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Wednesday June 19, 2013

Justin Vernia named All-State defensive MVP Issaquah player almost missed the series, until luck called him up By Scott Spruill Yakima Herald-Republic


Lakeside Recovery’s Matt Sinatro fouls off a pitch during Lakeside Recovery’s 1-0 loss to Phiten Legion at Issaquah High School. Sinatro, a senior at Skyline High, will play collegiate baseball next year at the University of San Francisco.

Kyle Gruber’s one-hitter keeps Lakeside Recovery rolling By Neil Pierson npierson@ Kyle Gruber hasn’t played varsity baseball for Skyline High School yet, but if he keeps doing what he did June 13, coach Chris Tamminen won’t be able to hold him back. Gruber needed only 75 pitches to throw a complete-game one-hitter, leading Lakeside Recovery to a 5-0 victory against the West Seattle Indians in a Double-A American Legion game at Skyline. Gruber didn’t try out for high-school ball as a freshman, but he showed what he’s capable of this spring for the Spartans’ junior varsity team. Tamminen, who coaches Lakeside Recovery and the Skyline varsity team, has been impressed. “He’ll be a junior next year, so he’ll maybe get a chance to play varsity,” Tamminen said. “We’ll see — you never know whether kids get better or stay the same. He has a good demeanor out there, though, and he competes, so I like to see that.” The only thing that kept Gruber from a nohitter was a fourth-inning double. He struck out five batters, walked one and hit one. Along with an aboveaverage fastball, Gruber features a pitch not typically seen from teenagers — a knuckle curve. “My brother started


Lakeside Recovery pitcher Kyle Gruber dominated West Seattle on June 13, allowing one hit in seven innings. throwing it, and then he taught me, so I just kept throwing it and I developed,” Gruber said. Lakeside gave Gruber all the offensive support he’d need in the second inning. Colin Huber drilled a two-out double to right field, scoring Matt Sarkozy and Jake Partlow. Sarkozy padded the lead an inning later with a tworun triple, then slid into home plate and knocked the ball away from West Seattle’s catcher for the game’s final run. Sarkozy, a junior-to-be at Issaquah High School, guessed correctly on his big hit. “It was a 1-2 count, and I knew he was going to throw me something offspeed,” Sarkozy said. “I

was waiting back and he hung a curveball, and I hit it out to the left-field gap.” Lakeside played strong defense behind Gruber, committing only one error. Catcher Jonathan Criest threw out two would-be base stealers. The squad’s all-around play has improved recently, and its record has improved to 8-8 following a four-game winning streak. “We just kind of fixed some stuff up,” Sarkozy said. “We’re hitting better and making better decisions, and our pitching has gotten a lot better.” Lakeside’s roster is comprised of Skyline, Issaquah and Newport students, so it’s taken time to develop chemistry. That and other distractions, like spring

football drills and graduation, have caused a lot of fluctuations in Tamminen’s lineup. “I think we’re getting an idea. We’re getting a little better,” the coach said. “We have an idea just as far as getting our batting order and getting guys that haven’t pitched that much for school ball pitching for us, because we know we’ve got to rely on them playing a bunch of games.” A couple base-running errors kept Lakeside from adding more runs against West Seattle, and that’ll be a focus as the team tries to earn a district-tournament berth in late July. “That can end up killing you, so hopefully we clean those up,” Tamminen said. “The kids are just being a little overaggressive trying to make something happen.” Like their teammates, Sarkozy and Gruber hope playing with a Legion team during the summer will help their chances with their respective high schools in 2014. I need to “get better at hitting and work on going to the opposite field, especially when I’m down in the count,” Sarkozy said, “and then work on my throwing, being able to be a sure-thing first baseman defensively.” “Hopefully, next year I’ll make varsity,” Gruber said. “I need to gain some muscle and start working out.”

YAKIMA — There was some interesting karma — or whatever you might want to call it — going on in the championship game of the All-State Baseball Series on June 9. Good manners translated into good deeds at the plate, and an unexpected turn of luck led to a stellar pitching display. Odd things, big results. Marysville-Pilchuck’s Kyle Nobach and Issaquah’s Justin Vernia swept the individual awards, and led Team Baker’s stout pitching and defense to a 7-2 victory against Team Rainier in the title game of the annual senior all-star baseball weekend at Davis Field. Nobach batted leadoff June 8 and scored twice and drove in a run while helping Baker defeat Adams, 9-3, to earn a spot in the championship game. At the event’s banquet that evening, he was the only player among 72 to wear a tie — a noncasual novelty that was pointed out to everyone. “My grandma made me

