Steve calms Koko.

Dog and Pool Show

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This story appeared in the Daily News on 5/21/10

  A grand slam almost resulted from the best shot of Steve Markle's baseball life.

  Notice the qualifier . . .

  As much as Markle would have enjoyed a first-ever salami, it would have paled in comparison to the best shot of his overall life. And that's the case even though it's one he can do again and again.

  Markle is a 5-10, 145-pound, 18-year-old senior at Archbishop Ryan High and you soon might see him on ESPN. Playing pool.

  The artistic version (aka trick-shot) is his specialty and he has already turned pro. In fact, he already ranks No. 32 in the world - not in an age group, among everybody - and has made a decent chunk of change.

  Yesterday, playing leftfield and batting-throwing lefthanded, Markle went 2-for-3 with a booming three-run triple to right and a run-scoring single to left-center, thus accounting for all of the scoring, as the Raiders bested visiting North Catholic, 4-0, on the final day of the Catholic Red regular season.

  Ryan (10-4) finished second and earned a first-round playoff bye. The loss dropped the 5-9 Falcons to seventh place - the top six make the playoffs - and thus signaled the end of the baseball program's history. The school will close next month.

  Erik Crudele sent a groundball single to center to start the game against senior lefty Kevin Mack, but North managed no more hits through six innings. Brendan Bradley crunched a double to right-center to open the seventh. Eli Rodriguez popped out foul to Mack on the first-base side, Luis Rodriguez scalded a groundball single to center, with Bradley stopping at third, and Nick DiMascia grounded into a 6-4-3 doubleplay, Eric Frain to Sean Kovacs to John Rizzo.

  Several Falcons - the team was supported by maybe 30 spectators, with about 10 students among them - immediately put their heads in their hands. Soon, they all would trudge, pretty much separately, toward the parking lot.

  The losing pitcher was star senior righthander Ryan Etsell, the son of first-year coach Jeff Etsell. In 1977, he pitched the Falcons to the Catholic League championship and City Title.

  As he packed away equipment, with a vacant look in his eyes, the elder Etsell said, "This loss hurts . . . To see North closing hurts . . . I'm really speechless."

  Listening to Markle probably would have eased the pain. Especially if they'd heard him describe his coolest trick shot.

  It involves his dog, Koko.

  "He hops up on the table, then stays perfectly still," Markle said. "I'm at one end of the table, he's in the middle and there's a ball at the other end, near the pocket.

  "I hit the cue ball up over him, and then it hits  


Koko's in position . . . Up and over.
(This trick described in story.)

the other ball, and that one goes in."

  He continued. "I started working on that one maybe a year ago. It took a while because Koko would flinch. Now he stays perfectly still. I can make that one real consistently. It's not my hardest shot, but it's the one people remember. It's kinda crazy."

  Markle said his fascination with trick-shot pool began at age 13 in the house of Bensalem neighbor Jordan Johnson. Eventually, Jordan became disinterested and Markle (his full name is Steven Andrew Markle and his family calls him "Sam" - others favor "Cue Ball" - check out his website at www.stevemarklepool.com) convinced his dad to reconfigure the basement so a table would fit.

  Soon, he was darn near making shots from the kitchen. He turned pro at 16 and 2 months ago took a major step, making the playoff round in a major tournament held in Valley Forge.

  "I was so psyched up for that," he said. "The other guys were used to being there. Not me. I was more into it than them. I finished 11th overall. The guy who beat me, Tom Rossman, is someone you could see on ESPN."

  Markle, also one of Ryan's starters, said shooting pool best compares with . . .

  "Pitching. Because if you do something wrong, it takes a lot of adjustments. You're constantly adjusting. Trying to be sure to do it right."

  Ryan loaded the bases in the fourth on Kovacs' infield single, Mack's bunt single and a pitch that drilled catcher Colin Budny. Markle's blast cleared DiMascia's head by a lot.

  "It was right down the middle, but a little bit inside. That's my spot, right there," Markle said. "I put a good jump on it. As I was rounding second, I was making some noises I've never made before. All I was thinking was grand slam.

  "I wanted to run through [coach Ron Gerhart's] stop sign. If they'd made the relay, I would have been dead out. Good call on coach Gerhart's part."

  In the sixth, Frain sent a groundball double down the rightfield line and scored two outs later on Markle's hit.

  "When I struck out my first time up, I wasn't confident with two strikes," Markle said. "But I got that first hit with two strikes and when I had two strikes that last time, I had a feel for it. I choked up. Wasn't trying for anything special. Just put the bat on it."

  Mack struck out eight and walked one in his three-hitter. The slim, smooth Etsell, a Marshall signee who stands 6-5, reached 87 on a college coach's radar gun. He allowed eight hits and fanned seven. The last hit against him was Markle's RBI single.

  Markle's next stop will be Bucks County Community and he hopes to someday play for Temple. And, yes, he's intending to become quite the artistic pool force.

  "A lot of baseball and pool. That's what my life's all about," he said.

  Koko would bark to that.