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State softball: Brooke Olson, Kaylee Levien boost state-bound North Central

North Central’s softball team took its lumps last year with a new battery of freshman pitcher Brooke Olson and sophomore catcher Kaylee Levien.

Late in the season, following a nine-game losing streak, the Indians had a record of 4-14 and looked nothing like the 2013 team that won the Greater Spokane League championship.

But NC, as it did this season, ended the 2014 campaign with a couple of crucial wins. The Indians nearly qualified for the State 3A tournament, dropping a 6-5 winner-to-state regional game against Shadle Park, which went on to place third at state.

Now the Indians (12-11) are the team headed to the state tournament, thanks to six wins in their last eight games, including another winner-to-state regional game against Shadle. NC opens state play at 9 this morning at Lacey against West Seattle.

The Olson-Levien connection has blossomed this season through dedication and determination.

“They’re on the same page and they both are extremely competitive people,” NC coach Rob Kuehn said. “They make it look easy and it’s not, because Brooke has a tremendous amount of movement on her pitches.”

“We have a connection that’s unbreakable,” said Olson, who led the Greater Spokane League with 96 innings pitched. “She understands me and I understand her, and we always have each others’ backs. It’s like she’s a sister to me.”

“It’s only just going to build more next year, so that’s really exciting to know that I’ll have had a really good pitcher my whole high school career,” Levien said.

Both played catcher as youngsters, but Olson switched to pitching after two years to give her knees a break. Levien said she got hooked on catching because the position’s involvement with each play.

Olson, under the tutelage of pitching coach Steve Fountain, discovered that she was a natural in the circle. Her repertoire includes seven pitches.

“My curveball is my baby,” said Olson, who ranked among the top five in strikeouts (65) and earned-run average (2.63) in the GSL. “I use that a lot. I’ve been working on my changeups a little more. They’re getting there.”

“She’s definitely (become) a lot better about hitting her spots, and she’s matured a lot more in her pitching,” Levien said. “She got really good movement in her changeup this year.”

The two have developed an innate connection with their coach.

“They’re on the same page with me,” Kuehn said. “I call their pitches and they both understand what I want. It’s taken a while, but if I call two pitches in a row, they understand what the second pitch means and how to deliver it.”

Kuehn praises Levien’s strong arm and claims many teams are cautious about stealing against her. Levien has received many pointers from NC assistant coach Jason Wederspahn, who played catcher at NC and Gonzaga University.

Olson, despite being the league’s shortest player at (maybe) 5 feet, provided offensive punch with seven doubles and a league-high five homers.

“To me, if you watch her coming out of the (batter’s) box on a hit, that tells the story of Brooke Olson,” Kuehn said. “It’s not the pitching. It’s how she does everything else in the game. … She’s a pitcher, and she’s a really, really good pitcher, but she’s a player.”

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