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Former Central Kitsap teammates square off during summer-league baseball
Four local baseball players get reacquainted in WCCBL.
They might have been wearing different colors, from bright red to crimson to BlueJackets blue, gold and white, but deep down, they all still bleed orange and black.
Four Central Kitsap grads are keeping their baseball careers — and dreams — alive not only with their respective college programs, but also within the West Coast Collegiate Baseball League.
2006 CK grads Tyler Owens and Aaron Johnson are suiting up for the Kitsap BlueJackets for their second season, while 2007 Coug alumni David Stilley and Andrew Duke have joined the WCCBL ranks for the first time, with Stilley pitching out of the bullpen for Kitsap rivals Corvallis (Ore.) and Duke donning the Kitsap-affiliate Tacoma Cardinals’ digs.
So far, the ’07 Cougars have the early bragging rights, with Tacoma topping Kitsap 7-6 in its home opener Wednesday before the Knights shut down the Jackets 8-1 Thursday in the league opener.
“It’s always fun to beat them,” said Duke, smiling. “It’s just good getting to see them.”
All four are making the most of life after high school, taking their games to the next level.
For Johnson, his career goes on as a member of The Citadel, Charleston, S.C.’s military college.
Owens is headed to New Mexico State University after spending two seasons at Green River Community College under BlueJackets coach Matt Acker.
The southpaw Stilley, who underwent Tommy John surgery to replace a torn ligament in his elbow, just finished his first season as a redshirt at Washington State University. Duke also redshirted for Lower Columbia College in Longview.
With Johnson and Owens back for their second tour of duty with the Jackets, both are excited to keep Kitsap winning after advancing to the WCCBL playoffs last year.
“It’s good,” Johnson said. “It’s nice seeing everybody (from the BlueJackets).”
Last year, Owens, Kitsap’s third baseman, began the season with Tacoma before suiting up in 35 games (26 starts) for Kitsap, hitting .204 but scoring 11 runs and driving in 14. Johnson, playing in the outfield, also began last season with Tacoma before getting called up for 29 games, 12 starts.
He hit .289 with 10 runs and seven RBI in 45 at-bats. They helped Kitsap go 24-18 in league play, finishing a game shy of the title series.
Duke now is fighting for one of four Jackets roster spots — Kitsap begins with 24 players before setting its roster at 28 in July — as a member of the Cards.
“Luckily, they gave me a shot,” Duke said after being a late addition to Tacoma’s roster. “I’ve been dying to play for seventh months.”
Because he redshirted, Duke said it’s great to be back on a ball field competitively.
Making it even better is the fact the moment came back at home.
“You don’t even know,” he said of returning. “It feels good to be home.”
Duke was the designated hitter in Tacoma’s Wednesday win. He’s hoping he’ll make a big enough impression to join his former CK teammates on the Kitsap roster.
“This is a great opportunity,” Duke said. “We’ve got a good team, a good program. It shows what the BlueJackets’ organization is.”
While Stilley didn’t have a direct hand in Thursday’s 8-1 win against Kitsap, he said it was still nice to get the early bragging rights on his former CK teammates, especially because they were the seniors when Stilley and Duke were juniors.
“It is actually pretty cool,” Stilley said. “We always talk back to each other. It’s fun. It’s always good seeing them.”
While he’s pitching for rival Corvallis, Stilley said he enjoyed getting a win against the team he watched during his high school career in action.
“It does feel good,” he said. “When I was in high school, I’d always look at the BlueJackets and want to play for them. They’re a good team to beat. They’re definitely contenders.”
• Kitsap swept in league opener
If Matt Acker is going to lose, at least it’s to one of his own.
The Kitsap BlueJackets dropped their home opener Wednesday night, falling 7-6 to the Tacoma Cardinals at Lobe Fields at the Fairgrounds. In a game filled with errors (three on the Cards and two on the Jackets), David Benham ripped a two-out RBI double to put Tacoma up for good in the bottom of the ninth.
“Do I want to lose to them? No, never,” Kitsap coach Acker said. “But at the same time, if I have to lose to somebody, the feeder team is part of our system. It’s good to see the kids and it’s good to see what we have in our system.”
The Jackets put themselves in various holes throughout the weekend, falling 11-2 Friday and 7-4 Saturday.
• Voelkel signs with Braves
Despite being undrafted in last week’s amateur draft, former Kitsap first baseman Ryan Voelkel, expected to be the main force in the middle of the BlueJackets’ lineup, signed a free agent deal with the Atlanta Braves.
He hit .275 with 18 RBI and scoring 18 runs last year.
He also had 11 doubles, second in the league.