Coaches can say with absolute confidence the next three weeks will be a gauntlet for their baseball teams in the 4A Greater St. Helens League.
That’s just about the only sure thing in what figures to be another close race between Battle Ground, Camas, Skyview and Union.
A schedule that started this week and goes through the end of April will determine which three teams earn playoff berths. In a different format than the condensed 2021 spring season that combined the 4A and 3A GSHL into one league, each of the four 4A teams will play a weekly three-games series against one another.
“I think after three weeks it’s going to be a grind,” said Rob Vance, Union’s first-year head coach. “It’s a short three weeks, but holy smokes, you’re playing each team three times each week. You just kind of go, ‘All right, better get ready for next week.’ I really like (the format). I think it’s going to show which are the three best teams, that’s for sure.”
How the league standings look a few weeks from now could easily be determined by back-and-forth games like this week’s series openers.
On Thursday, Camas and Battle Ground, currently sitting No. 1 and 2 in the statewide 4A RPI rankings, went to extra innings before Battle Ground closed out a 7-6 win in the ninth.
The Tigers rallied to score five unanswered runs in the seventh. Jackson Hotchkiss hit a two-run double down the right field line, then stole home with the bases loaded to give Battle Ground a 5-4 lead.
Holt Williams hit an RBI double for Camas to force extra innings. The Tigers, once trailing 4-0, took the lead for good in the ninth on a passed ball and Josh Baldwin RBI single.
The night before, Skyview appeared to be in control through four shut-out innings against Union. The Titans then swung momentum during a five-run fifth inning
“Across the board in our league, all four teams are very similar. I think it’s going to come down to one big play or one big hit, and that’s kind of how it was (Wednesday),” Skyview coach Seth Johnson said after the series opener.
“Every game is going to be a big game, going to be a close game. All four teams are competitive. All four teams can have the ability to win state playoff games. I think it’s going to be fun, and that’s how it should be.”
Skyview, meanwhile, is currently No. 6 in the state 4A RPI rankings and has the most decorated postseason résumé of the four teams in recent memory.
The Storm completed a 17-0 campaign last season by winning the 4A/3A GSHL tournament (no state playoffs were held due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Prior to that, Skyview reached three straight 4A state semifinals between 2017 and 2019, also finishing second in 2018.
Yet in a new season, the rankings and recent accolades mean little to the Storm.
“We don’t talk about those kind of things because we just want to play the game hard,” he said. “If we play the game hard and we throw strikes, we’re going to be in every game.
“I think teams in our league know we play the game a certain way, so they know when they come in and play us, that we’re not going to give up, we’re going to play hard, we’re going to play the game the right way.”
No. 14 Union is currently the lowest ranked team in the state RPI, though early signs are encouraging for Vance, who spent 20 years leading Concordia University’s baseball program and frequently recruited players from the GSHL.
Coming over to the high school game, Vance said one of his main concerns was not having enough pitching. The Titans have between seven and eight players who can step on the mound in any given situation. That should serve them well, particularly, in a three-game series format over the coming weeks.
“That makes me feel real good about our team,” Vance said. “We’ve got seven or eight guys that can pitch and I trust them all … I’m excited to see what we can do.”