Columbia High varsity baseball returns seven starters on last year’s team that came within one win of advancing to CHS’s first state regional playoff game since its Final Four season of 2002.
The Bruins went 11-10 and finished fourth in the 1A Trico League to qualify for the Southwest District Tournament for the first time in 15 years. Bruins Coach John Hallead, now in his sixth year, is hoping this team can build off last year’s solid step forward and take its game to the next level, regional play, where state Final Four berths get decided.
The Bruins in 2018 will be led by seniors William Gross (SS/P), Tylan Webster (C), Adam Goodwillie (P/2B), Shad Curtis (OF), and Jarin Musgrove (1B), junior Trenton Howard (OF), and sophomore Davis Koester (P/UTL). Hallead’s key newcomers are juniors Dominic Raether (P/OF) and Jordan Trout (3B), and sophomores Payden Webster (2B) and Sean McMahon (P/OF).
“The keys to success this year are to build off of our 2017 district showing and ensure that we qualify for the regional playoffs,” Hallead said. “We also will need to sweep teams like Castle Rock and La Center to prove we are progressing. All in all, we fully expect to qualify for the playoffs and put ourselves in a position to qualify for the state regional tournament.”
To lock those keys in place, Hallead added, “we also need to continue our excellent offensive game (.304 team batting average), be excellent situational hitters, and utilize our deep pitching staff.”
The core of the CHS varsity played 24 games last summer to build on its effort. The River Bandits, as they are called, posted a 19-5 record which included a number of tournaments. They capped their season last July by winning the Blaine Border Tournament.
“That experience will help tremendously,” Hallead said. “We traveled all over the state of Washington and competed against some very good teams and did very, very well. Our pitchers got a lot of innings in last summer and that will help strengthen what our Achilles’ heel has been the past five seasons.”
Right-handers Goodwillie and Gross stand 1-2 on the pitching depth chart once again. Goodwillie (All-Trico honorable mention in 2017) threw a combined 117 innings last year; he sported a 3.60 ERA in 64 spring innings but lowered it to 1.98 in summer games.
Gross, a 1A All-State selection in 2017, tossed a total of 66 innings in 2017; he posted a 3.27 ERA in 36 frames last spring and followed those numbers up with a 2.76 ERA in 30 summer innings.
“What I love about Adam as a pitcher is that he gets the job done. I have talked to college coaches about Adam and they ask, ‘How hard does he throw?’ and I tell them, ‘Do you want to win? Because this kid is a winner.”
Gross earned a pair of big wins for the Bruins late last spring, including an 11-0 win over La Center that helped propel CHS into the playoffs.
“The only part of me that doesn’t want William pitching is that he is so good at shortstop. However, William has a bulldog mentality on the mound and has shown in the past that he is as good as any starting pitcher in the league.”
Hallead added, “I am very comfortable, for the first time in my tenure at CHS, to go with William or Adam in any game against any team. That is a testament to both of them.”
Raether, McMahon, and Koester give the Bruins three younger arms to pick up slack innings. Raether and McMahon, both left-handers, may see time as spot starters, while right-hander Koester is expected to work primarily in relief.
Tylan Webster, who manned lead catching duties last spring and summer, will get the majority of starts behind the dish. The All-Trico Second Teamer also will bat clean-up again and could get starts at DH.
Webster, who hit .324 last year, “possesses excellent power in his swing has the ability to drive the ball gap to gap; he also has some home run pop in his bat.”
Koester (.322 OBP as a freshman; .397 BA last summer) and freshman Austin Charters (“our catcher of the future”) will back up Webster.
Hallead also is expecting big returns this season from 2017 All-Trico First Teamers Gross and Howard, and honorable mention recipients Curtis and Musgrove.
Gross hit .530 last spring, while Howard batted .323. Curtis batted a deceptive .296, and Musgrove finished with a .275 average.
“William has worked for years to get to his senior season. He knows this is the pinnacle of his baseball career and I have no doubt he will blossom this spring as our offensive leader,” Hallead said.
Howard leads an athletic group of outfielders. He had a breakout sophomore year in which he reached base at a .494 clip and stole 19 bases out of the lead-off spot.
The left fielder extended his spring success into the summer, honing his offensive skills to the tune of a .354 average with 23 stolen bases.
“Trenton is a collegiate baseball player, period,” said Hallead. “He has the tools you look for in that he has the speed, has excellent range in the outfield, and has improved his batting and base-stealing skills tremendously.”
Curtis is a solid defensive center fielder with a discerning batting eye. “Shad is a situational hitter that we can count on in key situations. When we need a double, Shad has the power to do that,” Hallead noted. “He is a very reliable and clutch hitter for us.”
Musgrove “would be a sure-fire Gold Glove recipient if they gave it out to high school players,” Hallead said of his first baseman. Offensively, Musgrove has the most powerful swing in the program.
“Jarin’s key to success [at the plate] will be learning to trust his power and focus on solid contact consistently,” Hallead said.
Koester will play all over the diamond. He may catch to give Webster a break, he may start at third when Goodwillie is pitching, or at shortstop when Gross takes the ball.
Trout and Payden Webster also will be vying for playing time on the infield.
In the right field, Raether and McMahon will likely split time until one emerges over the other as the clear-cut starter.
Columbia High opens its 2018 season this Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Max Beatty Invitational hosted by Fort Vancouver. The other teams in the tournament are Washougal and Ilwaco.
The Bruins’ home opener is set for March 20, against Stanfield, Ore. That kicks off a five-game homestand.
All told, CHS is slated to play eight non-league games, then 12 Trico games (three each vs. defending champion King’s Way, Stevenson, La Center, and Castle Rock.
The Bruins begin Trico play after spring break on April 10 with a double-header at King’s Way in Vancouver.
King’s Way is the team to beat, while Stevenson is recovering from a 0-12 Trico campaign.
For schedule updates, visit the CHS baseball page at tricoathletics.com.