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News / Sports / Prep Sports

All-Region baseball: James Gill, Battle Ground

Sophomore dual-threat pitcher, cleanup hitter rose to the occasion in big games

By Will Denner, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 22, 2024, 6:05am
6 Photos
Battle Ground's James Gill III delivers a pitch during a season-opening, non-league baseball game against Ridgefield on Friday, March 8, 2024, at Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex.
Battle Ground's James Gill III delivers a pitch during a season-opening, non-league baseball game against Ridgefield on Friday, March 8, 2024, at Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex. (Will Denner/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Pressure isn’t a word in James Gill’s vocabulary.

When the Battle Ground sophomore left-handed pitcher took the mound for the Tigers’ opening game of the Class 4A bi-district playoffs against Graham-Kapowsin, he was unfazed by the stakes of a win-or-go-home game.

Gill played with confidence, pitching all seven innings of a 3-2 win while hitting a game-tying home run in the sixth. It was the first of three consecutive wins for Battle Ground at bi-districts as the program clinched its first state playoff berth since 2017.

“I’ve had a lot of big games, but that was just another challenge in my road,” Gill said.

On the mound and at the plate, Battle Ground coaches and players became accustomed to those performances from their standout sophomore. Gill, The Columbian’s All-Region baseball player of the year, emerged as an elite arm in the state and took over as a key hitter in the Tigers’ lineup.

In 53 innings pitched, Gill posted a 1.05 earned-run average with 81 strikeouts, 10 runs allowed and a .124 batting average against. He also compiled a 7-1 record — the lone loss coming in the Tigers’ 9-1, season-ending defeat to North Creek May 18 in the 4A state regionals. At the plate, Gill hit .400 with three home runs, seven doubles, one triple and 27 RBI.

“It’s rare for someone his age, and it’s just how he’s been all year,” Battle Ground coach Seth Johnson said. “How he performed in all three of those (bi-district) playoff games is exactly how he’s performed all year. That’s who he is. He rises to the occasion. From the very first time that I got to see him last summer, you could tell that he’s very, very special.”

Johnson, Battle Ground’s first-year coach, watched Gill’s Portland Babe Ruth team rally for an 8-7 win in the Pacific Northwest Babe Ruth 13-15 Regional championship game last June. It took all of one at-bat and one inning, according to Johnson, to see Gill was the real deal.

That Portland team went on to win the Babe Ruth 13-15 World Series championship in Jamestown, N.Y., last August, and Gill — named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player — came on the mound in the seventh inning to earn the save for a 6-4 win over Norwalk, Conn.

“That was a great experience, especially going all the way to New York and just being with my team, it was great,” Gill said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better. That was just one experience I’m always going to remember.”

Coming off of a memorable summer, Gill entered his sophomore year at Battle Ground wanting to make a bigger name for himself while continuing to strengthen his arm and throw harder on the mound. The Tigers, meanwhile, aimed to improve from a 2023 season in which they finished last in the 4A Greater St. Helens League and missed the postseason.

This spring, everything came together for the Tigers at the right time. Players built a close bond and responded well to a new coaching staff led by Johnson. And, their talent was evident throughout the roster, led by the likes of Gill and senior Jackson Hotchkiss, one of the top-ranked Washington players in the class of 2024 who often drew professional scouts to Battle Ground games this spring.

“Playing with Jack, I’m thankful that I get to play with him, because as the scouts come out (to see him), it gets my name out there even more,” Gill said. “I’m thankful for that, and everyone else just making me look good whenever I pitch (with) great defense.”

When more eyes are on the Tigers, “I just play my game and don’t think about it too much,” Gill said. “I’m always known to think about stuff too much and not do the best. But I’ve gotten better.”

Gill was tabbed by 4A GSHL coaches as the league’s player of the year for his dual-threat ability on the mound and at the plate. He’s had plenty of big strikeouts and timely hits, though when it comes to choosing which of the two is more exciting, Gill’s decision is an easy one.

