Some local teams missed out this season on possible postseason runs, or state title potential. But one local squad stands out.
It’s the Clatskanie softball team.
The Tigers haven’t lost since 2018. That includes a 27-0 campaign a year ago and a state title, its first in softball in school history. That includes three titles over four sports, with a fourth in five seemingly inevitable.
But Clatskanie hasn’t had this success sitrictly because of its talent. And be sure, the Tigers are talented. But it’s the mentality and the atmosphere that keep the Tigers going, always looking forward, always staying ambitious.
“It’s just about the journey, usually,” shortstop Olivia Sprague said. “I think that’s what we enjoy most of all. But obviously being defending champs, I think repreating was in the back of our mind.”
Tigers coach Kevin Sprague maintains the coaching cliché of one-day-at-a-time, one-at-bat-at-a-time. It helps keep the pressure of the mounting success at bay.
Kaity Sizemore said that once basketball ended, the talk around town was could the softball team keep it going, could they do a double repeat.
Everywhere. At the grocery store. At the gas station. Everywhere.
“All you can say is, ‘That’s the goal,’” Sizemore said. “It definitely comes with a little pressure.”
But Clatskanie never let that pressure overwhelm. True, the Tigers never had a chance to get any kind of group workouts together outside of a handful before the season’s postponement and eventual cancellation, so Kevin Sprague never had a chance to fully evaluate what he had.
He holds, though, that the 2020 Tigers could have been even better than the 2019 squad, if you can believe it.
“I just can’t shake the feeling of what we would’ve had this year would’ve been something,” Kevin Sprague said. “It computes for me because in the way that I was alble to communicate with the kids. In their freshman year and their sophomore year, it was very hands-on, individual. Then you watch these kids mature and grow, and pretty soon you hear them saying and repeating. Not just because, but because they believe in it. And as a parent or as a coach, when you see, not only your child, but a group of people on that, trusting it, believing it. This was gonna be there year where you saw them put it to work. Not us.”
So not only do the Tigers work in patient, deliberate, focused movements, they do so together, as one.
This also comes from the top, but it manifested itself in a remarkable way.
Trinity Hamm, a senior, started playing softball in seventh grade, which is somewhat late, especially for someone who played varsity softball as a freshman.
But then, during her sophomore year, things started to deteriorate.
She began experiencing severe migraines. They would last all day and were debilitating, sight-removing monsters.
It worsened still. She started having what felt like seizures, where she would be essentially incapacitated for upwards of three or four yours.
It removed softball from the equation. For two years, she languished away from her favorite thing and her favorite people in the world, knowing not what was ailing her.
“I never knew when I was going to go down,” Hamm said. “No independence. I still can’t drive to this day.”
Then, on some random advice, she visited a chiropractor, who discovered something fascinating and terrifying all the same.
The top of her spine was out of alignment.
Years prior, she got hit in the head with a bat during school P.E., though nothing really came of the incident initially.
But over time, the carefully-aligned spine worked its way crooked. Her C2 Vertebrate with xxx inches out of alignment, and her Atlas bone, which holds up the skull at the top of the spine, was twisted around and putting pressure on an artery. What she thought were seizures were actually her passing out due to oxygen deprivation.
After losing essentially two years of softball, she was finally ready to return to playing full-time.
Then, unfortunately, global pandemic.
“I was in denial,” Hamm said of losing her senior season that was supposed to be a reunion with the game and people she loves. “As a team captain, I was like, ‘Let’s do some practices.’ I was hitting off a tee every day. Completely in denial of it. Then it slowly started hitting me, and a couple days it hit hard.
“That was my first year (back at) school, too. I was excited. I was working my butt off in the offseason. With Kevin not even knowing.”
That family atmosphere is tangible.
Hamm mentioned the love and admiration she has for Kevin Sprague, who instilled in her the passion for the game of softball. She mentioned her teammates, all of which kept her sane and close while she was enduring a misaligned spine.
It suggests that, even if Clatskanie weren’t so impressively talented, the Tigers still had the DNA to be contenders.
“We just knew each other so well,” Hamm said. “We knew how to build each other up. We knew how to not let each other get down. No drama. For being a a bunch of girls, it’s kind of crazy there was no drama.”
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