Mike Eckhart quietly asked Madelyn Carlson to relay a question.
He knew what Quinn Breidenbach’s reaction was going to be, which made it all the more worth it.
“At practice I hear you play HORSE,” said Carlson, a soft-spoken junior. “Who normally wins that?”
You could almost see the steam coming from Breidenbach’s ears.
“You know, Lynn … We shouldn’t talk about that,” she said, laughing. “Let’s not talk about that.”
“Why not?” Carlson’s quiet voice responds.
Breidenbach briefly fell off of her seat before hopping back on.
“Because I lose,” Breidenbach said. “Every single time.”
They’re both pitchers for the Enumclaw High School softball team. Breidenbach, a senior, is 62-10 for her scintillating four-year varsity career with 721 strikeouts in 425 1/3 innings pitched. Eckhart didn’t start her every game this season, because he also has Carlson, who is 18-0 in three years with 178 strikeouts in 139 innings.
Breidenbach is The News Tribune’s All-Area softball player of the year for the second consecutive season thanks to a deadly rise-ball that she complements with a .500 batting average at the plate.
But she hasn’t had to shoulder all of the load for the Hornets. Not when there’s Carlson, who regularly wins their pre-practice games of HORSE, which is similar to the basketball version of the game, only the winner of this has to be the best at hitting locations with particular pitches.
“I don’t like losing,” said Breidenbach, who is slightly louder and more talkative than Carlson. “(Carlson) enjoys it. I don’t talk to anybody afterward for a good 15 minutes into practice because I have to cool down.
“But then we’re cool again because she’s my Quinn-Lynn twin.”
Think Breidenbach is that determined to win a game of HORSE?
Then think how badly she wants one of those state championship trophies.
She came close her sophomore year, but Enumclaw’s first loss of the season came in the Class 3A state championship game, 4-2, against Kamiakin.
She led the Hornets back to the state tournament last year and earned Gatorade State Softball Player of the Year award. But Enumclaw was stunned in the first round in a 1-0 loss to Juanita, which went on to win the state title.
“It’s always been a goal, but it’s always been one step away,” Breidenbach said. “I feel like it’s right in my hands and then someone takes it away from me. Sometimes it feels like you let your team down and that’s what it has felt like these past three years.
“I felt like I owed it to my team to give it 110 percent just one more year, especially it being my senior year, because they have done so much for me these past four years.
“And I really, really want to win.”
Breidenbach will play at the University of Massachusetts next spring. In 69 innings pitched this season, she has 134 strikeouts and led Enumclaw to its third consecutive undefeated run to the 3A South Puget Sound League title. The Hornets are a combined 55-2 in league play the past four years.
Eckhart said the lone concerns he’s heard from other NCAA Division I coaches are about Breidenbach’s 5-foot-7 stature.
“But at some point, you can’t measure the heart,” Eckhart said. “And she has the heart of a warrior. She’s going to battle you from start to finish.”
Here’s how Breidenbach put it:
“I just go out there and I want to dominate,” she said. “I’m so intense because I don’t want to give myself any room for error. If I could strike out everybody every single game, that would be awesome.”
But she claims she’s not as intense as her mom, a former pitcher herself. Breidenbach is actually a third generation thrower, including the slowpitch softball her grandmother played. She recalled a story of her mom playing in a volleyball league while pregnant.
Breidenbach, the oldest of four, lives within a five-minute walking distance of Enumclaw High School, where her father also went to school. Two streets from their house is her aunt and uncle’s place, one street from there is where her grandparents live and one more from there is her great grandparents.
“My family is pretty intense,” Breidenbach said. “My grandparents were always striving for me to be the best and my parents are both very goal-oriented and they wanted their children to be the best they can be, get good grades and stay out of trouble.”
She remembered the times she’d cry on the pitcher’s mound if she walked a batter.
But nowadays Breidenbach spends her nights sitting on her bed and thinking about softball: how she should pitch her next opponent, how she can improve on her previous game. Same for when she’s icing her arm or her mom, a physical therapist, is making her take a bath in Epsom salts.
She hasn’t thrown a fastball in a game since her sophomore year, instead using her rise-ball (about every two pitches, catcher Brittany Camp said), curveball, screwball, two changeups and a drop-ball.
“I’m going to fight to the death, pretty much,” Breidenbach said. “I am more like, ‘You can come up to bat, but you’re not going to touch the ball. I’m going to strike you out, so you might as well stay back on the bench.”
And the mentality has started to rub off on her teammates, too.
