Lewis-Clark State's Ike George is making an impact back in Idaho

Feb. 6—PHOENIX — When No. 3 Lewis-Clark State took the field for its season opener against No. 6 Tennessee Wesleyan, a new name was written on the lineup card. Batting ninth, it read "No. 1, I. George, Pos. 6."

George is a junior transfer from Charleston Southern who played high school for Bishop Kelly in Boise before making his way back to Idaho to play for the Warriors this year.

Playing for LCSC in Arizona, it was a double-homecoming for George. It was a return to the Phoenix-metro area, where he played the first two years of his collegiate career with Paradise Valley Community College, and it was the first time he donned a uniform of an Idaho-based team since his senior year of high school, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

George made the varsity team at Bishop Kelly as a sophomore, taking over the starting shortstop position, and in his junior year the team went 25-5. The Knights lost to Idaho Falls in the state tournament, but wrapped up the season with a third-place finish with a win against Lakeland.

After George's senior season was canceled, Bishop Kelly went on to win two straight chippers.

Which, in the words of coach Jeff Cammann, was bittersweet. George already dealt with a share of injuries in his three full high school seasons. He had a shoulder injury and broke his elbow sophomore year.

On top of going through that, Cammann believes the 2020 squad was even more talented than the championship teams. Through the four games the 2020 team played before the season was canceled, it went 4-0 and posted two shutouts with three games of scoring 13-plus runs.

But any state championship run that may have been in the cards ended up being taken away due to the pandemic.

And before George played his first game in the Warriors' trademark navy, red and white, he had to work for it.

The former Knight was discovered by a Paradise Valley assistant coach at a talent showcase in Arizona in the winter of 2020.

At the time, head coach Victor Solis wasn't allowed to offer scholarships to out-of-state players, but through connections with George's family via a mutual friend, was able to convince him to sign on to play with the Pumas.

"The first thing was he had to want to come play in our conference," Solis said. "So it had to be something he wanted to do and he felt like this conference was going to be the right place for him. And that's where we came into the equation. And thankfully we were able to land him, recruiting-wise."

Solis was impressed with George from the get-go. Solis hadn't seen George play before coming to Paradise and, despite being "raw" as a player in Solis' words, the Idaho native wasn't short on confidence or aggressiveness at the plate.

"He plays like he's 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5," Solis said.

Through that confidence and work ethic, George claimed the starting shortstop position his freshman year.

George had a good freshman season with the Pumas and an even better sophomore campaign.

In his second year in Phoenix, George stole 51 bases, the most in school history and the fourth-most nationwide for junior college players; earned his second all-region honor from the American Baseball Coaches Association and batted a .345 average with 67 hits.

At the end of his career with the Pumas, he had snagged 76 bases, knocked 107 hits and scored 80 runs.

George's career in Phoenix had netted him several NCAA Division I offers and, after not receiving a scholarship promised from a school Solis refrained from mentioning, George elected to play his third year of college baseball with the Big South Conference's Charleston Southern Buccaneers in South Carolina.

The Buccaneers moved George to the outfield. Although it wasn't the usual position for the junior, he had shown a potential proficiency for it in the past.

With Bishop Kelly, there was one practice where George asked Cammann if an assistant could give him some reps in the outfield, simply because it seemed like something fun to do.

"You ask the coach, and they always say 'I want a bunch of shortstops or center fielders.' They're usually the best athletes on the team," Cammann said. "And our assistant coach, Randy came up to me and he said 'He put on a clinic out there (in the outfield).' Ike was catching everything. Gap-to-gap. And he was laughing, having fun but showing off some pretty good skills."

In his new, but not unfamiliar, role at Charleston Southern, George had a batting average of .245 with 40 hits, stole 18 bases, knocked in 15 RBI, made just one error and recorded a .987 fielding percentage.

Solid numbers in his first year as a DI player. But home was calling.

George had returned to Idaho on a number of occasions, often helping out with Bishop Kelly's summer baseball camps and was always one of the kids' favorite mentors, according to Cammann.

Idaho was still home for George. And when he made known his intention to transfer, he was looking at west coast schools close to home.

Cammann has a connection with LCSC coach Jake Taylor (Taylor was Cammann's middle school P.E. teacher). When George entered the transfer portal, Taylor had called Cammann to see if George was interested.

He was.

After Thursday's games against No. 6 Tennessee Wesleyan and No. 7 Bellevue in the East/West Challenge in Mesa, Ariz., George expressed how everyone in Idaho knows the Warriors' baseball program, and that he's "jacked" to be back in Idaho playing for LCSC.

"It's exciting," George said. "I was super excited. Jacked to be back in Arizona playing for L-C. Everyone in Idaho knows L-C for baseball. They know the culture, they know 19 national championships, trying to get 20. There's just a bunch of gritty players here — something you want to play for."

In four games played at the East/West Challenge, George has been in the lineup at shortstop, designated hitter and right field, and has done well in all those positions.

Through four games with the Warriors, he's batting .286 in 14 at-bats, has been walked four times, scored five times and posted a .500 on-base percentage. And has done well in both the infield and outfield — posting a 1.000 fielding percentage in 10 chances.

George, listed as a junior, has just begun his tenure back in Idaho for the Warriors. And if the games in Arizona are any indication, it's going to be a successful one.

Kowatsch can be contacted at 208-848-2268, or on Twitter @Teren_Kowatsch.