meanwhile, watched his average drop down to an even .300, but his on-base percentage rose to .500. He has scored 15 times this year and walked seven times, consistently giving Pease and those behind them chances to drive in runs.

In fact, it seems that when Landenburg does do well at the plate, South ends up losing. And the reverse is also true.

Against Hudson’s Bay last week in the West Central District Tournament, Ladenburg collected both of the Wolves’ hits but saw his team lose, 7-0.

The next day, he was 0-for-3 with a couple of strikeouts as South won 1-0 to get to this point.

But being the team player that he is, he’s not bothered by the dip in some of his numbers.

“That’s fine with me. A win’s a win, right?” Ladenburg said. “It all comes down to the (win). At the end of the day, people aren’t going to remember individual stats, they’re going to look back and remember all the wins. So

if I have a bad day and everyone else has a good one, then that’s a good day for everyone.”

Pease has taken advantage of the move by crushing the ball as of late. He was 3-for-4 with five RBI, including a grand slam, in South’s 9-6 Narrows League Tournament win over Capital and absolutely smashed the ball against Hudson’s Bay despite going 0-for-3.

Last Saturday, he drove in the winning run against Todd Beamer.

“Since the North series (May 1-2), that’s where I kind of turned it around,” Pease said. “And every game since, it’s been like that.”

His secret?

“Kenny’s been striking out,” Pease joked. “I don’t know what’s really happened.”

But both hope their recent successes continue throughout today and into next weekend’s final four at Safeco Field.

Both said they aren’t really feeling much pressure at this point. The real pressure came last week in just trying to qualify for state.

“I think we can actually play more free now,” Pease said. “We made it to the top 16, so there’s nothing to lose now. We need to just keep winning now, I guess, and play free.”

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