Justice Holcomb said she loves the position, calling pitches for one of the state’s best
WOODLAND — It is the pitcher who gets the credit for a win.
It is the pitcher who gets the strikeouts listed in the boxscore, highlighted in the media.
Olivia Grey has earned all of that praise, too, as one of the best softball pitchers in the state for the Woodland Beavers.
But there is a team within the team at Woodland.
Justice Holcomb is the catcher for the defending state champions, the one who calls the pitches, the one who catches the pitches, the one who has to deal with a sore hand from all of those pitches.
Together, this pitcher and catcher have made history at Woodland, as the Beavers did not allow an earned run in the regular season.
The two became batterymates last year, Grey’s first varsity season for Woodland. Holcomb is in her third season as the team’s catcher.
Holcomb remembers the first time catching for Grey, in open gym prior to the season.
“My first reaction? Her movement. It was amazing,” Holcomb said. “It took me quite a while to understand her movement. Some of her pitches would throw me off.”
They were just that good. A riseball rises that much more with an extraordinary pitcher, for example.
Holcomb had been a catcher in her younger days, and then her sophomore year at high school. But being on the receiving end of Grey’s pitches was a completely new experience.
“I just had to learn her pitches,” Holcomb said. “Certain pitches go certain places.”
Most of them find the catcher’s mitt after opponent’s swing and miss.
Still, it took time for Grey and Holcomb to find a groove.
“A lot of last year was a challenge,” Holcomb said, learning each other.
This year, it is all going just right.
“We definitely have a system,” Holcomb said, without saying too much.
It is all about constant communication. Holcomb and Grey talk between innings, to come up with a strategy for the next batters in the lineup. A catcher must remember what worked, what did not, and must change up the rotation of pitches.
It helps to have Grey in the pitching circle. She remembers every hitter, too, Holcomb said. Especially if someone gets a hit off of her.
“She takes it very personal,” Holcomb said.
They both took it hard when Ridgefield scored an earned run in the district championship game, ending that amazing streak. There was a walk. That batter became a runner and stole second. She would come home on a single.
Holcomb said Grey was miffed, but Holcomb, too, was “bummed” because she had a chance to throw out the runner.
“That was a chance for me to pick her up,” Holcomb said.
Still, one earned run for the season so far? That is amazing.
Grey, with all of her skills, has signed with Portland State.
Holcomb, though, is saying goodbye to organized softball. Oh, she has the skills to play college ball somewhere, but she decided at a younger age to have a stopping point.
“I definitely love softball. It’s a really important thing in my life. But I don’t have the drive a lot of other girls do,” Holcomb said. “I enjoy it. I take it very seriously. But I don’t have the extra oomph to practice 24/7.”
In a way, that decision has improved her game. She looked forward to the high school season. She knew she would not be burned out on the game.
Now she is part of school and community history, as a state champion and hoping to repeat. Holcomb said last season was special, not just for the school.
She went for a eye doctor’s appointment and the receptionist asked her: “Were you on our softball team that took first in state?”
Yes, the receptionist said “our” team. Because it is Woodland’s team.
“That was just something so neat,” Holcomb said, “realizing you’re playing for your whole community.”
Holcomb would play any position for her town, too. She has done a little bit of everything in her youth days and was an infielder as a freshman. Sophomore year came up, there was a need at catcher.
At 5-feet, 1-inch, she does not look lot the prototypical catcher. But she knows what she is doing back there.
“I’ve been 5-1 since the eighth grade,” Holcomb said. “Haven’t grown at all since then. Been the same size.”
She grew to love her role, though.
“I don’t have a set position, but I’m really happy I got to catch Olivia,” Holcomb said.
If all goes Woodland’s way starting today at the state tournament, the two will have four more games together — four wins they hope. No matter how Woodland fares over the next two days, though, this is it for Holcomb as a softball player.
“I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself,” Holcomb said. “These are my last games. I have to go out with a bang.”
A perfect finish for the Woodland Beavers would be another state championship, with the final out a strikeout by Olivia Grey … caught by Justice Holcomb.