“When I catch for my club-ball pitchers, it can feel like some of them are just going through the motions,” Camp said. “With Quinn, you can feel her drive that she has. She is always putting in hard work.”
“A lot of times if pitchers are struggling, they hang their heads and they can’t seem to get out of a groove,” said second baseman Rechelle Dunn. “But with Quinn, even if she gets down she seems to find a way to get out of it.”
“I look up to her and how she trains a lot,” Carlson said. “I just like the way that she presents herself.
“She walks onto the field and she knows that she is good.”
he News Tribune’s 2016 All-Area Softball Teams
Player of the year: Quinn Breidenbach, Enumclaw, sr.
Coach of the year: Michelle Nixon, Fife
Brittany Genuardi, Bethel, sr. — No question about Genuardi’s leadership for Braves past four years, including two trips to state. Northwest Nazarene signee hit .543 this year with six home runs.
Sophia Bjerk, Puyallup, so. — Keep a watch of this name. Huge bat in heart of Vikings’ order hit over .550 with a 1.017 slugging percentage. Has 45 RBIs and two of her eight home runs came in district tournament.
Delaney Nelson, Tahoma, sr. — The Bears’ most dangerous and consistent hitter. Hitting .645 this year with 43 RBIs and 17 doubles. 4A SPSL North player of the year has struck out just once this year.
Kelsey Breer, Rogers, sr. — Tore her anterior cruciate ligament two years ago but this year regained her lost speed. Picked off once on 34 stolen-base attempts, the Idaho State signee with a 3.99 GPA earned 4A SPSL co-player of the year, hitting .526 with 41 RBIs.
Mia Corbin, Tahoma, sr. — Shortstop and leadoff hitter was two-time 4A SPSL North MVP and has 103 career stolen bases. The California signee in soccer is hitting .590 this year and hit a walk-off home run to send Bears back to state.
Ally Choate, Yelm, jr. — Led Tornados to 4A Narrows title and now has them in the state tournament for third time in school history and second consecutive year. Hit .566 with 20 RBIs and has an OPS of 1.352.
Emily Ensrud, Puyallup, sr. — Two-time 4A SPSL South player of the year followed last year’s .585 batting average with a .632 average this year. Leadoff hitter will play for South Dakota State.
Jourdin Hering, Todd Beamer, sr. — Stony Brook signee and reigning 4A SPSL offensive player of the year upped her average from .447 to .477 and had school-record 36 RBIs. Has a cannon for an arm in center field and also pitched for first time in her career.
Madelyn Carlson, Enumclaw, jr. — Don’t call her the Hornets’ No. 2 pitcher. Not with an 18-0 career record on the mound with a 1.35 ERA, and 53 strikeouts in 40 innings pitched. Also hits .543 at the plate with .943 slugging percentage.
Jordan Adams, Gig Harbor, jr. — 4A Narrows MVP and three-year starter has 171 strikeouts in 99 1/3 innings thanks to a nasty curveball as Tides enter state for second consecutive year. Also has seven homers and a grand slam.
Anna Kasner, Fife, sr. — Hard to imagine a better player in Fife history. Western Washington commit throws between 60-65 mph and has 181 strikeouts in 80 innings, including 20 strikeouts in a no-hitter against Sedro-Woolley and 18 strikeouts against Puyallup.
Carley Nance, Tahoma, sr. — Heartbreaking ACL tear ended her high school career and there’s no denying her impact. 4A SPSL North pitcher of the year and Seattle University signee was 15-0 with 1.57 ERA and hit .696 as cleanup hitter.
Brooke Nelson, Bonney Lake, fr. — “Heard of the freshman at Bonney Lake?” is a question most area softball people have heard all year. Struck out 169 in 107 innings with an 0.72 ERA, hit .696 (39 for 56) with five homers and earned 3A SPSL player of the year honors.
Catcher — Ashley Long, White River, jr.
Corner infield —Abbie Hutton, Gig Harbor, sr.; Tally Thomas, Federal Way, jr.
Middle infield — Aaliyah Kautz, North Thurston, sr.; Alyssa McKiernan, Bellarmine Prep, sr.
Outfield —Jordanne Fray, White River, sr.; Sasha Killings, Rogers, sr.; Erin Roloff, Olympia, sr.
Utility — Maddy Seumalo, Kentlake, sr.
Pitchers — McKenzie Behnke, Orting, jr.; Zoe Collins, Auburn Mountainview, jr.; Hope Lawrence, Central Kitsap, sr.; Kennedy Robillard, Puyallup, jr.