One year ago, a team of young softball players from Grays Harbor County were struggling to compete against big city teams from across the Pacific Northwest.
My how things have changed.
When the Grays Harbor Crushers — a 12-and-under team consisting of players from Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Montesano — defeated the Northwest Thunder (Woodland) 9-2 on Sunday in the final game of the United States Specialty Sports Association Northwest Fast Pitch Tournament, they cemented their spot among the organization’s elite programs in the region.
In Sunday’s finale at the Northwest Sports Hub in Centralia, the Crushers took control of the game with a four run third inning and recorded eight hits in the four-inning contest. Britten Neal, Anika Hovis and Audree Gaddis sparked the offense as each recorded two hits in the game. That was more than enough run support for pitcher Riley Hendrickson, who allowed just two runs on one hit while striking out nine in a dazzling four-inning performance (games limited to one hour, 20 minutes due to COVID concerns).
The win capped off a two-tournament run of 11-1 for Grays Harbor, which is now ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 518 in the nation in the USSSA rankings.
The success at that tournament was preceded by a tournament championship in the prestigious Gold Bracket of the Fall Scream Open in October. Also taking place at the Hub in Centralia, the Crushers went undefeated through the three-day event, scoring five runs in the first inning to quiet the Oregon Thunder (Medford) 7-5 to win the 13-team tournament.
Winning the Fall Scream title against stiff competition put a once overlooked team on the map.
“We don’t have the resources (other teams) have, so for us it’s kind of special,” said Nikki Gaddis, one of the Crushers’ three head coaches. “We’re going up there and all these people that are used to big-named organizations from big cities are like, ‘Who the hell are the Crushers? They just took first. They just took first, again.’ So it’s kind of neat because nobody knew us, but they’re starting to know us now.”
It’s been a long road for a Crushers program that started out playing in the 10U class for two seasons before moving up to 12U last year. But the Grays Harbor team took their lumps in the first year of 12U competition. Each loss the Crushers suffered last season was by at least eight runs as they were a “C” classification team punching up against A- and B-class competition.
“Last year, we started out as a brand-new, 12U first-year team and we went in and got stomped,” Coach Gaddis said. “Parents were saying, ‘Why are you doing this? Why are you playing them up?’ … I said, ‘It’s our first year of 12U. You don’t get better by playing easy games.’ I’m not about winning. I’m about getting them experience. I think we won maybe 4-5 games last year the entire season.”
So the little start-up program from the Harbor got to work in the off-season, working hard and finding any way they could to get practice time in during COVID lockdowns.
“I’ve had my pitchers out looking for undercover areas, pitching in the pouring down rain,” Coach Gaddis said, adding that they didn’t have access to the Bishop Complex due to coronavirus shutdowns. “Their pitching coach lets them pitch inside (a local business) after hours. We are creative with what we have and we make it work.”
That work paid off, as the small program from Grays Harbor placed a surprising third in an eight-team tournament they hosted in early October, followed by the aforementioned tournament success.
“When we won the Fall Scream, it was really cool,” Coach Gaddis said. “The girls were just jumping up and down and were like, ‘That’s why we played up last year, isn’t’ it?’ And I said, ‘Yup, and look at you guys now.’”
Key to the Crushers good fortunes has been the ability of their two pitchers — Hendrickson and Audree Gaddis — who have combined to shut down opposing offenses, allowing just two hits per game on average.
But Coach Gaddis credits the entire team for the successes they’ve had on the field this season.
“We have 11 great players,” she said, stating her team plays with “heart, determination and a love of the game.”
While Gaddis and her fellow head coaches Joe Edmondson and husband Ric Gaddis have helped to guide the program to statewide recognition, she is ultimately most proud of the girls on her team that have played through some rough seasons but now find themselves on the better end of the win-loss column.
“I’m super proud of them. I feel like these are life lessons that they are going to carry with them well beyond softball. … You can be the unknown team, you can be the underdog, but it all comes down to who wants it more, and my girls want it more.”