Sports

Pitcher perfect

By CASEY OLSON

Sports editor

The pitching circle at Decatur High School has seen its fair share of solid pitching. The Gator fastpitch team and longtime coach Pete Waid have produced some of the better hurlers in the state during the last decade.

Rachael Painter is the next in line.

“You have to get them during the summertime and get them ready,” Waid said. “And Rachael has worked very hard to get where she is at.”

Painter lives and breaths fastpitch. It is the only sport she participates in and she plays pretty much year-round. Painter plays on one of the better 18-and-under select teams around — Washington Hurricanes, who play close to 100 games during the fall, spring and summer.

The hard work is paying off big-time for Painter and the Gators. The young and athletic Decatur fastpitch team opens postseason play today at 3:30 p.m. at Spanaway’s Sprinker Recreational Center in the South Puget Sound League Tournament against the winner of a play-in game between Enumclaw and Kentwood, who played Monday for the fifth and final seed from the SPSL North Division. Both finished 8-8 in league.

Decatur finished in second place behind Curtis in the rugged South Division with a 13-5 record after losing nine seniors from last year’s playoff squad.

Painter has put together one of the better seasons in Decatur’s pitching-rich history in 2004. The slightly-built junior right-hander finished the regular season with an impressive 13-5 record with a miniscule 0.79 earned-run average and a league-leading 165 strikeouts. Numbers that rank her right up with Decatur greats Kelly Claar and Jessica (Waid) Chappell.

Claar, who graduated last year, is one of the better players on the Division I University of Maryland-Baltimore County fastpitch team and Chappell set the all-time earned-run average record at Decatur at 0.59 back in 1996 before being injured in a car accident before her senior season in 1997. Chappell is now one of the more-respected pitching coaches in the Puget Sound area.

“Rachael’s ball moves all over the place,” said Waid. “She is a very smart pitcher and she is only going to get better.”

Painter had the chance to watch Claar, a dominating flame-thrower, last season as the starting right fielder for the Gators and has taken a more controlled approach on the mound. Painter mixes up curve balls, risers and fastballs and throws to both sides of the plate.

“It wasn’t something that I wasn’t used to,” Painter said about not pitching last year. “I knew coming in how prestigious of a pitcher Kelly Claar was so it didn’t bother me. I was just happy to start.”

But pitching is Painter’s passion on the softball field.

“It’s my love,” she said. “I love pitching. I’ve worked so hard to get where I am and when I’m up on the mound it’s a lot of fun.”

And making things even funner for Painter has been the fact that the Gators have turned into one of the hotter teams in the area heading into the postseason. Decatur has won 11 of its last 12 games to secure second-place.

“I really didn’t know what was out there,” Waid said about his 2004 squad. “I didn’t think we would finish in fifth. But things came around.”

“We had no idea what to expect,” Painter said. “But we have a team that is eager to learn and we are now a different team than we were at the start of the season.”

Waid gives Painter a lot of the credit for the second-place finish, but points to a team meeting four games into the season as a big turning point.

Waid knew the Gators needed a solid catcher who could run the team from behind the plate and get the most out of Painter’s pitching.

“You have to have a good catcher to make a pitcher look good,” Waid said. “I told them, ‘Ladies you can’t play this game without a catcher.’ I told them whoever wanted to try playing catcher to stand up.”

Sophomore Carly Colbath, who entered the season as the Gators’ starting left fielder, volunteered and has been Painter’s catcher ever since.

“I don’t think she’d ever played catcher before. But she just has a heart of gold and she is running this team from behind the plate in her first year of high school.”

Since Colbath took over the catching duties, Decatur has won 13 of 16 games, including the last 11 of last 12. During that span, Painter has allowed two or less runs 13 times.

“She was eager to learn,” Painter said about Colbath. “She is an aggressive kid and very athletic. She caught on real quick and she handles me real well.”

Colbath is one of several Decatur players who suited up for the third-place-in-state Gator soccer team during the fall. So they are used to winning.

“I am very impressed with them,” Waid said of the soccer players. “We have a bunch of athletes out there.”

“We want to get to state,” Painter said. “It’s not about how good you are, but how bad you want it. The playoffs are when the rubber meets the road.”

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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