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La Jolla Athlete of the Week: Vikings baseball star Gavin Graff lets his arm and bat do the talking

La Jolla High School pitcher Gavin Graff this season hurled the Vikings' first complete-game no-hitter since 2008.
La Jolla High School pitcher Gavin Graff has carved out a 1.55 ERA so far this season and hurled the Vikings’ first complete-game no-hitter since 2008.
(Courtesy of Gavin Graff)

The La Jolla High School varsity baseball team achieved its first no-hitter in nearly 13 years on April 6 against San Dieguito High School Academy of Encinitas. Though long in coming, the feat probably should come as no surprise, considering how accomplished a pitcher Gavin Graff is.

“In the bullpen [before the game], I didn’t feel that great,” recalled Graff, a senior. “My fastball was all over the place and my curveball was flat. But when I got on the mound, everything changed. Everything was working.”

By the third inning, Graff started to realize he hadn’t given up any hits. He kept his fastballs low and outside and was able to keep the aggressive Mustangs batters off balance.

“Gavin was on his ‘A’ game,” Vikings head coach Gary Frank said. “He was aggressive in the strike zone and he got ahead of almost all the ... hitters, putting them in an immediate hole. He had all three pitches working.”

The complete-game no-hitter came just three days after Graff was named Most Valuable Player of the Vikings’ championship in the Lions Tournament over Easter weekend.

Graff, a self-described silent leader, is modest about his capabilities, despite his season record of 5-1 thus far, an earned-run average of 1.55, a fastball that clocks in around 80 mph, a razor-sharp curveball and a deceptive changeup. He also is unafraid to throw the ball where it could be hit.

Like many players before him, Graff’s first involvement in baseball was through Little League, in his case at age 4 in Texas.

“Baseball is my favorite sport all around,” he said. “It’s a team sport but a solo sport at the same time. Facing the batter or facing the pitcher with your team on the bench cheering for you is my favorite. There’s no other sport like it.”

Graff said he tries to emulate major-league pitchers Trevor Bauer and Max Scherzer.

“They can throw it anywhere,” he said. “Those guys are not afraid of the batter hitting it, so neither am I.”

That fearlessness on the field is something his pitching coach, Sean Rees, can attest to.

“You get him out on the mound and he doesn’t back down,” Rees said. “He’s quietly confident, but he shows what he means on the field. He holds himself well without being flashy.

“He’s the kind of guy you want on your team. He doesn’t say much; he just leads by example and gets the job done.”

When his parents moved the family to California, Graff quickly started friendships with many of the players who are on the Vikings with him today.

“I grew up with these guys since the Mustang division at La Jolla Youth Baseball,” Graff said. “We have a really good chemistry and bond. We all understand one another and get along really well.”

He credits that bond for his success with the Vikings. “My catcher, Cole [Duffy], has been catching for me since we were 12, so he already knows what pitches I’ll throw, depending on the counts,” he said. “That definitely helps. I’ve been playing with everyone on the team for what seems like forever. We’re really close friends.”

Gavin Graff has long been friends with many of the players who are on La Jolla High's varsity baseball team with him today.
Gavin Graff says he has long been friends with many of the players who are on La Jolla High’s varsity baseball team with him today.
(Courtesy of Gavin Graff)

Frank has known Graff since he first made the varsity team as a freshman. That season, Graff played every position except catcher.

“He isn’t the loudest guy on the team but ... is extremely well-respected by his peers,” Frank said.

Graff is as much a threat at bat as he is on the mound. As the fourth batter in La Jolla High’s lineup, he has a .447 average and a team-leading 16 runs batted in through last weekend.

After high school, Gavin is committed to Adelphi University in New York, where he plans to continue playing the sport he loves.

“I wanted to go and experience that part of the country, especially a place that has actual seasons, unlike here in San Diego,” Graff said. “I’m also a big fan of the coaches there, and the campus is really nice. The baseball field is right outside the dorms I would be staying at, so at least I won’t have to worry about being late.”

Rees said he sees nothing but potential for Graff in his college years.

“He definitely hasn’t plateaued yet,” he said. “He just keeps grinding and getting better. So long as he keeps pounding away at it, the sky’s the limit. The kid has such a high ceiling as far as potential.”

The Vikings, with a 14-2 record this season, are scheduled to host crosstown rival La Jolla Country Day (10-4) at 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 27, and play at Hoover of San Diego at 4 p.m. Thursday, April 29.

La Jolla Athlete of the Week features athletes from all sports in high school (La Jolla High, The Bishop’s School, La Jolla Country Day School) and other local youth sports. We’re looking not only for the stars of competition but also for student-athletes who set an example for teamwork, academic achievement and/or community involvement. Please email your nominations, and a way to reach your nominees, to Editor Rob Vardon at robert.vardon@lajollalight.com.