High school sports: A job well done for Columbia River catcher Cole Backlund

Cole Backlund of Columbia River baseball has inspired his coaches and teammates with his dedication to improving his skills as a catcher. He has helped the Rapids reach the state semifinals. Photo by Paul Valencia
Cole Backlund of Columbia River baseball has inspired his coaches and teammates with his dedication to improving his skills as a catcher. He has helped the Rapids reach the state semifinals. Photo by Paul Valencia

Senior’s dedication to his craft has helped Rapids reach the state’s final four; plus Saturday sports roundup

Paul Valencia

He got a job in order to get the job done.

Now, Cole Backlund and his teammates will be looking to finish the job.

The Columbia River Rapids have earned one final week of high school baseball this season, earning a trip to the final four of the WIAA Class 2A state tournament.

Backlund, one of the best defensive catchers in the state, had the go-ahead RBI-single in Saturday’s opening round, a 4-1 win over White River. A few hours later, Columbia River topped W.F. West 6-3 in the quarterfinals. 

Columbia River will face Lynden at 10 a.m. Friday, May 24, in the semifinals in Bellingham, with the winner advancing to the championship game on Saturday, May 25. 

This will be the final week for 14 seniors on Columbia River’s team, all with their own journeys.

For Backlund, there was no path to becoming a standout catcher, until one revealed itself.

“I came into the program and I only wanted to play third base,” Backlund acknowledged.

Varsity coach Stephen Donohue knew that a couple of years from then, the Rapids were going to need talent behind the plate. He saw potential in Backlund. The coach brought up the possibility of making a change.

Or as Backlund says:

“So I volunteered myself to do it. Here I am now, and I’m still catching.”

He was a junior the first year as the starting varsity catcher. He was solid.

“I didn’t really know exactly what I was doing,” Backlund explained. “I was nervous. I tried my best.”

Donohue appreciated the effort, and loved the improvement that Backlund made that year. But he also gave Backlund some tips on what Backlund needed to work on before his senior season.

Backlund took that coaching to heart. Then he sought out more coaching. As in personal coaching. Kevin Lovings, a longtime high school and college coach, is an expert in the art and science of the demanding position of catcher.

“I reached out to him. He told me the price point. I talked to my parents about it,” Backlund recalled.

His parents might have given Backlund one of the greatest gifts a parent can give to a teenager just a year or so away from adulthood. They gave him the responsibility.

“‘We’re not going to pay for this. You’ve got to go get a job.’ That’s exactly what I did,” Backlund said.

He worked a lot of hours in a restaurant last summer, and worked out with Lovings.

“I was not cut out for it,” he said of his career in fast food. “It was not my favorite thing to do in the world, but it got me money, and it got me these lessons, so I thought it was worth it.”

He also appreciates what his parents did not do for him. 

“Shout out to Sheree and Todd Backlund,” he said. “Love you guys.”

He said his parents gave him his drive to succeed.

“I know it would have been a struggle for them to pay for it, and I wanted to step up,” Cole Backlund said. “I wanted to prove that I wanted those catching lessons. I did what I had to do. I think it’s paid off pretty well.”

After high school, Backlund will continue playing baseball with a mask and helmet instead of a baseball hat. He will be playing catcher at Mount Hood Community College in Gresham, Ore.

Before then, he has another week of high school baseball. 

Backlund called every pitch for the Rapids this season. Donohue said he rarely disagrees with the pitch calling. When they do, they work it out, coach to catcher, catcher to coach. A mutual respect. 

Backlund, Donohue said, has a mind for the game to go with his physical talents. 

Donohue, matter of factly, stated that the Rapids would not be where they are today without Backlund. The coach added that he was blown away when he heard that his catcher took a job in order to go the extra mile.

“It means a lot, having that bond with your coach,” Backlund said.

He also appreciates his teammates. At Columbia River, every player is there for one another.

“I feel like I’ve grown a lot since freshman year,” Backlund said. “Now I understand baseball a lot better. I love the culture of baseball, of keeping the energy up. With travel ball before, I didn’t really understand how creating a bond with each teammate meant. In this program, I’ve come to understand how much that means.”

Saturday Sports Roundup:
Saturday saw the final four determined in boys soccer and baseball. Plus softball teams played district and bi-district tournaments, qualifying for state.

Meanwhile, boys and girls track and field held its state qualifying events over the weekend. Boys and girls tennis and boys and girls golf will hold state tournaments this coming week, too. Later in the week, look for lists of the athletes in individual sports who qualified for state.

Here is how the traditional team sports from Clark County fared Saturday:

Baseball: As noted above, Columbia River is in the semifinals. The Rapids beat White River 4-1 and then W.F. West 6-3 on Saturday to advance. 

Also in the 2A tournament, Ridgefield fell in the round-of-16, losing 9-4 to Selah.

In the 4A tournament, Camas beat Yelm 1-0 to advance to the quarterfinals, but that is where the run ended for the Papermakers. Puyallup won the elite-eight game 12-0.

Battle Ground lost in the round of 16, falling to North Creek 9-1.

Two Clark County teams made it to the elite eight in the Class 1A tournament. Seton Catholic beat Vashon Island 10-0 in a state regional held in Camas. Meridian, though, won a pitcher’s duel in the quarterfinals, beating the Cougars 1-0.

Meanwhile, La Center beat Freeman 6-0 in the round-of-16, then lost to Cedar Park Christian 4-2.

Boys soccer: The Camas Papermakers are going to the final four for the first time since 2011. Camas got a first-half goal against Chiawana on Saturday and held on for a 1-0 victory in the quarterfinals. Camas will face No. 1 Pasco at 2:15 p.m. Friday, May 24 in a semifinal at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup. The winner will play for the state championship on Saturday, May 25.

In Class 2A, defending state champion Columbia River lost in the quarterfinals. East Valley of Yakima took down the Rapids 4-1. 

In Class 1A, Seton Catholic just missed going to the final four, losing 1-0 in the quarterfinals against Royal.

Softball: Skyview and Prairie each won their bi-district tournaments and are going to state.

Skyview won the Class 4A bi-district tournament Saturday and on Sunday learned that it received the No. 1 seed to the upcoming state tournament in Richland. 

Battle Ground won three elimination games to qualify for state, too. The Tigers are the 11-seed.

Prairie topped Auburn-Riverside 8-6 in the finals to win the Class 3A bi-district tournament. The Falcons received the 11-seed for 3A state to be held in Lacey. 

Heritage had to play six games in two days. The Timberwolves went 4-2 to qualify for 3A state. They received the 18-seed in the 20-team bracket.  

In 1A, Seton Catholic placed second in the district tournament to qualify for state. The Cougars are seeded sixth in the 12-team tournament, to be held in Richland.

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