Crazy week for Camas softball culminates with district title

Papermakers prepare for bigger challenges at bi-district tournament

The Camas and Union softball teams shared the league title, but there could only be one district champion.

After defeating Heritage, Evergreen and Battle Ground just to get this opportunity, the Papermakers were going to settle for nothing less than the grand prize. They capped off an incredible week by beating the Titans 6-4 for the district title Thursday, at Heritage High School.

“It was exhausting this week, but I am very proud of everyone for the endurance it took to get through this last game,” said Harli Hubbard. The senior pitched all 29 innings for Camas and racked up 58 strikeouts. She said every pitch was worth it.

“The hard work starts now,” Hubbard said. “This is an easy step compared to what is coming at us in the next few weeks. How hard we push will determine how far we go. We want to go all the way.”

The Papermakers went after the Titans’ throats and scored three runs in the first inning. Tori O’Neil led off the game with an infield single, Hannah Welborn bunted her over to second base and Lena Richards brought her home by shooting a grand ball through the second baseman’s legs. Hubbard hit a fireball down the left field line for an RBI double and Rio Smith served an RBI single into right field.

Smith and McKinley Johnson drove in runs during the third inning to give Camas a 5-0 advantage. Union chipped away with two runs in the bottom of the third and fifth innings to make it a one-run game. The Titans had the tying run in motion with two outs in the sixth. Cailyn Grindy knocked the line drive down with her glove, but the ball rolled away from her. O’Neil was right on to top it and she tagged the runner caught between second and third to end the threat.

“I’m so glad Cailyn stopped that ball,” O’Neil said. “It was right there for me to grab. I saw the girl running out of the corner of my eye. I’m going to make it happen.”

Hubbard jumped off the mound to congratulate Grindy and O’Neil after the play. She needed a boost after struggling through the fifth inning.

“I started to flatten out,” Hubbard said. “After that, I got it back. That’s how you trust your teammates.”

Welborn got on base to begin the seventh inning for Camas, but Richards and Hubbard flew out. Head coach Ken Nidick turned to Katie Schroeder to pinch hit. She had been forced out of action at the beginning of the month by pneumonia.

“Katie was clear and wanted to play,” Nidick said. “I had a gut feeling that with one swing of the bat, Katie could still put the ball over the fence even though she had been out for so long. Looking back, it was the right thing to do.”

Schroeder didn’t hit a home run, but she did put the ball in play and hustled up the first base line. The throw went through the first baseman’s legs and Schroeder was safe. Welborn took off for third base on the error. The throw got by the third baseman and rolled into the dug out. Welborn was given a free pass home and Camas was up by two runs.

“As soon as I see a chance to get an extra base, I go for it,” Welborn said. “That’s what wins games. Aggressiveness and heart.”

Once Welborn crossed home plate, she pointed to Schroeder on base as she had done countless times before. This time, it meant something more. The Camas softball family is back together.

“I’m very proud of her for being put in that pressure situation and executing perfectly,” Welborn said. “As soon as Katie was cleared to play, she put on that uniform. She was in all our hearts during her recovery.”

Camas (16-3) enters the bi-district tournament Friday, in Kent. After losing the bi-district and state championship games last season, the Papermakers are not taking anything for granted this time around.

“Titles are not going to be handed to us on a silver platter,” Smith said. “I think everyone wants our heads.”