Bucknell Park A’s off to fast start, aiming for NAFA title

Written by Bob on June 14th, 2012

“We’re a solid group that puts up a lot of runs. One through nine, we are tough outs.” – Kasey Knight, A’s infielder

LACEY, WA – The Bucknell Park A’s have started the season firing on all cylinders in carving out a 12-0 record. But one cylinder in particular has been humming along without a single misfire: pitcher Shawn Koster.

The 24-year-old from Victoria, BC, Canada owns a perfect 8-0 record with a 0.00 ERA. In 37 innings, the right-hander hasn’t allowed a single earned run, while striking out 91 batters and walking eight.

“He’s a fairly hard thrower and he’s got all the pitches,” said A’s coach Dave Michalak. “He’s got a great change-up that he’s worked really hard on. He’s very aggressive and goes after hitters.”

But Koster isn’t a one-man show; he’s had help from left-hander Rob Gunter. Also from Victoria, the 30-year-old Gunter is 4-0 with a 0.82 ERA in 34 innings and 51 strikeouts.

He’s especially hard on right-handed batters, Michalak said of Gunter, who joined the A’s this season. “He’s got a lefty curve that comes in and is tough on righties.”

Manager Pat Bucknell, who has been fielding teams for over 50 years, added some key players to bolster an already strong ball club that finished 2011 at 29-9, while claiming the runner-up spot in the ASA Class C National Championship.

“We picked up four quality players from the Yakima area,” Bucknell said. “We got Pat Sagdahl, Sean McCauley, Shane Jones and Brandon Campbell. And we got Rob (Gunter) from Canada and Ryan Daly from Tacoma.”

Along with Shawn Koster, the A’s also have his identical twin brother, Darren, who catches his brother in most games. He’s known for his quick release in throwing out runners, and his take-charge attitude behind the plate.

“Shawn and Darren are really starting to play great ball,” Bucknell said. “They will be names in the game soon.”

Darren leads the team with a .583 batting average (14 for 24), and has driven in five runs.

The A’s also have some key-returning veterans. Among them Kasey Knight. He’s been playing for Bucknell 13 of his 16 years since beginning at age 19. Now 34, Knight is looked to as the on-field leader. Knight credits the pitching for its strong start. “They’ve done an excellent job,” said Knight, who plays second and third base, and leads the team with nine RBIs and a .406 batting average.

But he also credits an offense that averages almost six runs per game, using a combination of speed, small ball, and line-drive hitters to bring the runs across.

“We’re a solid group that puts up a lot of runs (71 total),” Knight said. “One through nine, we are tough outs.”

Michalak agrees, adding that the A’s have great speed, starting with leadoff batter Pat Sagdahl (.436 avg. and seven runs), who bats from the left side and patrols centerfield. “He sets the table for us and he can run,” Michalak said.

Kasey Knight follows Sagdahl and is adept at moving runners up; bringing to the plate run producers such as Ryan Daly (eight RBIs, .529 avg.), Sean McCauley (eight RBIs, .281 avg.) and Shawn Koster, who has helped his own cause with six RBIs and a .409 average. Josh Baumgart, who shares catching duties with Darren Koster and plays third base, has been a solid addition as well.

“Josh has a strong arm and he and Darren call excellent ball games,” Michalak said. “They take charge back there, and I let them do their thing.”

Because of the stellar pitching, the defense hasn’t been tested much, Michalak said. But when called upon, he believes it will step up. He recalls a play made by Sagdahl in the Columbia Basin Men’s Fastpitch Invitational in Moses Lake, Wash. against the Spokane Generals.

“He was in right-field and a ball was hit hard toward the fence,” Michalak said. “It should have been over his head, but Pat turned, ran back, and made a circus catch over his head.”

Bucknell primarily handles the off-field duties, leaving Michalak in charge of the coaching. Michalak pitched for Bucknell’s WTD Industries team in the 1980s, helping the team finish second in the ’87 ASA Western Regional championship, and runner-up in the ’88 ASA Class B National Championships.

Michalak retired from the game 13 years ago, but came out of retirement in 2010 to coach the A’s.

“I had no juice left to pitch, but I wanted to give back to the game in some way,” he said, adding that he’s known Bucknell for 40 years. “As long as I’ve known Pat he has this obligation to fastpitch to keep the game going. He understands the decline in the sport and wants to give back to it.”

Bucknell retired from the sport in 2007, but came back in 2010 at the urging of his former players. He says that this year’s squad may be the best he’s ever assembled. And he, along with Michalak, have set the bar high for the A’s: winning or placing high in the NAFA World Series AA Division in Topeka, Kansas, Aug. 9-12.

“We want to make our mark,” Michalak said.

So far the A’s are doing just that.

Leave a Comment