SPORTS: Quilcene baseball pitcher is strikeout king

QUILCENE — Brandon Bancroft doesn’t have to think too long about why pitching appeals to him so much.

It’s the voices he hears from behind the backstop when he starts popping fastballs into the catcher’s mitt.

It’s the jaws he sees drop when he buckles a hitter’s knees with one of his curveballs.

More than anything else, however, it’s the feeling he gets every time he racks up another strikeout.

“I like striking people out,” the left-hander said with a wry smile and a giggle.

“I think he lives for it,” second-year Quilcene baseball coach Joe Whitsett said.

“He want to be the guy on center stage. He wants to be the guy who comes through big for his team.”

In the course of his four-year varsity career, Bancroft has made a routine of doing just that for the Rangers.

In fact, the three-sport star could easily be considered the most dominant pitcher Quilcene baseball has ever produced.

In four straight seasons, he has submitted an earned run average at or below 3.00.

He eclipsed the school record for career strikeouts — 223 by 2007 graduate Trevor Cosolito — by the end of his junior year.

Now one year later, that total sits at 332 with the Rangers (13-4 overall) set to play against Oakville in the first round of the Class 1B state tournament this Saturday in Yakima.

“The thing I’ve got going for me is I’m left-handed and I can throw pretty hard, and I have a pretty good variety of pitches,” Bancroft said. “And when they are on, they are pretty good.”

Indeed, armed with three reliable offspeed pitches — curveball, cutter and changeup — and a fastball that tops out at 86 miles per hour, Bancroft has plenty of stuff to keep hitters off balance.

Sea-Tac League foe Mount Rainier Lutheran knows that better than anyone.

In the three times Bancroft (4-2) faced the Hawks this season, he had two perfect games and a no-hitter; the latter falling just one walk shy of perfection.

For the year, he has an otherworldly 1.09 ERA with 99 strikeouts and six walks in 41 1/3 innings pitched.

This coming off a junior season in which he struck out 95 and walked 10 in 45 innings.

According to Whitsett, those crazy statistics have more to do with Bancroft’s abilities than the level of competition he’s facing.

“Even if he played at PA I think he’d be putting up the same numbers,” said Whitsett, who also had coaching stints at Central Kitsap and Bremerton and played college ball himself.

“I’d put him starting for any team I’ve ever played for. With [his] competitiveness, he’s going to give you the best he has, and he’s smart.

“If there is a batter who is just as talented as he is, then he will use his intelligence working in and out, changing speed and changing eye levels and stuff like that.”

Bancroft carries himself with the sort of self-assurance one expects of an ace.

His smooth, deliberate delivery appears almost effortless to some coaches, but as Bancroft says, “I’m putting everything into it.”

The way his father, Rick, tells it, Brandon has always found a way to get himself right in the middle of things as the youngest of three siblings.

“He’d scrape-and-fight and do everything he could to do what his older brother [Tony] and older sister [Justine] did,” Rick said. “He could do no wrong.”

That feisty nature, apparent even at such a young age, led Rick to nickname his youngest son “Rooster.”

It’s a nickname that’s followed Brandon ever since.

Even opposing teams that have competed against him in football, basketball and baseball during the past four years know him as “Rooster.”

“Every team that I played on called me Rooster because I said you can call me whatever you want, but my nickname is Rooster,” Brandon said.

“Wilder [Baseball] was actually the first team that never called me [Rooster]. They just called me Bancroft. I have to admit . . . it just kind of felt weird.”

The Wilder boys won’t get a chance to call him that this year, at least not as a teammate.

After two years pitching and playing outfield for the North Olympic Peninsula All-Star squad, Bancroft decided he would join the Northwest Blaze out of Port Orchard/Gig Harbor area this summer.

Part of the reason was so he could work with Blaze coach Pete Randall, the pitching coach at Olympic Community College, where Bancroft will pitch next spring.

And despite also possessing some pop with the bat — he’s batting better than .400 for the Rangers this year — Bancroft knows that’s where his future is in baseball.

“I’ve always been a good hitter, but I think my pitching is going to be what gets me there,” Bancroft said.

“[Randall] wanted me. He kept on begging me to sign with them because he wants to work with me.

“He thinks I can go up to the next level.”

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