RIDGEFIELD — It was the start of the bottom of the fourth inning at the Ridgefield Outdoor Recreational Complex, and in a heated duel between two of the state’s top pitchers, Olivia Grey was the first out of the dugout. She entered the circle dancing to the music blaring from the speakers.
Expressive. Animated. Passionate. She was having fun.
Such is Grey on any given outing, but especially when she meets league foe Ridgefield, and Syracuse commit Kaia Oliver, in what is perhaps the most competitive in-league pitching duel in the state.
More importantly, the two see it as iron sharpening iron.
“We’re really hard-pressed in 2A to find a pitcher other than me that throws 60-plus,” said Grey, who has committed to Portland State. “We’re lucky enough to have someone like Kaia who is going to an ACC school and is extremely competitive and throws hard and is a very good pitcher. With Kaia, they’re always going to be a tough competitor.”
Oliver and Grey, both seniors, lead teams that are poised to make a run at the 2A state softball championship again. Woodland won its second state championship in school history last season, and Ridgefield finished fifth in the state.
“Knowing that I have to have my team’s back, it’s very nice, but seeing Olivia out there working hard, it makes me want to work hard as well,” Oliver said.
On this particular Friday, May 3, the last regular season bout between the vaunted pitchers, Woodland achieved a rarity: a 5-0 win over Ridgefield (16-4, 10-2 2A Greater St. Helens League) propelled by two home runs. It was the first time Oliver had given up two home runs in her entire high school career (Grey had a perfect game until the fifth inning).
And it capped an epic two-year tangle atop the league standings. The teams split the series 1-1 last season after capturing a win at each opposing field. This year, it appears Grey is on a mission.
Not only has Woodland swept the series with Ridgefield en route to an 18-0 record (11-0 2A GSHL), but Grey has also been nearly flawless.
Heading into the 2A district tournament, Grey has not given up an earned run yet this season.
Grey’s play has been the key to Woodland’s quest to repeat. And despite her scorched-earth season, the senior credits her teammates for helping her stay level-headed.
“I’ve definitely had my games where I’ve just been really off pitching, and I’ve gotten in the dugout and I’ll look at Kaily (Christensen) or Kelly (Sweyer) or anyone in the dugout and be like, ‘guys, I just can’t pitch,’ and they’ll be like, ‘Liv, you’re doing fine.’ It’s just that reassurance from teammates that really helps. They always boost up your confidence. We do a really good job of hyping each other up in between innings and everything, so I think they take away that pressure for me.”
The way Grey sees it, the more relaxed she is, the better she performs. And that realization came with time, and has fueled the Beavers in their quest to repeat as state champs.
Pressure to repeat? Target on their backs?
Woodland has made an effort to counter with levity.
“We make a mistake, we can laugh it off, it’s not the end of the world,” Grey said. “It’s just taking away that tension, that nervousness of oh, I messed up on this pop-up, oh, I missed this ground ball. You have this excuse to get frustrated and everything. But in reality if you just laugh it off, it’s not a big deal.”
The Spudders feel they’ve learned a lot from their two losses to Woodland, too.
“We obviously don’t lose very often so it’s an eye-opener,” Oliver said. “Every time something goes wrong, we look back and we wouldn’t want to in the moment, but we go back and and learn from those mistakes.”