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Youthful Bellevue growing into KingCo contender on baseball diamond | Prep sports feature

(Left to right) Seniors Chandler Hawk, Brady Carlson and Brad Klustner, along with the injured Cal Neely (not pictured) have led the Wolverines back to the top of the conference standings this season - Josh Suman, Bellevue Reporter
(Left to right) Seniors Chandler Hawk, Brady Carlson and Brad Klustner, along with the injured Cal Neely (not pictured) have led the Wolverines back to the top of the conference standings this season
— image credit: Josh Suman, Bellevue Reporter

Bellevue head coach Pete Wilkinson knew there would be a learning curve for his young baseball team this season.

The Wolverines entered the year with only four seniors on the roster, and proceeded to lose three of their first five games of the year.

But despite the early setbacks, which also included an injury to one of those seniors, Wilkinson's faith never wavered.

"We're not real experienced anywhere," he said. "But they are resilient, and they learn like crazy."

Some of those lessons were learned the hard way over the first weeks of the season, as a tie against crosstown Newport highlighted the non-conference schedule.

But against 2A/3A KingCo foes, the tide has quickly turned in the Wolverines' favor.

A 10-0 win over Sammamish got things started, before Bellevue took games from Lake Washington and Juanita. Interlake entered last week's showdown as a fellow frontrunner in the conference, and jumped on top 3-0 after the first inning.

But Bellevue whittled away at the lead, eventually tying the game in the top of the seventh and winning 5-3 in extra innings to stay perfect in conference play.

Senior Brady Carlson said after losing two winner-to-state games last year, the focus for this year's group was building a togetherness that could carry them through rough stretches.

"We just had the will to win," he said of the game against the Saints. "We just stuck with it and stayed positive."

The Class of 2014 may not boast the top-shelf talent as last year's seniors, which featured current University of Washington outfielder Jack Meggs. But Wilkinson and Carlson said finding a cohesion that runs from the dugout to the field and back is far more critical than a roster full of potential draft choices.

"The culture in the dugout wasn't what it is this year," Carlson said, noting a more selfless approach this time around. "It's awesome to see a small senior class push the younger guys, help each other out and get our team goals."

Halfway through the KingCo season, those goals appear to be coming into focus.

Bellevue is 5-0 in league play, and faced a Wednesday game against last place Liberty after the Reporter's deadline.

The Wolverines travel to Island Crest Park to face Mercer Island Friday, before beginning the second run through the league April 21 against the Totems.

Wilkinson said even after a dominant run the first time around, Bellevue is taking nothing for granted, and will continue to rely on Carlson and fellow senior Chandler Hawk down the stretch.

"They have been the leaders, and the kids have followed them because there is so much respect, and that respect is earned," he said. "Brady and Chandler have basically taken hold of the team and said, 'This is the way we do it here.'"

Fellow senior Brad Klustner, whom Wilkinson tabbed the bullpen captain, has made one appearance on the mound and allowed only a single hit in seven innings. Cal Neely entered the season as the team's top pitcher, and was also in the middle of the batting order before suffering an injury.

"He has been absolutely splendid in his ability to counsel players and get over the obvious hurt," Wilkinson said. "He didn't have a pity-party for five minutes."

Interlake scuffling after hot start, Knights gaining ground in 4A KingCo

Interlake followed its extra-inning loss to Bellevue with a 10-2 setback to Lake Washington Monday, and now sits three games back of the first place Wolverines.

The Saints played the first installment of the Crossroads Cup against Sammamish Thursday, and host Juanita Friday at 4:30 p.m.

The Totems fell 6-4 to Juanita Monday, and travel to Lee Johnson Field in Kirkland for a 7 p.m. game against Lake Washington Friday.

Newport beat Woodinville 7-3 Wednedsay after winning a non-conference game over South Kitsap 1-0.

The Knights meet Eastlake Friday at 4 p.m.

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