If asked about her 121-strikeout record over 11 games, Rainier softball pitcher Bailey Elwell, would say that she’s nothing special.
Yet the junior led her team to districts for the first time in recent memory despite being one of only two upperclassmen on the roster.
While the Mountaineers’ march through the district championship ended after a 12-0 game against Adna High School, they have a lot to be proud of, said coach Kyle Greenwood, and much of that pride should be placed on Elwell’s shoulders.
“Bailey has such a unique personality,” Greenwood said. “We have such an elite athlete — especially for our league as one of the best players in it — and she’s so humble and such a leader on the team. … They just really look up to her. It’s really nice, as a coach, to see that she’s the one they’re looking up to, that she’s the one helping coach them. You know they are going to trust her words because they see how good she is.”
Elwell has been playing softball since she was 8-years-old, and she didn’t always understand the game as well as she does now.
“The only memory I have of playing when I was a kid was very embarrassing,” she said. “It was my first game ever. It was fantastic. I was up to bat. I hit the ball, but had no idea what to do when I hit it. I turned around and I looked at my dad in the stands. I raised my shoulders and was like, ‘what do I do?’ And I got thrown out. I didn’t even run.”
But now, she’s one of the best batters Rainier has on its roster, and one of the quickest as well, Greenwood said, darting from base to base, completely in control of her destiny on the field.
To prepare for a game, Elwell said she likes to listen to music.
“I like to basically calm myself down,” she said. “I let myself know that my teammates have my back, that I have their back, that we are all going to work together and do our best.”
She’s no slouch at conditioning either.
“In preparing myself physically, I like to run, I lift weights and I also do boxing. I find that helps a lot,” she said. “Pitching wise, I do lots of strength drills going into the pitch, lunging into the pitch, running. I also challenge myself and see how far away from the catcher I can pitch.”
And the catcher, Keira Anderson, has no small part in Elwell’s success, with Elwell saying she’s “the hardest working person on the field, but since she is behind the plate, she is often overlooked, so big shout-out to Keira for always making me look good.”
When she gets nervous, Elwell simply thinks about her teammate, she said, and the anxiety slips away.
“I take deep breaths and I let myself know that I have a great catcher that’s behind the plate that’s there to make myself look good and she works harder than I do, and that I have a great field that’s also working their hardest.”
While Elwell may congratulate her teammates on their work ethic, Greenwood said it’s all Elwell’s doing.
“She comes to work every single day with an absolute A-plus quality, knowing that she’s going to put in the time, because she knows that she sets the example and the tone for the rest of the team to follow,” he said.
Elwell said that friendship is really important when it comes to playing at the best possible level.
“Team bonding helps us build trust,” she said. “You’ve just got to get to know that person on a level outside of softball. We play games with each other, like dodgeball. We play a whole bunch of things just to make ourselves feel good. Wiffle ball is a good one.”
Yet she said such acts of camaraderie don’t come naturally to her.
“I can say that I’m pretty anti-social, and in softball you are forced to be social, so I think it’s really good for me,” Elwell said. “I’m always surprised by how easy it turns out to be to make friends.”
Despite her unease when it comes to being social, Greenwood said that Elwell has a knack for making others laugh.
“She doesn’t have a lot of outbursts per say, except for when there’s random giggles, which is always fun, but we were playing Stevenson this year and it got deathly quiet because she was striking them out one after another,” he said. “In the middle of a pitch, she just said, ‘It’s too quiet out here,’ and smokes in another strike. And everyone just started laughing and clapping. She struck out like 19 that day.”
That kind of elite performance has caused Greenwood to feel grateful for Elwell’s presence in his program, he said.
“We are very fortunate and very lucky to have a player of her caliber at a school like Rainier,” Greenwood said. “This is a very unique and awesome opportunity for us to have her on our team, and I know the rest of the players know that as well. She’s a part of this program and builds it to being successful. This is one of the most successful teams Rainier has had in a very long time and she’s huge and pivotal in that.”
When the last pitch is thrown, however, Elwell just likes to think of herself as part of the team, as part of something bigger than herself.
“I don’t think I’m that special,” she said. “I think a lot of the attention definitely goes to me, but I don’t. … I definitely believe that I’m as equal as the rest of the team. I’m most proud of how young they are and how well they do. … I think every game, as long as we do our best and do as good as we can, I think that’s great.”