It’s better to receive

Catching has always received a bad rap, what with the tools of ignorance and all that.

And, in fastpitch softball, it’s even worse. The headlines all go to the pitcher standing in the circle, while the girl squatting behind the plate, mask on, taking the swings and foul tips of unkind fate, is happy to just to have her name in the line score.

But none of four teams that earned berths in this weekend’s 4A East Regional would be playing if it weren’t for the girl in the steel mask.

“A ton, actually,” Lewis and Clark coach Ross Rhodes said when asked how important catching is to his team’s success. “It starts on the mound and goes right back to the back of that plate.”

And the four catchers couldn’t be much different. There’s a state-veteran senior, a surprising freshman, a junior with a happy-go-luck exterior and a senior with a no-nonsense demeanor.

Yet they have one thing in common: They are leaders of winning teams. Here’s a look at the quartet, in order of their team’s finish at the recent District 8 tournament.

Mead’s Megan Foster, junior

Best attributes: “It’s definitely my bat,” Foster says, following a season when she hit .418 and was among the league leaders in RBIs and home runs. “It used to be my arm, but since I sprained my finger it hasn’t been as strong.”

Defining moment: The finger sprain occurred the week of an important crossover game against Shadle Park. “They wanted me sit out a week but I refused,” Foster said. She caught the entire game with the finger on the right hand black and blue and taped.

Catches: Kim Watson, the winningest pitcher in the Greater Spokane League.

Coach’s comments: “Kim’s success this year can be attributed to two factors: Her drive to improve in the off-season and play at the next level and Megan’s improvement behind the plate,” Mead coach John Barrington said. “Her defensive skills are better this year, she has the smarts to call the game on her own and is the vocal leader on our defense. Kim has to have the confidence to throw certain pitches and because Megan has improved, Kim has more variety in her pitches.”

University’s Jessica Keeton, senior

Best attributes: “She is a solid receiver, who has soft hands and blocks the ball extremely well,” Titans coach Jon Schuh said. “Catcher popups are outs when Jess is behind the dish.”

Defining moment: In the District 8 championship game, Mead’s Ashley Hovis tried to score from second after Chantal Hughes-Gardner was thrown out at first base from right field. U-Hi first baseman Christine Keeton turned and fired a bullet to Jessica, who blocked the plate with her left leg and made a sweeping tag of Hovis, cutting down a run.

Catches: First-year varsity pitchers Molly Owen and Linse Vlahovich, a combined 19-3 this year.

Coach’s comments: “Jessica is extremely important to our team,” Schuh said. “She has a personality that allows her to work well with pitchers. She can calm them down or fire them up when needed to. We are able to throw certain pitches in certain situations that one might not be able to do if one didn’t have a quality receiver behind the dish.”

Central Valley’s Mickenzie Alden, freshman

Best attributes: “She’s a young, strong athlete who understands the game very well,” Bears coach Jeff VanHorne said. “She does a great job calling the game.”

Defining moment: With the Bears scoreless against LC in a District 8 seeding game Tuesday, Alden led off the third inning with a rocket triple into the left-field corner. It started a five-run rally.

Catches: Sophomore Whitney McDaniel.

Coach’s comments: “We knew she was very talented coming in this year, but she’s showed qualities, like leadership, we weren’t sure about,” VanHorne said. “As she matures, she’s just going to get better and become one of the best in the GSL. She still has a lot to learn, but Whitney really believes in her and they work well together. They’ll be together for two more years.”

Lewis and Clark’s Marie Mann, senior

Best attributes: Speed, athleticism and her arm. “She plays center field on my summer team, actually,” LC coach Ross Rhodes said of his Tigers leadoff hitter who stole 12 bases this season. “She’s fast, real fast. She’s got a very fine arm and she’s quick to the ball.”

Defining moments: In the game with CV on Tuesday, Mann twice squelched Bears rallies with quick throws that picked CV runners off second base. “We do a lot of back-door picks. Last year we had 19 pickoffs, but people aren’t getting as far off this year. We really aren’t trying to get too many pickoffs, it’s just there to be a deterrence.”

Catches: Senior Katie Wilmoth.

Coach’s comments: “Personally, I think she is the best catcher in town,” Rhodes said. “She has all the tools and stuff. When they pick the all-league, they do it an awful lot on the batting averages. Hers was below .300, but she brings a lot more than that to a game. If you just go on catching ability, I think she’s the best in town.”

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