Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
Shin guards, a chest protector and a catcher's mask. Since the early days on the diamond, such equipment has been referred to as the tools of ignorance.
If there's ever been someone to contrast that coined phrase, it's North Medford senior Katie Williamson.
No one feels more at home wearing those tools of the trade than Williamson, and the 5-foot-5 dynamo is far from ignorant.
Williamson is sporting a 4.0 grade-point average in her final term at North Medford and, although she won't say it for fear of jinxing the moment, stands to finish her career as one of the school's valedictorians for the Class of 2013.
"She's probably one of the smartest, if not the smartest, people I know," says North Medford senior teammate Maryssa Becker.
With such a great head on her shoulders, Williamson has continued the Black Tornado's recent tradition of having the catcher call the pitches for each game. The results are proof that Williamson has the kind of intelligence that translates well beyond the classroom.
In her two years behind the plate, working with Class 6A pitcher of the year and best friend Becker, the Black Tornado has compiled a 48-2 overall record and gone undefeated in 21 conference games entering Saturday's doubleheader at South Medford.
"It's a lot of hard work and you don't always get the most credit for it but that's OK," Williamson says of the life of a catcher. "It's fun to be part of every pitch; I love being the catcher."
Winning certainly makes every extra effort that much more rewarding. With at least one win in Saturday's Southern Oregon Hybrid battle, North Medford (19-1, 9-0 SOH) will clinch the league's outright title for the fourth straight year.
"As talented as Maryssa is," says North Medford head coach Mike Mayben, "I think she'd give a lot of credit to her catcher for being a really intelligent kid who can read batters and puts Maryssa in a really good position every time she steps out there."
Williamson and Becker have been playing sports together since their kindergarten days and have formed a special bond and a tight-knit friendship over the years. When one does well, it's second nature for them to credit the other.
"Throughout the years it's been nice to play with her because she just has that other level of the game mastered," says Becker. "How she plays affects my play and she's very smart with what she calls. She always knows what to do because she's always so prepared. It makes it really easy for me because I trust her completely with her calls. It's nice to have that, where you're not unsure what to do because she has such good control over it."
"She's too good to me," adds the 18-year-old Williamson of her battery mate. "She's just a great person. I was definitely lucky to get a great pitcher to catch, all throughout my softball career really. She's made me a lot better."
Williamson also serves as protection for Becker in the Tornado's batting order as the cleanup hitter, sporting a .318 batting average with 18 runs and 12 RBIs and a .449 on-base percentage.
"I love hitting but I'm not overly concerned with it," admits Williamson. "I don't put pressure on myself because I'm hitting fourth because the girls behind me can all get hits, too, and we have faith in each other. It's not where I'm hitting in the lineup, I'm focusing on what I can do for the team wherever I'm hitting. If I need to lay down a bunt or slap or whatever, that's what I focus on doing."
Such focus is appreciated by Mayben, who preaches fun and family but not at the expense of a competitive edge once the game is being played.
"Katie's very, very steady," says the coach. "She's got a great personality and her teammates love playing with her. When she's in the game, she's focused and she's not messing around and she's going to get the job done."
"She's worked extremely hard this year to continue to improve," adds Mayben. "Every year if you look at her stats since her sophomore year on varsity, she's steadily improved and is just a solid hitter at the plate."
It was important for Williamson to take the reins from her predecessor Amanda Wolfe and also call the pitches.
"I really enjoy calling pitches," she says. "There's a whole other game going on in my head and you get to focus on so many things that you're always part of the game and always get to be actively involved. I just love having that control."
As she sees it, it seems only natural that a catcher has such input during the game.
"You see what pitches are actually going where they're supposed to and what pitches are moving the most and get a true sense of what the pitches are doing that day," says Williamson.
There are a lot of pregame strategy sessions between Williamson, Becker and the coaches, but it's up to Williamson to throw down the calls and see what happens from there. The benefit she and Becker have is that they are such close friends and have been together for so long.
"It's an odd occurrence for me to shake her off because usually we're thinking the same thing," says the Louisville-bound Becker. "A lot of times I'll get on the mound and start to get the sign and I'll just start pitching before she gives the sign because I know what she's going to call. I think that chemistry has really helped us over the years."
There certainly is proof of that, and neither is looking forward to their run coming to an end anytime soon.
"I hate that it's my last year but it's been a great last year with the team I have around me," says Williamson, who plans to attend the University of Oregon and one day become a doctor. "I love all the girls on the team, we're like a family."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry