VANCOUVER — Sawyer Parkin and Nick Alder were six-year-old little league teammates when their baseball paths first intersected. Now, as high school seniors, they are two members of Columbia River's pitching staff, which might be the deepest 2A pitching rotation in the state.
Along with Washington commit Sam Boyle, the Rapids have three arms who can throw more than 85 miles per hour, which provides the depth to compete for a state title, had that been a possibility in this pandemic-shortened season.
But they’ll settle for a district crown in a four-team playoff between two of the state’s toughest leagues this year — the 2A Greater St. Helens League and 2A Evergreen Conference — and, above all, one more go with this group.
“To be back here, especially on this field, it means the world,” Parkin said. “Last year really hurt for the seniors, for the class of 2020, but I’m just glad the class of 2021 got a chance. It’s going to be a good year.”
Boyle, Adler and Parkin are all close friends, but there’s a competitive rivalry between each of them, where each tries to gain the edge on one another — whether it’s strike percentage, velocity or any small detail — while keeping the common goal of winning at the forefront.
“It makes every game we go into feels very winnable,” Boyle said. “And we feel like we’re always ahead.”
Columbia River skipper Stephen Donohue has seen arm talent come through his program, but not the depth he now has.
“We’ve had a lot of good No. 1s and solid No. 2s, but never three guys we feel are No. 1 arms,” Donohue said. “Obviously we feel we’re always going to be in games because of our pitching."
And that’s how it’s played out for the Rapids (the school’s brand new mascot), who are off to an 8-1 start and tied atop the 2A GSHL standings.
Teams won’t beat River with hitting alone. On Monday, Washougal handed the Rapids their first loss of the season with Alder on the mound. He rung up 12 strikeouts opposite four hits and three walks in a complete game outing, and it was the Panthers’ defense that held off River 2-1 with runners on base.
Alder is seldom rattled on the bump. Watching the 2019 2A GSHL pitcher of the year in action, it’s clear he keeps his emotions even-keeled. Donohue lauds his three-pitch mastery, his command and the ability to defend his position. He credits River assistant coach Korey Kier for instilling confidence in him as a freshman.
“He said ‘hey, I want you to be our guy,’” Alder, who is still weighing college options, said, “and I’ve taken that to heart and pushed myself.”
When him and Parkin reached high school as freshmen, he knew the future was bright on the bump at River and that, by his senior year, the team had a chance to be really special — especially with Boyle coming in a year behind them.
Parkin, a Tacoma Community College signee, is seeing his first real varsity pitching action. He didn’t pitch his sophomore year due to an injury, though he played infield. After missing his junior season, he took the prolonged offseason to elevate his game. He worked on a weighted ball program and traveled to Arizona with his club team throughout the winter. His fastball floats between 86 to 88 miles per hour.
When Boyle, now a 6-2, 180-pound lefty, entered the program as a freshman, Donohue saw a Division I arm that could contribute immediately. Donohue called him “effectively wild” as a freshman, a baseball term used to describe a pitcher that throws hard with inconsistent location that can be hard for the batter to predict. He went 4-1 as a starter as a freshman, and has improved his command steadily each year, Donohue said.
Prep Baseball Report lists Boyle as the top left-handed pitcher in the state for the class of 2022, and logged his max fastball at 90 miles per hour.
“He just has electric stuff,” Donahue said. “When he’s on, he’s not going to be touched.”
The Rapids have also seen the emergence of junior relief pitcher Casey Struckmeier, whose emergence has been an added bonus.
After the cancelation of the 2020 season, and the uncertainty surrounding high school sports since the outset of the pandemic, the three are grateful to be finishing out their high school careers together — with something to play for.
After league play is done, the 2A GSHL’s top two teams will play a four-team single elimination playoff with the 2A EvCo, which features top-ranked W.F. West and Tumwater. If there were playoffs, at least four teams between would be considered 2A title contenders. Now in a matter of weeks, two of them will be competing for the top culminating event of the spring — a district title at the Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex.
“We’re all friends and competitive people,” Boyle said. “If you asked any of us who the best pitcher is, they’d probably say themselves. We just want to be the best that we can be and be the best for our team.”
Added Parkin: “You ask any one of us, they’re going to say they’re the ace.”
But the day one starter?
“Me,” Boyle said with a smirk. “Well, I’m the best, so.”