The Vikings were stocked with high-caliber players. The surprise would be which one might be chosen.
Eventually, senior Anthony Blackie's play separated him from his teammates and a field of other outstanding candidates. His dominance as a pitcher, emergence as a feared hitter and his leadership as a co-captain on team that made the 4A state quarterfinals earned Blackie The Herald's Baseball Player of the Year.
He finished the season with a .448 batting average, 27 RBI and five doubles. As a pitcher, he was 4-0 with a 2.52 ERA in 412/3 innings pitched and also struck out a team-high 62 batters.
Blackie's mound success was somewhat to be expected. You'd seen that in past seasons. His success at the plate was another story.
"I hit the ball a lot better than I expected to," said Blackie, who doesn't know if he will do much hitting at the next level. After graduation, Blackie will attend Everett Community College, where he will pitch for the Trojans.
"I like to hit, but for summer ball I don't really hit that much, so it was fun to go out there and be able to swing it for probably like one more last time."
Lake Stevens head coach Rodger Anderson had high expectations for Blackie this season -- as a pitcher. Blackie's hitting prowess took the coach by surprise.
"I didn't expect him to have that good of a year at the plate," Anderson said of his pitcher-first baseman. "We kind of expected in pitching that he would be dominant at times and maybe struggle with control at times. That was my big fear, but he always seemed to get out of jams.
"But the season that he had at the plate and just the all-around success with the number of hits, high average, the clutch hits -- he came through in the clutch many times."
As important as Blackie's on-field accomplishments was his leadership, Anderson said. Anderson noticed it the first Saturday of the season when the team had a parent meeting and an inter-squad game. While the coaches were in a room with the parents talking, the players were off by themselves warming up. The coaches got out of their parent meeting later than had been planned and were pleasantly surprised when they got to the field.
"There was a full-blown practice being run," Anderson said. "We stood there and we just kind of looked at each other like, 'wow, this is amazing.' They are running drills and it was sharp and on the money and there were no coaches out there. And it was Anthony who did it.
"I think especially Anthony -- he relished that role as a leader."
Then there was a practice early in the season where Blackie thought the team wasn't being serious enough and he decided it was time to say something.
"The first couple practices we were kind of joking around, so I just kind of decided that I'm done with this, I'm not having another year like last year," Blackie said. "I jumped on the guys. Everybody gave me (grief) after that. But I think at the beginning of the season I really set the tone by getting on everybody and making sure that they know that this is going to be a serious year."
While teammates razzed Blackie a bit for playing the role of disciplinarian, it worked.
"They made fun of him, but they worked a lot harder," said highly-recruited co-captain Dylan Lavelle. "If he didn't do that this year would have been a lot different."
Whether it was with his leadership, his pitching, or his hitting, Blackie emerged from under Lavelle's shadow this season.
"For my whole career, I felt like having Dylan there was kind of like having someone overshadowing me," Blackie said. "At the same time it's a good thing for me. … When you have somebody like Dylan Lavelle on the team, you have scouts at every game and you just have to show up and perform. He doesn't get to see a lot of pitches, so you really need to produce in order for the team to produce."
Blackie produced in a big way for Lake Stevens -- and he didn't miss a beat when Lavelle returned from an early season injury.
With both players at full-strength, the Vikings lineup was even more potent. Teams were still scared to pitch to Lavelle, giving Blackie more opportunities hitting behind him in the batting order. In a midseason game at home against Marysville Pilchuck, the Tomahawks chose to walk Lavelle and pitch to Blackie, who made MP pay by delivering a walk-off RBI single to center field.
Blackie and Lavelle are close friends with mutual respect for the talent each possesses. But Blackie admits that he gets a chip on his shoulder when teams walk Lavelle and choose to pitch to him.
"I was a little bit angry," Blackie said of the MP game. "I'm not the best hitter. I'm not going to say that I'm a hitter, because I'm not. But I will always do my job, every time I will always do my job and that game was a perfect example. ... The infield is in; I'm not going to hit a ground ball right to somebody, that's not my job. My job is either get something through or hit something hard on the ground that finds a hole -- and that's what happened (against Marysville)."
Lavelle also took issue with in the logic of walking him to pitch to Blackie.
"I look at is as stupid," Lavelle said. "I always know Blackie is going to clutch-up and get me in. Especially when they walked me to get to Blackie at the Marysville game, I was like, 'We got this game in the bag. It's over. Blackie is going to win it.'
"I always look at it as a sign of respect for me and I know Blackie takes it with a chip on his shoulder. So when he gets that fastball to hit, he's not missing."
Anderson said when the opponents walk Lavelle to get to Blackie he has to hide his excitement.
"I try not to smile," Anderson said. "I'm feeling pretty good about our chances when that happens."
Blackie's leadership and field skills helped the Vikings finish the regular season with just one loss, win the District 1 championship and advance to state. Lake Stevens' first-round opponent at state was Skyview, whose football defeated the Vikings 38-14 in the 4A state football semifinals.
This time the Vikings got their revenge. The winning pitcher was Blackie, who was also an honorable mention All-Wesco defensive lineman on the football team.
"When we went out and played Skyview, we played with a chip on our shoulder," Blackie said. "There was not a chance in the world we were going to lose to them. It was not going to happen. I refused."
After jumping out to an early lead, the Vikings needed extra innings to defeat Skyview. In the bottom of the eighth, Blackie delivered the knockout blow -- with a bunt.
Although Blackie started the game on the mound, he was pulled in the fifth inning for a reliever.
"I didn't want to come out," Blackie said "I was (ticked). He (Anderson) was trying to take me out. I was trying to think of the deepest thing I could say to get him to keep me in the game. I was getting tired, I've got to be honest, but I felt like I could have gone longer."
The Vikings dream of a state championship ended in the quarterfinals with a 10-6 loss to Puyallup.
Lavelle said watching Blackie succeed this year was special.
"I'm happy for him," Lavelle said. "I'm glad he had the season he had. When I got hurt early in the season, I was disappointed in myself because I thought I let the team down. And he stepped up, (put) the team basically on his shoulders and he carried it.
"It shows with the season he had. He led it all -- he was the leader. When I came back, having me and him back in the three and four spots, we just destroyed teams up until the last game. I always knew he could do it and this year it just clicked."
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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