do it,” he smiled. “She thought it was the right thing to do.” On June 9, Nobach led off the game with a double, sparking a four-run first inning, singled in the second and scored in the fourth. For his top-of-the-order performance, Nobach was named the All-State offensive MVP. Vernia wasn’t in the All-State Series when invitations went out early in June. He was ranked sixth out of his feeder games and with only the top five getting invites, the Issaquah pitcher was made the first alternate. On June 6, a Woodinville player was forced to drop out, and Vernia got a call at school. “I’m pretty happy about getting that call now,” he said. “This worked out well.” Consider Team Baker happy about that call, too. Vernia struck out the side in the first inning, didn’t allow a hit for the first three innings, and finished with four scoreless frames and six strikeouts. He left with a 6-0 lead and was named the All-State defensive MVP. “I knew I was going four innings, so I was excited about striking out the side to start,” he said. “I had a nice change-up today, and my fastball and curve were OK. To pitch this well against hitters as good as these guys — it couldn’t have gone better.”


Justin Vernia (left), Issaquah High School senior, is safe on first base in a game April 10 against Redmond. He hit two doubles, scoring four runs in a 7-6 victory.

Spartan Kaleb Strawn’s soccer career is starting to soar By Neil Pierson npierson@ Kaleb Strawn has never been able to physically dominate opponents on the soccer pitch. Instead, he uses intelligence and speed to make the other team miserable. This spring, the 5-foot-7 Strawn led the Skyline Spartans to their first undefeated KingCo Conference season. The central midfielder supplied a single-season school record for points with his 11 goals and 13 assists, and it helped him lock up an NCAA Division II collegiate scholarship offer from Saint Martin’s University in Lacey. Skyline coach Don Braman said Strawn acted as a magnet, pulling defenders to him and opening up

spaces for his teammates to exploit. “The things that his teammates were able to do around him made Kaleb effective in attacking through the middle of the field,” Braman said. “Kaleb was great at asserting himself in game situations when we needed him most.” Strawn, a first-team all-league choice and a Seattle Times all-area pick, helped the Spartans win 11 consecutive games during the 2013 season. They saw that streak end with a 4-0 loss to Inglemoor in the conference-title match, and their playoff run ended prematurely with a 1-0 loss to Camas in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs, but there was plenty for the team to celebrate. In Strawn’s mind, going

10-0 in conference play — the first time any KingCo squad had done it since 2005 — topped the list of accomplishments. “Winning every game is tough, and not many teams can do it,” he said. “That’s probably one of the best memories, just all our teammates, working together and having a really good time and working really hard for the cause. It was really good to watch.” A year-round player with Eastside FC, Strawn had developed a solid reputation and had options when it came to play college soccer. He had interest from multiple schools in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, but felt Saint Martin’s was the right place. “They came and saw me through a couple games, a

couple tournaments out of state and such,” Strawn said. “I was looking for a nice place to go, and I wanted to stay in-state, so the opportunity arose and I just took it.” At Saint Martin’s, Strawn will join a rebuilding program. The Saints finished 3-15 last year, although their coach, Rob Walker, has more than 30 years of experience in the sport and led them to the 2009 conference championship. Playing with Eastside FC helped raise Strawn’s profile, he said. “One of the benefits is the exposure you get from going out of state — like we’re going to Hawaii in a week or two,” he said. Perhaps the most memorable game for Skyline this spring was an April 19 date against visiting

Garfield. The Bulldogs lit a fire under the Spartans — perhaps unintentionally. “They scored the first goal and their player goes and celebrates in front of our fans,” Strawn explained. “That kind of makes everyone a little mad, so our team, they just put their head down and got to it.” Skyline responded with five straight goals en route to a blowout victory. Strawn had a spectacular goal, Braman said, splitting two defenders before launching a 35-yard rocket. “That’s one that all of his teammates talk about,” the coach said, “and it was really a statement that, ‘You guys might have scored first, but we are here to dominate.’” Strawn clearly established himself as a veteran

leader for Skyline, but he didn’t do it through intimidation or emotional pleas. “He is a quiet yet assertive leader,” Braman said. “His teammates hear him when he knows he needs to be heard. He’s the kind of leader that says, ‘Play like I’m playing and, collectively, we’ll be a better team.’” Strawn isn’t the first member of his family to don the green and white of Skyline, nor will he be the last. His older brother, Travis, was a 2011 graduate, and his younger brother, Garrett, will be a junior next season. Both of Kaleb’s parents were soccer players as well. “It’s kind of like a tradition,” he said. “I really just couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”

A9 • Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Issaquah Press