The state quarterfinals have been Columbia River baseball’s biggest hurdle in the past decade. In five of the past eight seasons, the Chieftains have lost in the regional final.
Often the second game of the regional round comes down to rotation depth. Your ace can only get you so far. In those five defeats in the state quarterfinals, the Chieftains allowed eight runs per game. In the same five years, the Chieftains allowed 2.4 runs per game en route to victories in the first round, held the same day.
This year’s Columbia River rotation has the talent to change that. Led by reigning 2A Greater St. Helens League Pitcher of the Year, Nick Alder, the Chieftains not only have the top-end talent, they have the depth too.
Alder, a junior, posted a sub-1.00 ERA in leading Columbia River to a league title last season.
“I like having a target on my back, having the challenge of a guy stepping into the box knowing ‘This guy is the pitcher of the year and I want to come after him,'” Alder said. “Having that challenge has driven me this season.”
Sophomore Sam Boyle is a wiry, long-haired, Washington commit with a high-80s fastball and a nasty breaking ball that comes in 10-15 mph slower but looks the same off his hand.
“I don’t have to worry about the recruiting side anymore,” Boyle said of his verbal commitment last summer. “Now I can just play every day and try to get better to help our team.”
Junior Sawyer Parkin, who couldn’t pitch last year as he recovered from injury, returns to the hill this season to bolster the staff.
“He’s throwing really well right now,” Boyle said. “He has a good slider and a good fastball mix.”
It’s also a staff built to last, as the trio will return next season, along with most of the Chieftain squad, which is loaded with juniors.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Alder said after an early March practice before sports were put on hold due to coronavirus concerns. “River has a history of that Elite 8 round being pretty tough. It’s exciting to know we have each other’s backs and if something goes wrong with one guy, we have another right there for us.”
The end goal, if sports return this season, is a final four appearance. It would be River’s first trip to the semifinals since 2010 and first at Class 2A. The Chieftains won state titles in 1984 and 1989.
“I definitely think this group has the talent for it,” Alder said. “Most of these guys know what that round of eight feels like. To be there and lose is a bitter taste. Nobody wants to go through that.”