“Most definitely (a) strikeout,” Gill said. “I like the feeling after I do that because I know that I’m a big arm. … Me throwing and I get a big strikeout, it’s something special.”

Battle Ground went into the last day of the regular season with a chance to clinch a share of the league title, but those hopes were dashed when the Tigers suffered a 6-3 loss to Union and settled for the league’s No. 2 seed entering the bi-district playoffs. Though players were disappointed, the result also taught them a valuable lesson, according to Gill.

“After that, it was just like a reality check,” he said. “Everything’s not given to you, and you gotta go into the next thing prepared, ready to go and come in as hard as you can. Just go and not back down.”

Fueled by that loss, Battle Ground posted three crucial wins the following week against Graham-Kapowsin, Decatur and Kentwood. In the latter game May 11, Gill tossed four perfect innings in relief, allowing the Tigers to earn a walk-off, 5-4 win in extra innings to clinch a state berth.

“I’m always pretty confident … and even if I don’t feel the most confident I don’t show it and just throw my best,” Gill said. “Even when my arm is not the best, I still go into it confident and ready to go.”

Though the Tigers’ season came to an end the following week in the round of 16 at state, their season was a resounding success, Gill believes. In particular, the postseason run was an important two weeks for returning players who will go into next season with more experience playing in high-stakes games. That’s a scary proposition for opponents facing Gill, who already has plenty of big games under his belt halfway through high school.

“He’s special. He’s one of the most talented players I’ve ever coached,” Johnson said.

Rest of the All-Region Team

Jackson Hotchkiss, Battle Ground: Highly-ranked 2024 prospect, a rangy outfielder with elite speed and power, hit .397 with three home runs, four doubles, three triples and 19 RBI. Committed to Washington.

Andrew Miller, Camas: Multi-threat player was 4A GSHL co-pitcher of the year, cleanup hitter and played shortstop for league champion, 4A state-qualifying Papermakers. Senior went 8-1 in 49 innings pitched with 43 strikeouts, 12 walks, .196 batting average against. Batted .304 with a team-high 24 hits.

Bryce Collins, Kelso: Sophomore was named 3A GSHL player of the year, helping the Hilanders advance to the 3A state tournament and win 3A GSHL title.

Chris Parkin, Columbia River: Three-time All-Region pick helped Rapids reach 2A state final four. Senior shortstop hit .411 with .545 on-base percentage, .603 slugging percentage, nine doubles and 16 RBI. Committed to Arizona Central College.

Caden Spanier, Skyview: Senior earned 4A GSHL co-pitcher of the year honors, helping lead Storm to 4A bi-district playoffs. Committed to Lower Columbia College.

Dossen Morrow, Mark Morris: Four-year starter earned 2A GSHL POY honors as versatile player and powerful hitter. Batted .471 with 24 hits (five home runs) and 27 RBI.

Nate Merrit, Prairie: Senior left-handed pitcher and infielder powered the Falcons to a second-place finish in the 3A GSHL and a berth in the 3A bi-district tournament. Hit .471 with three home runs, 11 doubles, 28 RBI and a .519 on-base percentage. Yakima Valley College commit.

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Liam Ostrom, Ridgefield: Junior first baseman was big part of potent Spudders lineup that won 2A GSHL title and reached the 2A state round of 16. Hit .378 with two home runs, six doubles, 22 RBI and a .485 on-base percentage.

Kolten Gesser, Seton Catholic: Sophomore 1A Trico pitcher of the year posted a 0.67 ERA and helped the up-and-coming Cougars reach 1A state quarterfinals.

Justin Fuller, La Center: Junior Oregon State commit hit a team-high .395 with 17 RBI, two doubles, three triples, 27 runs and 19 stolen bases. Provided bullpen depth with 25 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings pitched as the Wildcats won Trico League title, reached 1A state quarterfinals.

Noah Coakes, Columbia River: Junior 2A GSHL pitcher of the year led talented Rapids staff with 8-0 record. In 57 1/3 innings pitched, the 6-foot-8 right-hander posted a 0.97 ERA with 47 strikeouts, seven walks and a .171 batting average against.