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There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned pitchers’ duel.

Woodland’s Olivia Grey almost always does her part. The reigning TDN All-Area Softball Player of the Year has 102 strikeouts, 10 hits allowed and one run through six games. Her 19-strikeout performance in a 1-0 victory over Castle Rock on Thursday was her third 19-strikeout day of the season.

Castle Rock had someone to match her, though, on Thursday. And it came in the form of freshman Payton Kessler, who struck out nine and allowed just four hits in the defeat. Her one allowed run was unearned, as Kelly Sweyer knocked an RBI double in the first. From there, it was lights out.

“She hits her spot every time,” catcher Zoe Naugle said. “Wherever I ask her to go, she’s there. She has spin that rises and everyone is under it. And her changeup is really consistent. I can call it in a tight spot and she’ll be there. She’s very impressive.”

Kessler has been a welcome surprise for the 3-3 Rockets. Guided by Lower Columbia commit Naugle behind the plate, Kessler is well on her way to picking up some accolades in her career. And it doesn’t hurt that she just went toe to toe with the 2A state champion and Portland State commit Grey.

“She’s a very coachable person. She’s just a good teammate,” Naugle said. “I think this will give her a lot more confidence. Freshmen can be kind of shy, but this gives her a lot of confidence going 1-0 against a state champion team. It’s impressive going into our league. Outstanding.”

Grey was just too good for the Rockets on Thursday, despite Katey Montgomery’s efforts to even things up after a bunt single in the bottom of the seventh. She then stole second and advanced to third on a passed ball. Two strikeouts later, though, Castle Rock was headed to the dugout.

Grey has seemed to better her game again this season, after bursting onto the scene following a junior-varsity campaign as a sophomore. She thrives in pressure situations, as she showed with her 69 strikeouts in last year’s state tournament when Woodland captured the crown.

“Just breathe and know I have a defense,” Grey said. “I know it’s not just me out there.”

As for her gaudy numbers this season, Grey doesn’t put too much stock in them. She’s more pleased the team is 6-0.

“I just take it game by game and yeah, that’s great, but it’s in the past,” she said. “There’s nothing I can do now to change it or get more strikeouts or less. And so I just try to move forward and do what’s best for the team.”

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Sports Editor

Joshua is the sports editor for The Daily News. He joined the staff in January 2016 after working at The Bellingham Herald. He is a Western Washington University graduate and native of the Puget Sound region.

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