CAMAS — Follow the line: Catcher. Pitcher. Center fielder.
The three seniors on the Camas softball team position themselves in the middle, the center of attention for the Papermakers.
Trace that line back to when they were freshmen on varsity, overwhelmed at times, intimidated. Program-wide, the Papermakers had 16 freshmen back in 2009.
Stay on that line to the present, and only Mikaela Searight, Sarah Nidick and Cali Mulholland remain. The catcher, the pitcher, and the center fielder have one last weekend with the Papermakers, one last shot at glory at the Class 3A state tournament.
“We haven’t had all components of the game — hitting, pitching, defense — all clicking at the once,” Nidick said.
“We call it Camas 3.0,” Mulholland explained. “We have to be all locked and firing.”
The Papermakers have come close, they say, but it has not happened — yet. They believe it will happen this week, when Camas opens the 3A tournament in at noon Friday in Lacey.
If it does happen, “That’s going to be the best softball game we’ve ever played,” Nidick said.
The Papermakers have been playing a lot of really good, if not perfect, softball this season.
They raced out to an early lead in the Class 3A Greater St. Helens League, won the title, then proved it with a district championship. At bi-district, Camas clinched a spot to state and made it to the finals.
All the records and accomplishments mean nothing now, though. The last 16 teams in the state start fresh.
Camas coach Ken Nidick — yes, Sarah’s father — is thrilled to be going with this group. And not just because he is related to one of the seniors.
“This is my 20th year of coaching high school or ASA softball, and I can honestly say this is probably the best group of senior leadership I’ve coached,” he said. “They keep the team focused on the goals. Not only that, but how to achieve the goals, which is far more important.”
The coach said younger players are more willing to listen to seniors when the seniors set the tone with their performances and actions in practice.
The seniors also remember what it was like being the youngsters.
“I was just a little freshman coming in with a new coach,” Sarah Nidick said. “I just wanted to do whatever I was supposed to do whenever I got on the field.”
Now, she is on the field all the time. “CK” — short for Coach’s Kid — is pitching or at first base when sophomore Harli Hubbard is in the pitching circle.
Searight, always blessed with a strong bat, said she was intimidated that first season.
“I just played wherever I could, and I kept making mistakes in the outfield until I was moved to designated player,” she recalled.
Now, she is one of the best catchers in the region.
Mulholland was a designated runner as a freshman, coming in for a pitcher or catcher who got on base.
“I always dreamed of being a center fielder, but at that point all I was concerned about was running,” Mulholland said.
Now she is the speedy center fielder and the No. 9 hitter who jump-starts an offense from the bottom of the lineup.
This is not the trio’s first shot at state. As sophomores, the Papermakers went 1-2 at the 3A state tournament. But at least they got there. Last year was one of the more frustrating times for them at Camas.
The Papermakers struggled through the league season, got hot at district and won that tournament, only to fizzle at bi-district.
“I was heartbroken,” Searight said. “We won district. We were on that peak, and then two-and-out.”
The three seniors-to-be vowed to make sure that did not happen on their watch.
“We didn’t prepare for it,” Mulholland said of last year’s bi-district tournament. “We learned from that experience. We brought that back to the team this year.”
“We reminded everyone,” Nidick said.
Mulholland knew this was going to be a special season on the first day practice. Not just because of the talent, but also the way everyone seemed to be on the same page so soon.
“I noticed in tryouts. I was like, ‘Dang,’ ” she said.
Nidick wanted to wait a little longer before claiming this year would be different.
“I knew it was going to be a good season when we beat Prairie in league,” Nidick said, referring to the first round of league play. “They always have good hitting and solid pitching.”
Camas had not beaten Prairie in league play in the Nidick tenure. So, yes, that one win provided plenty of confidence.
While this weekend is the end for the three seniors at Camas, they all hope that they have helped establish a tradition that will continue when they are in college.
“Even if we don’t get the state championship, we’ve already set the precedent of winning for the next few years,” Searight said. “Keep it rolling.”
Nidick and Mulholland will try to keep it rolling as teammates at Clark College, while Searight is headed to New York to play for Siena College. No matter where their softball life takes them, they know they can always trace their roots back to Camas.
Still together after all these years.