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Crook County High School pitcher Kyle Knudtson helps contribute to the success of Bend baseball program

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Kyle Knudtson delivers a strike during a game on Monday between the Bend Bucks and the Hayesville Hammers. Knudtson, who attends Crook County High School pitched the first three innings of the game, leaving with a 3-1 lead. The Bucks eventually won the game with two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to take a 5-4 victory. The Bend Bucks are a high school and college developmental baseball team, which is a feeder program for the Bend Elks baseball team.

Playing in a league with college and elite high school athletes is a chance for young players to develop their skills and improve their baseball knowledge.

Crook County High School pitcher Kyle Knudtson is in his second year playing for the Bucks.

Pitching in the wooden bat league, Knudtson has had a solid season, winning a handful of games while picking up just one loss over the course of the summer season.

"I've had a good summer," he said. "Out of six games, I've only had one bad outing, so I've been doing pretty good."

This past Monday, Knudtson started on the mound for the Bucks in the second game of a doubleheader against the Hayesville Hammers.

Prior to the start of game, one the Bucks convinced their coach that if they were able to win the nine-inning game that they would be allowed to wear sleeveless uniforms in the second, seven-inning game.

Motivated by the opportunity, the Bucks jumped all over the Hammers, ripping 15 hits as they overwhelmed the Hammers by a 12-3 score.

With the easy win, the Bucks were allowed to remove their sleeves for the second game despite unseasonably cool weather.

However, their coach cautioned them before starting the second game that the uniform was a reward for their performance and they needed to make sure that they continued to play at a high level in the second game.

Knudtson watched calmly from the dugout during the course of the first game, then worked hard between games to make sure that he was both physically and mentally prepared to pitch in the second game.

"This summer has been pretty important," he would say later. "I'm learning a lot of things about my body and stuff I need to do for mental preparation."

The game started well for Knudtson, who picked up a pair of quick outs on routine ground balls. Then he lost control of a pitch, hitting the third batter he faced, before striking out the next batter to end the top half of the first inning.

The Bucks were unable to generate any offense in the bottom half of the inning.

Then in the second inning, Knudtson walked a batter and gave up a single to left that bounced over Bend's third baseman's head.

Knudtson then cleanly fielded a bunt, but no one covered first in time as the Hammers loaded the bases with just one out.

That miscue turned out to be no problem for the Bucks, who were able to turn a double play on the next pitch as they worked their way out of the inning.

Bend then scored a pair of runs in the bottom half of the second to seemingly take control of the game.

The Hammers picked up a run in the third inning as they took advantage of a pair of Buck errors to force a run across the plate.

Bend answered with a run of their own in the bottom half of the inning to push their lead to 3-1.

Bend used five pitchers in the first game, and although Knudtson had given up just two hits and no earned runs, the Bucks' manager once again decided to make a pitching change.

Throwing four more pitchers in the contest, some of whom don't normally pitch, the Bucks gave up more hits in seven innings than they had in the previous nine inning games.

Things looked bleak for the Bucks when the Hammers scored a run in the top of the seventh inning to take their first lead of the series.

Heading into the bottom of the seventh, against a Hammer's pitcher who had pitched the entire game, the Bucks looked like they might lose, something that the Bend manager had cautioned the team against when they chose to go sleeveless.

Instead, the team rallied, scoring the tying run with two outs, then pushing the winning run across the plate on an infield single.

"We couldn't have asked for a better way to end the game," Knudtson said. "It was a little bit tight there at the end, but coming out with a win on a walk-off, that was awesome."

Knudtson added that it was the first game all year where the team has given up a lead late in a game and had to come back to pick up a win.

Early in the season, the Bucks were losing games to good teams. However, the Bucks have shown steady improvement as the season has progressed. Now, as the summer season winds down, the Bucks are winning most of their games as they have compiled a winning record.

"Bucks are hot," Knudtson said. "At the beginning of the season more times than not the good teams were beating us by three or four runs, but now we are starting to win those games."

Although he did not earn a decision, Knudtson was still pleased with the way he pitched.

"I think that there were a couple of pitches that I could have commanded better, but for the most part, I feel like I had control of the game pretty good," he said. "This summer is helping make me into a pitcher instead of a thrower."

Although Knudtson was one of the Cowboys' leading hitters during the past high school season he rarely gets at-bats for the Bucks.

Still, he said that his hitting is improving.

"The BP (batting practice) at the beginning of every game, that helps my batting, but I don't really hit very often in games," he said.

Playing for the Bucks in the summer involves a lot of time and travel, but Knudtson said that it is worth it to become a better player.

Even though he plays three sports in high school, baseball is his passion. (He is a starting running back on the football team and a defending state champion in wrestling.)

Given the opportunity, he said that he would like to play baseball and wrestle in college. However, if he can only do one sport, right now he would choose baseball first.

Playing for the Bucks is just one more step toward that goal.

"I'm absolutely progressing," he said. "It's been a good summer. We are getting better and we are having a lot of fun."

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