Prep sports in full bloom in spring sun

Four contests, four sports in four locations make for one busy day

By Micah Rice, Columbian Sports Editor

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Mother Nature finally said “play ball.”

After nearly two weeks of rain, the spring high school sports season bloomed Wednesday under the sun.

With every sport in action for the first time this season, I went on a quest.

The goal was to visit four contests involving four sports at four locations. Over four hours, I zigzagged 75 miles across Clark County.

In starting with a splash, I got my feet wet in the new season and soaked up the atmosphere. Sorry, my vocabulary is as waterlogged as many local baseball diamonds after last weekend’s downpours.

The journey started at the Prairie High School tennis courts. Having graduated 14 seniors last year, few programs appreciate the renewal of spring more than the Falcons tennis team.

Twenty new players, many playing their first competitive match, suited up for the junior varsity and C teams against Union.

Before the matches began, Prairie coaches urged new players to watch those who had been on the team last year. Remember to call out the score before serving, they said.

Before long, the air was filled with the twang of tennis racquets and the ping of balls hitting the chain link fence surrounding the courts.

The mood was relaxed and encouraging.

“It has been a week and a half of practicing indoors,” Prairie C-team coach Weston Linquist said. “They’re all excited to get out and play.”

The intensity was ramped up at my second stop. At Union High School’s baseball field, the Titans hosted Mountain View in the 4A Greater St. Helens League opener for both teams.

The seven teams in the 4A GSHL each play 18 league games, which means the title hunt begins as soon as the season does.

With the aluminum bleachers full, men stood with arms folded and discussed the nuances of the game. Students milled near the dugouts, their attention split between the action on the diamond and the gossip of the day.

Union, the defending league champ, is trying to replace 4A GSHL MVP Cody Hawken and three other first-team all-league players who graduated.

Mountain View might have this year’s MVP in Oregon State-bound Preston Jones. Wednesday, the Thunder made a strong pitch by toppling the Titans 9-1.

After watching Mountain View score four runs in the third inning, I headed off to my next stop.

My original plan was to visit a softball game between Skyview and Columbia River. But the fields at the VGSA complex needed another day to dry out, so that game was postponed.

Instead, I headed north to Woodland. The new high school’s softball and baseball facilities, with their advanced drainage ability, hosted their first contests Wednesday.

But La Center’s softball team rained hits on the party, beating Woodland 15-0. Returning Trico League MVP Abby England went 3-for-4 with a home run and struck out 10.

Paige Stinson, who went 3-for-4 with 5 RBI, smiled widely when asked how it felt to finally play outdoors.

“We’ve only had one outdoor practice all year,” she said. “During warmups we spent almost the whole time taking ground balls.”

As night fell, my journey ended with one sport that is played whether the sun shines or not.

I arrived at Kiggins Bowl just before the Columbia River and Ridgefield boys soccer teams finished a scoreless draw.

But Evergreen, which played Hudson’s Bay in the second of two matches at Kiggins, wasted no time scoring. Estacio Coronel scored from close range just 40 seconds into the match. The junior assisted on Evergreen’s second goal 10 minutes later and Evergreen was on its way to a 3-0 win.

As applause echoed off the concrete bleachers behind him, Evergreen coach Keenan Burris offered ample instructions to players both in the game and on the bench. Both teams substituted frequently.

After all, for Clark County high school teams, Wednesday was all about getting into the game.

And after this whirlwind tour, I’m looking forward to getting up to speed with the spring sports season.

Micah Rice is The Columbian’s Sports Editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, micah.rice@columbian.com or on Twitter @col_mrice.