Arlington senior Gavin Rork hits during batting practice on May 17, 2018, in Arlington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Arlington senior Gavin Rork hits during batting practice on May 17, 2018, in Arlington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Fleet-footed center fielder is Arlington’s tone-setter

Seattle University-bound senior Gavin Rork is the spark at the top of the Eagles’ potent lineup.

ARLINGTON — Leadoff hitter Gavin Rork is the lit fuse on the stick of dynamite that is the Arlington High School baseball team’s offense.

“He can dictate what happens throughout the game based off his first at-bat,” fellow senior Trevor Kazen said of Rork, who is batting .462 with a .550 on-base percentage this season, with the same number of runs scored as hits (36).

He’s the tone-setter for an offense that has averaged 8.2 runs per game this season, and the fleet-footed Rork will look to jump-start the 21-2 Eagles this Saturday, when, for the second consecutive year, Arlington will face Eastside Catholic in a 3A state tournament first-round game in Mount Vernon.

The Eagles beat the Crusaders 2-0 in last season’s matchup en route to an appearance in the quarterfinal round later that afternoon, where they lost to Edmonds-Woodway 8-7 in a 10-inning slugfest.

Arlington qualified for the 2018 state tournament in tense fashion, especially given its dominance over Wesco 3A this year.

After going undefeated against league foes throughout the regular season, the Eagles lost to Edmonds-Woodway in the semifinals of the district tournament, forcing them to win two elimination games to get to state.

In the second of those, the Eagles trailed Meadowdale 4-0 entering their final at-bat, but tied the game and won 5-4 in extra innings. Rork’s hard-hit ground ball led to an error that allowed the game-winning run to score.

“On almost any other kid, Meadowdale turns a double play there, but because of Gavin’s speed, he forces the kid to throw the ball over the first baseman’s head,” Arlington head coach Scott Striegel said.

Rork, who was one of the area’s best wrestlers during his high-school career and placed in the top four at Mat Classic three times, said the tension of that at-bat against Meadowdale paled against the nervous isolation he felt before both the state championship match he wrestled as a sophomore and a quarterfinal bout in 2017.

“I haven’t felt a lot of pressure with baseball. In the Meadowdale game I just said to myself, ‘I’m going to get one of these runs in,’” he said. “It was just another at-bat, and anything I need to do on a baseball field, I believe I can do it.”

“But before the state finals (at Mat Classic) my sophomore year, I’ve never been that nervous. Seeing just those six mats in that dome, and it’s all on me … dealing with that has really helped me.”

For the majority of his senior baseball season, Rork has played free and easy, but admittedly began pressing at the beginning of the postseason.

On the heels of a 7-for-7 performance at the plate in back-to-back wins over Stanwood to close the regular season, he slumped through Arlington’s district-opening win over Lynnwood and the semifinal loss to E-W.

“In those two games, I felt like I needed to get on, and I felt like I was trying to force things too much and not just playing the game,” he said. “Me and Striegel had a conversation, and he noticed I was playing a little bit differently, too. By the time the Meadowdale game came, I was back to playing loose and playing my game.”

For an athlete who has as many tools as Rork possesses — his Arlington teammates marvel at his bunting ability and he’s regarded as the best defensive center fielder in the league — it can be tempting to flash that ability all the time.

Over the course of his Arlington career, and with help from his club coaches at Laces Baseball Academy and Taylor Baseball, he has learned when to be aggressive and when to let the game come to him.

“I definitely love being aggressive on the basepaths, but when the game’s close, we don’t always need a guy on second,” he said. “If the pitcher’s got a good (pickoff) move and we have a good hitter at the plate, I just sit back, get a good secondary (lead) and try to create something that way.”

Rork is 21-for-23 on stolen base attempts in 23 games this season, but his speed is utilized just as often going first to third on hits by those behind him in the Eagles’ order — Michael Tsoukalas (.306 batting average), Jack Sheward (.409) and Owen Bishop (.324).

Striegel lauds Rork’s selflessness, recalling how in that Edmonds-Woodway loss in last year’s state quarterfinals, Rork laid down a perfect drag bunt, on his own, with the Eagles down two in the seventh inning.

“The guy behind him gets on base and the next guy doubles to score two and we go to extra innings,” the seventh-year coach said. “Very few high school kids do that on their own, with no sign, but he knew that’s what he needed to do for the team.”

Rork will continue his baseball career at Seattle University next season, choosing the Redhawks amid interest from Central Washington University and some junior college programs. He intends to major in business, but he might spend as much time in the weight room as anywhere else on the Capitol Hill campus.

He currently stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 155 pounds, admittedly undersized for a Division 1 outfielder, but Rork hasn’t been able to lift weights as freely as he wanted to during his high-school career because he had to wrestle at 132, 138, 145 and 152 pounds, respectively, each winter.

“Just being able to lift and eat, and not having to worry about cutting weight feels nice,” he said. “Since I hit left-handed but am right-hand dominant, I’m never going to hit many home runs, but even this spring, since I’ve been working out a lot, I’m seeing the ball pop off my bat a little bit more.”

If Rork bulks up to 170 or 175 pounds without losing the speed that Seattle head coach Donny Harrel and lead assistant Elliott Cribby raved about in a press release announcing his signing, the Redhawks might have unearthed a hidden gem.

“He can go play center field for most college teams right now,” Striegel said. “He’s been in the weight room a ton and I’m sure Seattle U will keep him on that track. He’ll continue to develop offensively. I truly believe the sky’s the limit for this kid.”

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