A lot of athletes talk about keys to success, but girls on the Camas softball team actually wear real black and red keys as a physical reminder of what goes into creating a successful team.
“We made the keys with paracord (a lightweight nylon rope used in parachute cords) so we can wear them. Everyone on the team has one, which means we are all equal,” senior pitcher Mary Pipkin said April 9, after her team beat Heritage 4-2 on a muddy Camas home field.
The team keys are symbols of a new mindset for the Papermakers softball program this season. Camas has finished fourth at the 4A state tournament three times in the past four years. Now the team wants more. In fact, the girls’ new team motto is: “Win the last one.”
“Last year, if we would have won the last one at state, we would have finished third instead of fourth. Our goal this year is to get first or third at state. But to achieve that we have to win the last one,” said first-year head coach Mandy Cervantes.
Also different from last year’s team is the overall pitching strategy. Last year the Papermakers had the luxury of relying on ace pitcher Kennedy Ferguson, who is now throwing for the University of New Mexico.
This season, Camas is focused on a total team approach to the circle, where there is plenty of diversity to mix things up.
Pipkin typically leads off off the pitching contributing with her experience, maturity and extreme movement on pitches. Sophomores Madeline Ellis and hard-throwing lefty Maloree Neely complement Pipkin with completely different pitching styles that challenge batters with a variety of looks. Senior Carrigan Foster is nearly recovered from a hand injury and will soon give the team an added boost in the pitching rotation.
Soggy spring keeps players off diamond
During the first two weeks of April, just getting onto the diamond to play was a challenge as rain cancellations immediately followed by spring break combined to bog down the team’s schedule.
The April 9 game against Heritage, which had already been rescheduled due to a rain-out, was the first time the Papermakers had played together in more than a week.
Even though it rained hard at times and water pooled up around the diamond, Camas came from behind against Heritage, earning its victory before the heaviest rain arrived.
While the girls rallied in the rain, several students watching the game jumped up and down in mud puddles while parents huddled under umbrellas.
“I told the girls it was a lackluster game. I felt like we should have come out ahead earlier than we did. We are going to contribute it to spring break, but from now on we are going to continue to play Camas ball and get out in front early,” Cervantes said.
Shortstop Katie Hancock led Camas, going 2-for-4 from the plate and scoring on both of her hits. Hancock is leading the Papermakers in hitting with a .400 batting average so far this season. The win pushed the Papermakers’ winning streak to eight, which meant the seniors on the team performed a push-up for each win right after the game.
“The seniors will keep doing the push-ups until they lose,” Cervantes said.
Three nights later, on April 12, no push-ups were required as Camas lost to Skyview 12-6. The Papermakers kicked off that game playing what Cervantes calls “Camas ball” — taking the early lead with three runs in the first inning — but the Storm scored six runs in the second inning and took control of the game. Hancock went 3-for-3 from the plate in the loss.
Pushing for the playoffs
With the Papermakers now moving into a long string of league games, players are looking to each other to return to their winning ways.
The team’s manager, senior Jonah Thompson, who also announces the home games, is doing everything he can to keep the team on track.
“I always give them some words of wisdom before each game, hoping some outside moral support might help fire them up,” Thompson said.
Players say they look forward to Thompson’s encouragement prior to every game. The team also holds onto a bit of superstition in the form of a garden gnome, which players believe helped them make it to state the past several years.
Hancock is the official holder of the gnome, but everyone on the team touches the well-loved gnome for a bit of luck prior to games.
“We now have some bubble wrap on the gnome because he’s a bit cracked, but we still use him everyday,” Pipkin said.
The gnome will likely be getting a workout soon, as the Papermakers enter a long string of 4A Greater St. Helens League games, and Camas pushes toward what the team hopes will be another successful playoff run in 2019.