May 16, 2013 in Sports

Bullpups armed and ready

Blatner, Mills, Graves give G-Prep imposing presence
Correspondent
 
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Gonzaga Prep star pitchers, from left, Justin Blatner, Wyatt Mills and Max Graves, will lead the Bullpups to state in Tacoma.
(Full-size photo)

Coming up Saturday

State Baseball Playoffs

4A: Gonzaga Prep vs. Skyline, 10 a.m., Heidelberg (Tacoma)

2A: Clarkston vs. WV-Yakima, 10 a.m., Davis High (Yakima);

WV-Spokane vs. Selah, 1 p.m., Davis

1A: Medical Lake vs. Cle Elum-Roslyn, Dan White Field (Eastmont, Wenatchee)

2B: Colfax vs. Riverside Christian, 10 a.m., Walla Walla

Lind-Ritzville-Sprague vs. Liberty Bell, 10 a.m., Avista; Northwest Christian vs. Asotin, 1 p.m., Avista

1B: Colton vs. Odessa-Harrington, 10 a.m., University High

Wilbur-Creston vs. Liberty Christian, 1 p.m., U-Hi

All winners play at 4 p.m.

They were yet to be born when the Three Amigos – movie comedians Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short – galloped across the silver screen in the 1986 western farce. But it was no laughing matter when opposing baseball teams faced Gonzaga Prep pitching buddies Justin Blatner, Wyatt Mills and Max Graves.

The trio combined for a 13-1 Greater Spokane League record (17-2 overall) when they took the mound for a team that is in the State 4A round of 16 for the second straight year.

They are an imposing lot, standing 6-foot-3 or taller, and all three are ticketed to play for West Coast Conference teams when their high school playing careers end.

“They’ve worked so hard, are such good leaders and are great kids,” coach Brian Munhall said. “All three are scholar-athletes, which is as important to me as anything they’ve done on the field.”

Each has a similar story to tell with disparate scenes. They all thought basketball was their sport before walking away from a potential state placing team to concentrate on baseball.

Graves’ decision was probably the hardest. He’s the son of Gonzaga University women’s coach Kelly Graves and admits it naturally created conflict.

“He really wasn’t happy I quit, but I think he understood,” the 6-foot-6, 200-pounder said.

Basketball, he said, was a job and he preferred a sport that was more fun.

Of the three, Graves is the biggest work in progress. His game was honed playing American Legion baseball with classmates.

He was headed for Santa Clara on an academic scholarship when Munhall asked if he wanted to continue playing and got him in touch with the coach.

“He watched me a bit and wanted me to play for him,” Graves said. “It’s the best of both worlds.”

Despite his size, he lives more on off-speed pitches than fastballs and as the No. 3 starter went 3-0 and led the league in saves.

Both Mills (8-1), a senior, and Blatner (6-1), a junior, have committed to Gonzaga. Between them they allowed three earned runs in 51 GSL innings, Blatner with a miniscule 0.28 ERA and Mills right behind at 0.54. Blatner, who also starts in the outfield, swings a mean bat. He hit .452 with five home runs.

The 6-3, 190 pounder moved here from Yakima and has played on travel teams since age 11, once taking a trip to Puerto Rico. The left-hander has a funky, almost sidearm, delivery.

“I’ve always just thrown that way,” he said of the way he slings his three-quarter pitch. “It’s comfortable for me although people ask how does my arm not hurt? I’ve seen pictures and it looks painful.”

The two- and four-seam fastball is his bread and butter although he does throw a “slurve” (combined slider and curve) and circle change. He said he’s been clocked in the mid-to-upper 80s.

“I’ve heard I have good movement on the fastball,” Blatner said.

Washington State and the University of Washington also showed interest, but he chose the Bulldogs.

Mills might have the most upside, standing a spindly 6-3 and 165 pounds. He played legion ball before moving to a travel team last year.

“I started off this year not knowing if I wanted to play baseball in college,” Mills said.

But his fastball improved over the summer and he went to a winter camp at GU where he said it was clocked as high as 89 mph.

He had already applied to the school, said he received academic money and will be a preferred walk-on.

“I’m so immature physically I think coaches look at me as having potential,” Mills said. “If I hit the weight room who knows what my body can produce?”

All three say that having a deep rotation is an advantage in the postseason and despite last weekend’s 6-1 loss to nemesis Richland, who knows?

The Bullpups (21-2) have 10 first- or second-team all-GSL players in their lineup and with the depth of pitching’s Three Amigos, they have an opportunity to improve on last year’s top-eight finish.

“It’s pretty astounding to have three guys going Division I,” Munhall said. “It’s kind of been the focal point of our success. We’ve ridden them all year.”

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