Good news: Bears win second state title in a row

August 9, 2011

By Bob Taylor

Mark Gray has a knack for being associated with championship teams. After all, he starred on title teams in football and baseball during his Issaquah High School days.

Mark Gray (right), Bears coach, sends baserunner Nate Gibson home for a run on a teammate’s single during a game July 10. By Jim Boyle

The past two summers, he has also been head coach of the Field of Champions Bears baseball team, which has accomplished a rarity for local teams in recent years. The Bears have won two state championships in a row.

This summer, the Bears captured the Mickey Mantle 15U state title. Basically, the same group won the 14U state Sandy Koufax championship the previous summer.

“They are a great bunch of kids,” Gray said.

The team is mostly Issaquah and Skyline high school players. The Bears went 19-2 in league action this summer and posted a 4-1 record at the state tournament. In the championship game, the Bears defeated the Puget Sound Shockers, 8-0, at Redmond’s Hartman Park.

“The Shockers had beaten us three times this season. I guess the fourth time was the charm,” Gray said.

Outfielder Mitchell Morimoto, who played on Issaquah High’s varsity team last spring as a freshman, was selected as the state tournament’s most valuable player. Outfielder Derek Chapman and outfielder-pitcher Tommy Medawar, of Issaquah; and pitcher-first baseman Drew Lunde, outfielder Bradley Hoss and pitcher Nate Gibson, of Skyline, were selected to the tournament all-star team with Morimoto.

“Morimoto had a great tournament and Gibson was just dominating on the mound,” Gray said.

While the Bears had strong pitching at state, they also hit the ball with authority. In one game, the Bears hit five home runs.

“We had a strong lineup. One through nine, every one of the kids could hit,” Gray said.

Although the Bears qualified for the 15U Mickey Mantle World Series, the club elected not to participate in the tournament.

“We felt they had played enough baseball this year, and it was time for them to get ready for football season,” Gray said.

Rounding out the Bears team were infielder Diego Graterol, infielder-pitcher Jason Santiago and pitcher-outfielder Ryan Wilson, of Skyline; second baseman Keegan Chaplin, shortstop Jack Gellatly and outfielder-pitcher Ryan Peart, of Issaquah; and catcher Scott Cohen and third baseman Hayden Meier, of Eastside Catholic High School.

“It’s been fun to watch the team come together the last two years,” Gray said.

Based on its success of a year ago, the Bears entered this summer with a ton of confidence.

“They had a little more moxie this year. They went out and played real hard in every game. They felt no one could beat them,” Gray said. “They always found ways to win baseball games. They went out and played the game the right way.”

Gray and assistant George Fletcher, also an Issaquah graduate, learned how to play the game under longtime Issaquah High head coach Rob Reese. Both were starters on 3A state championship teams. Gray played on the 1984 title team, and Fletcher was a pitcher on the 2000 championship squad.

One of the highlights of the season for the Bears was playing in a 16U tournament during the NCAA College World Series in Omaha, Neb. Although the Bears played against a higher age bracket, the team finished second.

“That was a cool experience for those kids,” Gray said.

While Gray said he knew the Bears would be successful this summer, he pointed out “they have really exceeded all my expectations. They played even better than I thought.”

Gray said he is anxious to see how the members of this team perform next spring in high-school ball.

“I think most of them will be playing varsity,” he said. “The one thing their coaches will be getting is kids who know how to play the game and know how to win.”

Gray plans to coach a 16U team next summer. He hopes to keep most of the team intact. However, he said he realizes that some players will opt to play for the Lakeside Recovery American Legion program or some other select team.

“No matter where they go, I will always remember this season,” Gray said. “I’ve been around baseball a long time, and this was my favorite season.”

Bob Taylor: 392-6434, ext. 236, or bobtaylor@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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