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He won't be denied

Jesse Gibson, after getting cut from the team in high school, is excelling on the college baseball diamond
by: DAN BROOD, SWINGING A HOT BAT — Jesse Gibson, a 2004 Tualatin graduate, hit for a .336 average with a team-best 45 runs scored and 11 stolen bases at Lower Columbia.

TUALATIN - Baseball is fun again for Jesse Gibson.

The 2004 Tualatin High School graduate is enjoying plenty of success at the game he loves.

He recently completed a season at Lower Columbia College in Longview, Wash., that saw him gain plenty of accolades, play a key role in many Red Devil victories and compile some impressive statistics.

Now, he has aspirations of playing major college baseball with the hope of, maybe, one day, earning a spot playing for a Major League Baseball organization.

That's not bad for someone who was once told that he didn't have the ability to play high school varsity baseball.

'Maybe it all happened for a reason,' Gibson said earlier this week. 'It helped me. That's why I'm where I'm at today.'

What Gibson, who finished his sophomore year of eligibility at Lower Columbia College, is doing these days, is contemplating his college baseball future. That future just may include a scholarship to San Diego State University.

'That would be a dream come true,' said Gibson, who also has had talks with Gonzaga University and the University of Nevada. 'San Diego State is at the top of my list. Playing for Tony Gwynn would be something. You can't get a much better hitting coach than that.'

'I've talked with San Diego State about Jesse and I hope they give him a chance,' Lower Columbia College baseball coach Kelly Smith said. 'I really think Jesse is a Division I player. Wherever he ends up, I know he'll do well. He can really run and he can really throw. I know he'll put the work in. He was the strongest kid in our weight room.'

The future may be bright, but that wasn't always the case for Gibson. At Tualatin High School, Gibson, all 5-foot-7, 165 pounds of him, was a standout speedy, shifty running back for the Timberwolf football team. But baseball was his favorite sport.

Gibson, a shortstop/center fielder, He saw a little bit of varsity time on the baseball field as a Tualatin sophomore. He scored the game-winning run in a pinch-running mode against rival Tigard that year. As a junior, a conflict with a coach and limited playing time led him to quit the team early in the season.

Prior to his senior season at Tualatin, Gibson apologized and made amends with the coaching staff. He tried out for the varsity team, but he was cut from the squad, told he didn't have the ability to play at the varsity level.

'That devastated me. I was absolutely shocked,' Gibson said. 'Other guys on the team thought I was joking when I told them I was cut. They didn't believe me. It all still bugs me to this day, but it gave me a fire - a competitive fire. It keeps me going. I've used it as motivation. I still use it. I want to prove I can do it.'

Gibson spent a summer playing baseball for the Tigard-Tualatin Twins Senior Babe Ruth team, but, going into college, it looked like his scholastic baseball days were over.

As a freshman, he went to Linfield College in McMinnville, earning a spot on the roster of the national champion Wildcat football team.

'At that point, I wasn't looking to play college baseball at all,' Gibson said.

But then, spring rolled around, and Gibson decided to try out for the Linfield baseball team.

'I gave it a try and made the team as a freshman,' he said. 'I had a good time.'

Now, he had baseball fever again.

'I wanted to go somewhere where I'd have a chance to get drafted,' Gibson said. '(Newberg High graduate) Justin Berger told me about Lower Columbia, so I decided to transfer there.'

'We were excited to have him,' Smith said. 'He did a great job for us. He was a real nice addition for our team.'

Lower Columbia, going into the 2006 season, already had a returning all-league shortstop in sophomore Drew George.

'I had always played at shortstop, but coach told me it would be tough to move Drew,' Gibson said. 'I said `that's fine, I just want to play.''

So Gibson took over at second base for the Red Devils. He started the season batting in the No. 9 spot, but it didn't take long for Smith to move Gibson to the leadoff position in the batting order.

'Leadoff is a lot of fun,' Gibson said.

He thrived in that spot.

For the 2006 season at Lower Columbia, Gibson hit for a .336 batting average with 42 hits in 125 at-bats. He had team-high totals of 45 runs scored and 11 stolen bases to go with six doubles a home run and 15 RBI. Gibson also excelled on getting on base - any way he could.

'He was hit by a pitch 19 times. He must have led the league in that,' Smith said. 'He had a real football mentality out there.'

With Gibson batting in the leadoff spot most of the season, the Red Devils compiled a 23-2 league record and an overall mark of 43-8 while reaching the championship series in the NWAACC tournament.

'We couldn't have got that far without him,' Smith said.

Gibson was recognized for his big season at Lower Columbia, as he was a first-team All-Western Region selection as an infielder.

'It was a great decision to go there,' Gibson said of transferring to Lower Columbia. 'There were scouts at our games 24/7. I got some great coaching and got to go against some great competition. It was a good year.'

Now, as Gibson tries to turn that good year into an even better opportunity, he's battling another obstacle - his own size.

'People have always told me I'm too small,' Gibson said. 'That just pushes me more. I like it. I'm like `OK, let's go race.' I'm out there to prove I can do it.'

And, as he's already shown, he's not about to let anything stand in his way.