Up until about four years ago, Sam Boyle didn’t consider himself a pitcher.
“It was funny,” the Columbia River senior said. “I was a hitter my whole life, and I sucked at pitching. I couldn’t throw a strike.”
But then something clicked the summer of 2018 when he was playing summer baseball with Futures Oregon.
“I always threw hard, and I was a lefty,” Boyle said. “When I would get pitches in the zone, I would be really good. No one would hit me. But the thing was getting into the zone. It wasn’t until I was 14 when I went into a really bad (hitting) slump, I knew I needed to do something to help the team. So I finally kind of figured out pitching.”
Since then, he’s done more than figure it out.
Last fall, he signed a letter of intent to play for the University of Washington. This spring, Boyle went 10-0 with 0.56 ERA and 119 strikeouts in 62 innings, leading Columbia River to the 2A title game.
For all that, Boyle has been selected as The Columbian’s All-Region baseball player of the year.
“He had the best pitching season I’ve personally seen in my 17 years coaching high school baseball,” River baseball coach Stephen Donohue said of Boyle. “Winning 10 games in a high school season is incredible. He was dominant from his first start of the season to his last start in the state semifinals.”
Once Boyle made the adjustment to pitching, it didn’t take people long to notice.
The University of Washington contacted Boyle after his freshman season at River. After summer ball concluded that year, the Huskies made their offer, and Boyle accepted that fall.
“I always wanted to go to Washington really my whole life, so I knew it was the right choice,” Boyle said.
Boyle said he added a changeup to his repertoire his sophomore year, and then developed a slider as a junior. But the biggest change was being able to throw all his pitches for strikes. He walked just seven batters in 62 innings this spring.
“When I was a freshman, I was still effectively wild,” Boyle said. “But then each year, I kept getting better. … It was really a point of pride, being able to throw strikes. It made pitching easier. It’s kind of funny, like it makes senses that when you throw strikes it makes pitching easier. Like, who would have thought?”
Few would have thought that a relatively young River squad would capture the 2A Greater St. Helens League title, beat Tumwater for the 2A district title, then reach the state title game with a 1-0 semifinal win over Ellensburg behind a complete-game effort from Boyle.
The Rapids’ title dreams fell short in a 1-0 loss to Tumwater in the state championship game at Yakima.
“We were kind of sad, but we all knew we had a really good season,” Boyle said. “We had a fun run to get to that title game, so the bus ride home was kind of lighthearted. We kind of joked the whole way home.”
Donohue said: “The best part about Sam is that he brings a fun energy and presence to the field every day and is someone that his teammates love to have in the dugout.”
That’s what Boyle will remember most about his time on the Columbia River baseball team.
“The things I’ll remember most about my four years at River are the relationships I made,” Boyle said. “Obviously, winning in baseball is important, but you don’t get to do that unless you trust your teammates. So, building those bonds became so rewarding, not just on the field, but away from baseball, too.
“It was always fun because every day I’d wake up and want to come to the ballpark, joke around with my teammates.”
Rest of the All-Region team
Brendan Bowyer, Skyview
The sophomore was the 4A GSHL pitcher of the year, posting an 0.77 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 27 innings.
Carter Gaston, Kelso
The senior pitcher was 5-2 with a 1.27 ERA with 76 strikeouts in 44 innings pitched for the Hilanders.
Makani Geisen, King’s Way Christian
The Trico player of the year was 8-0 with 0.95 ERA with 88 strikeouts in 59 innings. And the sophomore batted .427.
Drew Hancock, Camas
The senior shortstop had a .395 on-base percentage and was the 4A GSHL co-player of the year for the league champions.
Zach Hauser, Battle Ground
The University of Utah-bound pitcher was 4-1 with an 0.59 ERA with 58 strikeouts in 35.2 innings this season.
Tyler Howard, Skyview
The University of Portland-bound catcher was the 4A GSHL co-player of the year, batting .316, with four doubles, three triples and 14 RBI.
Chris Parkin, Columbia River
The sophomore was the 2A GSHL player of the year, batting .512 with 31 RBI and 19 stolen bases.
Jayden Rippelmeyer, Mountain View
The senior was the 3A GSHL player of the year, going 6-2 with a 1.78 ERA and 68 strikeouts and had a .500 on-base percentage at the plate.
Nikki Scott, Heritage
The St. Martin’s-bound senior was a standout pitcher and infielder and a first-team 3A GSHL selection for the Timberwolves.
Casey Struckmeier, Columbia River
The Linfield-bound senior batted .316 with 24 hits and 24 RBI and posted a 1.76 ERA with 47 strikeouts on the mound.
Reece Walling, Prairie
The Washington State-bound senior had four home runs and 16 RBI with a .375 batting average and a .507 on-base percentage.