When no one else will, call on the coach's kid.
That's how Juneau-Douglas High School sophomore Nicole Bavard was introduced to the catcher's position in softball about five years ago - and she's been playing there ever since.
Bavard and the rest of the Crimson Bear softball squad - winners of 14 straight - will take the field today and Saturday for three games against the Sitka Wolves. The varsity will play at 7 tonight and at 1 and 3 p.m. on Saturday. All games are at Melvin Park.
Bavard first donned catcher's gear while playing on a Midnight Suns team coached by her father, Steve. The star pitcher was Ashley Larson - now a sophomore thrower for the Crimson Bears - who pitched so hard that no one else on the team wanted to catch her.
But when your dad is the coach, it's a little bit tougher to get out of an assignment. So Nicole Bavard took up the spot behind home plate.
"I've been catching ever since," she said.
This season, her first on the varsity squad, Bavard has caught a number of spectacular outings by Larson and a duo of freshman pitchers - Hannah Barril and Torie Powers. In a three-game series in Ketchikan earlier this month, Barril threw a no-hitter and Larson and Powers each threw a one-hitter against the Kings.
"She's our everything," Powers said of Bavard. "She stays in front of the ball all the time. I depend on her to get the bad pitches, and she does every time."
"She's critical, from the standpoint that she has the ability to get along with everybody," Crimson Bear head coach Dave Massey said. "She's a settling force."
And Bavard is far more than just a backstop and sounding board for Juneau's strong pitching staff. She's got a great move to pick off runners who try to steal - and she's done just that several times this season.
"She turns around and gets the ball going back almost before it hits the glove," Massey said of Bavard's throws to second base. "She sees really well. She has great peripheral vision."
Bavard said she enjoys playing catcher because she gets to be in the center of the action on every play.
"I like the fact that you're in on every single pitch, you're calling every pitch," she said. "You have control of every game."
Right now, the Crimson Bear coaches are making most of the calls for different pitches, but Bavard said she is gaining confidence and hopes to take over more of those duties as she gains more experience.
Bavard said the pitchers make her job a lot easier.
"It's the best having pitchers like these guys," she said. "They have so many different pitches (and they pitch them well). It's less work for me when you call a pitch, and the pitchers hit it right on that spot."
The Crimson Bears have a strong history at catcher. Bavard's immediate predecessor was four-year varsity player Suzanne Parr, who graduated after Juneau won the state title last season.
"It's hard to live up to Suzanne's standards," Bavard said. "I've been working hard to live up to that role. (Last year) I'd come to every varsity game I could and watch everything she did, because I wanted to be just like her."
"She has a big spot to fill," Larson said of Bavard. Last season, Parr caught for Larson in varsity games. "But Nicole is only a sophomore, and I like the way she catches. ... I definitely think that she'll be really good."
This weekend, the Crimson Bears (14-2) are facing the only team to beat them this season. Sitka defeated Juneau in its first two games of the season - both one-run games decided in the bottom of the seventh inning - before the Crimson Bears came back to trounce the Wolves in the third and final game of the April series in Sitka.
But since that time, Juneau has come together as a team.
"We only had one practice outside before we had to go to Sitka; we still had to touch up on a few things," Barril said. "Now that we've played 16 games, we're a whole new team."
"Our freshman are pretty much sophomores in experience by now, and our sophomores are pretty much juniors," Massey said.
The Crimson Bears have already secured a berth in next month's state tournament. Massey said playing the Wolves, who are among the best teams the Crimson Bears have faced this season, will provide valuable experience for state.
The Juneau junior varsity and Red & Black squads will also be playing this weekend. Game times can be found in Sports in Juneau on Page B2.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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