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Prep Newsmaker: Don't let Jake Turner's wiry stature fool you

Wiry Duluth East senior Jake Turner, 6-foot-1 and 155 pounds, is off to a 2-0 start with a spotless ERA for the Greyhounds. Steve Kuchera /

As an underclassman in the Duluth East baseball program, Jake Turner did little to portend future success on the pitching mound.

He was short, skinny and     didn’t possess the requisite confidence to get batters out. As such, Greyhounds coach John Rudolph had modest expectations for the diminutive right-hander.

“As a sophomore and as a freshman, you would have looked at him and said, ‘This kid will never be very good because of the fact he’s so skinny — it’s just going to be batting practice,’ ” Rudolph recounted earlier this week.

A curious thing happened, though, between Turner’s sophomore and junior years. He sprouted up, and with the extra height came a jolt in the teenager’s confidence. Suddenly a 6-footer convinced his stuff was good enough to succeed at the varsity level, he started flinging pitches past hitters last spring.

“He became our ace because, one, he got taller, and he became more confident in his pitches,” Rudolph said.

Now a senior approaching the final month of his prep career, Turner has picked up where he left off.

In this season of weather-forced starts and stops, he has nabbed two of East’s three victories. Turner helped the Greyhounds bounce back from an ugly 14-5 loss to Rochester John Marshall in their April 11 season opener by twirling a two-hit shutout against Rochester Mayo that evening.

Last Saturday at Minneapolis South, the lanky Turner tossed his second complete game, allowing two hits and a single unearned run while striking out eight in East’s 2-1 victory. In 14⅔ innings, he’s yielded five hits and fanned 14 en route to producing an unblemished ERA.

Turner’s sizzling start is made all the more impressive by the challenges he and his teammates have had to overcome, thanks to another cold and snowy spring. Outside practices have been rare, which has limited the pitcher’s ability to build arm strength.

“It’s hard to get in a rhythm because we can’t do much long toss, which is good for pitching,” Turner said. “I just try to keep my same mechanics and stay rested, try not to overthrow my arm.”

Turner helps himself in that regard by throwing strikes and keeping his pitch count low.

“He hits his spots great,” senior catcher Nate Schuman said. “You put the glove there, you know he’s going to hit it. You call a curveball on a 3-2 count, you know he’s going to make his pitch.”

While Turner has shot up to 6-1, he still weighs just 155 pounds. And, Rudolph said, his mechanics leave plenty to be desired. The future St. Scholastica Saint makes up for any shortcomings with a strong repertoire that includes a low-80s fastball and a nasty curve, plus an old-school determination to finish what he starts.

Turner hates being lifted for a reliever.

“I want to finish the game; I don’t want to be taken out,” he said. “This is my game, and I want to win.”

Rudolph said despite Turner’s unorthodox delivery, there’s little incentive to tinker.

“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” the coach said. “I like my pitchers to throw. He’s got great stamina and he wants the ball all the time, so I’m not going to mess with that. You just let him go.”

As Turner matures and starts to fill out his slight frame, Rudolph said he expects the hurler’s fastball to climb into the high 80s and possibly touch 90, which would make him all but unhittable at St. Scholastica.

First things first, Turner and the veteran-heavy Greyhounds are biding their time until they can get their season untracked and take aim at guiding the program out of Section 7AAA for the first time since 2007.

“I think we can make a state-tournament appearance,” Turner said. “We have a couple tough teams in our section, but I think we can get past those teams and get to the state tournament.”

Prep Newsmaker: Jake Turner

Prep status: Duluth East senior

Age: 17

Sport: Baseball

GPA: 3.75

School activities: National Honor Society,     intramurals

Family: Father, Scott; mother, Kathy; brother, Sam; sister, Rachel

Pets: Three dogs — Buddy, Molly and Annie

College plans: Play baseball at St. Scholastica