Whitley throws no-hitter in Eastlake Legion baseball win
July 2, 2014
By Neil Pierson
Mark Whitley contributed to Eastlake High School’s KingCo Conference baseball title this spring, but he looks like he’s ready to be the star of next season’s squad.
Pitching for the Eastlake Baseball Club’s 17-and-under American Legion team, Whitley was virtually untouchable in two late-June outings.
After throwing a no-hitter at the Palouse Invitational in Pullman, he returned to the mound June 26 and didn’t let up, allowing no hits as Eastlake defeated Lakeside Recovery, 1-0, in the opening game of the Eastlake Invitational.
Whitley nearly stumbled on his path to a second straight no-hitter. In the seventh inning, leadoff hitter Tyler Kim tried to break up the no-hitter and laid down a good bunt along the third-base line. Whitley got to the ball quickly enough, but rushed the throw and pulled the first baseman off the bag.
Officially, the play was ruled an error, and the no-hitter stayed intact. Kim stole second to put the tying run in scoring position, but Whitley struck out two batters and retired Jack Rooney on a ground ball to end the game.
“I’ll take it as an error, but my team played great defense,” Whitley said. “They backed me up. It was really great.”
After proving his worth for the high-school team as a sophomore, Eastlake coach Kevin Agnew said Whitley has been even better through the first month of the Legion season. He plays shortstop when he’s not pitching, and is counted upon for run production, typically hitting third or fourth in the order.
“This group is sort of our future, and he’s the guy that’s sort of right in the middle of that,” Agnew said. “He’s pretty special, and he’s had a nice summer. He’s a football kid, too, so he’s been pretty tired the last couple weeks with spring football, but now that’s done and he’s getting back in the swing of things.”
Lakeside Recovery had only three baserunners. Kim also reached in the first inning after being hit by a pitch, and Alejandro Graterol walked in the sixth.
Other than that, it was smooth sailing for Whitley, who allowed only one ball out of the infield. He recorded 11 ground-ball outs and had six strikeouts.
Whitley said he’s been using a strength-training regimen so he can pitch deeper into games, and his velocity is staying more consistent because of it.
He had an extraordinary varsity pitching debut in mid-March as Eastlake beat Bellevue, 8-1, and things have gone well since then.
“In the offseason, I really didn’t think I’d pitch that much,” Whitley said. “But after I pitched that Bellevue game, my confidence began to grow, and throughout the season it grew, and now that we’re in the summer, I know that I can pitch and I can just build off it.”
Lakeside also got a nice pitching performance in defeat as Rooney – a Skyline High rising sophomore – went seven innings, allowing four hits and one walk with seven strikeouts.
Eastlake, which improved to 17-6 overall, got its only run in the fifth inning without the benefit of a hit. Whitley drew a leadoff walk, stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch. Ayden Oh plated Whitley with a well-executed safety squeeze bunt.
Eastlake’s Double-A Legion squad features a few established varsity players like Shaan Kothari, Jackson Dahl and Nathan Mano, who will continue to grow over the summer. Agnew said a few other players, including Brenden Greenheck, Ryan Frizelle and Oh, should have a good chance of playing varsity ball in 2015.
“Those were guys that were JV guys this year that, had they not been playing for us in the summer, we wouldn’t have seen some of the things we’ve seen the last couple weeks,” the coach said.
Whitley said the older players are providing leadership, and the group was buoyed by Eastlake’s conference championship in May.
“Coming from a 1-19 season just a couple years ago to winning a championship is great,” he said. “It gave us all the confidence to know that we’re a good team. Our underclassmen are good, and we can build off it, and we’ll do good next year.”