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Tuesday, May 1, 2007 - Page updated at 02:02 AM

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Three skyscraping pitchers key Skyline's hopes

Seattle Times staff reporter

SAMMAMISH — In what might have been his last home start on Monday, with at least a dozen major-league scouts watching his every move and their radar guns clocking every pitch, all Julian Sampson did was no-hit No. 6 Bellevue, the conference's best offense.

Perhaps it is a measure of the exacting stratosphere into which he now appears launched that afterwards, the Skyline senior shrugged and said his fastball felt a little wild.

"I really didn't notice I had a no-hitter," said Sampson, after completing his post-game chore: sweeping up and reshaping the mound. "I just wanted to win."

Sampson is generally regarded as one of the two best right-handed prep pitchers in the state, with Greg Peavey of Hudson's Bay High School in Vancouver. All season, Sampson has been showing why.

Sampson throws three pitches consistently for strikes, a changeup, a slider and a low-90s fastball with late movement. Among his other attributes: good poise, sound mechanics and a solid 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame.

After Monday's 12-1 win — Bellevue's run was unearned — Sampson maintained his lead in all the key KingCo 3A pitching categories: wins (6), earned-run average (0.72), strikeouts (41) and complete games (5).

Scouting services list him among the top 100 college or high-school prospects in the country, making him a likely high draft pick. If the pros don't work out this year, Sampson has committed to pitch for the University of Washington.

"This is a huge spring for me," Sampson said last week before a practice. "I really wanted to prove I was the No. 1 player in the state. I feel I've been pretty successful so far."

Still, with the KingCo 3A tournament starting next week, for Skyline to make a successful postseason run, the Spartans need strong performances from two other towering pitchers.

Sophomore Jared Lemke (also 6 feet 5) is Skyline's No. 2 starter, and 6-4 senior Nick Hemphill could be counted on first in relief situations.

Big things are expected, this season and beyond, from Lemke (3-1, 2.00 ERA), who made varsity as a freshman. Lemke, who has made four straight solid starts, has the potential to pitch in college, said Skyline coach Chris Tamminen. He needs to commit to working out in the offseason and find a third pitch to complement his fastball and curve, Tamminen says.

Hemphill, who played against Sampson in junior high all-star games, is a ground-ball pitcher who misplaced his control and his confidence in midseason. Hemphill says both are back.

"For sure, those two are going to be contributors down the stretch," Tamminen said. "We're going to need them."

Skyline's other strengths include senior leadership (eight are on varsity) and stout defense up the middle by shortstop Brad Decater and second baseman Travis Brittingham.

The top two seeds from KingCo advance to state, with the third seed playing a winner-to-state, loser-out game against a Metro League team. KingCo has produced five of the last seven 3A state champions.

The key to surviving that kind of competition is Sampson.

Tamminen says Sampson's mental prowess sets him apart. Pressure-proof poise was evident even in Sampson's first varsity appearance as a freshman against Issaquah, a quality program stocked with good hitters.

"He had situations where as a freshman, normally, you would be freaking out," Tamminen recalled. "And he just said, 'Give me the ball and I'm going to challenge them.' From that game, I knew he was going to be something special."

Sampson has rebounded from a potentially disastrous start in the 2005 Class 4A state-title game (Skyline temporarily moved up a classification that year). As a sophomore, he gave up a two-run home run against Richland that was the difference in the 2-1 loss.

"He knows how to settle back down when he's in trouble. He has the maturity between the ears," Tamminen said. "As far as expectations for him, the sky's the limit."

Michael Ko: 206-515-5653 or mko@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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