Team-by-team look for Clark County state softball teams:
Skyview Storm (18-6)
The Storm are peaking at the perfect time. The second-place team in the 4A Greater St. Helens League, the Storm won four in a row to claim the bi-district championship. Oh, and who did they beat in the bi-district finals? Battle Ground, the 4A GSHL champs. In fact, Skyview has won two of three from the Tigers.
With that said, yes, Skyview has to feel good about its chances in Spokane.
Oh, and the Storm have scored double-digit runs in their last five games, including three games against teams that made it to state.
Skyview takes on Rogers at 10 a.m. Friday in the opening round at the Dwight-Merkel Sports Complex. The quarterfinals are at 4 p.m.
Battle Ground Tigers (18-6)
The Tigers cruised to a 4A GSHL title. Not even a late-season loss to Skyview could give them any stress in the league standings. However, Skyview definitely has Battle Ground’s number now after the Storm also topped the Tigers in the bi-district tournament.
Battle Ground did what it had to do in the bi-district, though. Two wins in a row got the Tigers into the state bracket, and a third win put them in the bi-district finals.
The Tigers will take on Chiawana at 10 a.m. Friday in the opening round in Spokane. The quarters are at 4 p.m.
Camas Papermakers (16-10)
Just how good is the 4A GSHL? Well, three teams made it to the bi-district tournament and all three teams survived to make it to the state tournament.
Camas took third in the league, and then had to win a play-in game just to make the 16-team bi-district field. The Papermakers lost in the opener of the double-elimination game, but then won three in a row to make it state.
Now here is a fun tidbit on the competitive of 4A softball, especially around these parts. Battle Ground won the 4A GSHL title with an 11-1 record. Skyview was the only team to beat Battle Ground. Well Camas beat Skyview.
Camas will take on Jackson at noon Friday in the opening round in Spokane. The quarterfinals are at 4 p.m.
Mountain View Thunder (21-2)
Shhhhhhh. Don’t tell anyone Clark County’s softball secret, OK. We know Mountain View is really, really good. However, the Thunder do not have a state-power reputation. Not yet, anyway. But this could be the year Mountain View makes a statement.
The Thunder went 18-2 in the regular season. The two losses? A close game to defending 2A state champion Woodland. And rival Prairie, a team that also made it to the Class 3A state tournament.
That is a solid resume for the Thunder, who then won the bi-district title with three victories by a combined score of 23-3. That’s 23-3 against playoff teams.
Mountain View opens the state tournament with a 9 a.m. game Friday against Juanita at the Regional Athletic Complex in Lacey. The quarterfinals are scheduled for 4 p.m.
Prairie Falcons (16-8)
The Falcons have a fun story to share. They lost their first three games of the season. They would get a few in the win column, then a loss here, a win there, a loss there. For a while, it seemed like they could not find a stretch of quality play.
Until it mattered most, of course.
The Falcons won their last six league games, including a victory over league champion Mountain View.
But at bi-district, the Falcons opened with a loss. They were in trouble. Or so it seemed.
Nope, three elimination games later, the Falcons are in the state tournament.
Prairie will face Garfield at noon Friday in the opening round. The quarters are at 4 p.m.
Woodland Beavers (22-1)
See that one loss? Yeah, it came Tuesday in a scheduled game between two teams going to state, but with absolutely nothing on the line.
When the games do matter, no one has been able to stop the defending state champions.
Pitcher Olivia Grey did not allow an earned run all season until the district championship game.
And when they need it, the offense comes through. Such as three runs in the sixth inning of the district title game when trailing 1-0.
Woodland will open defense of its state title against Eatonville at noon at Carlon Park in Selah. The quarterfinals are at 4 p.m.
Ridgefield Spudders (18-5)
God bless the Spudders.
After all they have gone through, here they are, playing for Coach Dusty.
Dusty Anchors died the week of the district tournament, and the Spudders responded with inspired ball for their head coach.
They were two innings away from a district championship. They have confidence that things can go their way if they get another chance to play Woodland at state.
Their five losses have come against other state tournament teams.
Ridgefield will take on Lakewood at 10 a.m. Friday to open the tournament. The quarterfinals are at 4 p.m.
Here are the links to the three brackets: