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Prep Baseball: Turner's smarts earn him All-Area Player of the Year

Duluth East’s Jake Turner is the News Tribune’s All-Area Baseball Player of the Year. Clint Austin /

The best athletes, regardless of sport, often are credited with making their teammates better.

And so it was with Duluth East’s Jake Turner, a deceptively dominant pitcher that brought out the best in the Greyhounds during a whirlwind, 17-win spring.

“When he’s on the hill, the whole team just knows we’re going to win,” teammate Chris Olson said. “We play solid (defense), we hit better — I don’t know how, but we just have a better mindset on the game overall.”

East coach John Rudolph saw that transpire early in the season. The Greyhounds were a different team with their ace atop the mound slinging curveballs. During a season-opening trip to Rochester, Minn., Rudolph told them: “We have to play for our other pitchers like we play for Jake.”

The Greyhounds responded to the challenge, and the result was a postseason run that nearly ended at the program’s first state tournament since 2007.

Turner is the News Tribune’s All-Area Player of the Year after thriving despite a steady diet of Class AAA challengers his senior year. So overwhelming was the wiry right-hander that he finished each of the eight games he started while going 6-2 with a barely perceptible 1.17 ERA.

Not bad for an overwhelming pitcher that initially underwhelmed Rudolph as a youngster. He was too small, Rudolph reasoned. That changed, though, thanks to a growth spurt between Turner’s sophomore and junior years. He became more confident and continued to hone his craft.

“I just wanted to pitch varsity baseball, and I worked at it, trying to get better and better,” the 6-foot-1, 155-pound Turner said.

Turner’s game isn’t predicated on pumping fastballs past hitters. He’s more a finesse guy, a pitcher’s pitcher, intent to work the corners, change speeds and rely on a knee-buckling curveball. He has hit 83 mph on the radar gun, a number that should improve as he begins his college career at St. Scholastica. Still, Turner never has needed overpowering gas to get hitters out.

His curve, a solid changeup and a developing slider allowed him to strike out 54 and walk 19 in 54 innings this spring. Turner’s first three starts were two-hitters and a no-hitter against rival Duluth Denfeld on May 10.

“He’s just a big, crafty righty,” Olson said simply when asked what makes Turner tick.

When asked who Turner most reminds him of, Rudolph said no former Greyhounds were similar — his best hurlers in the past were flamethrowers — but a pair of Hall of Famers came to mind. Sandy Koufax and Greg Maddux, Rudolph said, were pitchers who used intelligence as much as raw stuff to win games.

“They changed speeds and location, and that’s what Jake’s about,” said Rudolph, who retired after the season.

When he wasn’t pitching, Turner played second base and was part of what Rudolph called the “best defensive infield in the state,” which included Olson at first base, Wes Anderson at shortstop and Nick Andersen at third. For good measure, Turner had a .293 batting average and drove in nine runs.

The kid they call Snake — because of his penchant for wiggling out of jams, perhaps? — nearly pitched East to the state tournament, but a 3-2 loss to Elk River in the Section 7AAA finals ended the Greyhounds’ season.

Turner is pitching for the Duluth Lakeview American Legion team this summer before St. Scholastica coach Corey Kemp gets his hands on him in the fall.

Olson, headed to St. Thomas, knows the strategy he will utilize if he has to bat against Turner in college.

“Hit the first fastball you see, because you’re not going to hit anything else,” Olson joked.

Click here for this year's All-Area Baseball Team.

News Tribune Baseball Players of the Year

Year    Player            School

2014    Jake Turner        Duluth East

2013    Kevin Folman        Hermantown

2012    Jake Lewis        Proctor

    Ben Nelson        Proctor

2011    Mickie Keuning        Duluth East

2010    John Skrbec        Grand Rapids

2009    Skyler Murray        Duluth East

2008    Gabe Wood        Grand Rapids

2007    Dean Bauers        Duluth Central

2006    Kiel Fechtelkotter        Northwestern

2005    Jake Lambert        Barnum

2004    Josh Mathson        BEST

2003    Brandon Swartz        Hermantown

2002    Ben Grams        Duluth East

2001    Dan Mell            Nashwauk-Keewatin

2000    Scott Hedlund        Esko

1999    Kyle Tomaich        Duluth Central

1998    Tom Berrisford        Duluth East

1997    Eric Goerdt        Cherry

1996    Jason Belich        Duluth Denfeld

1995    Matt Pfingsten        Duluth Central