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As a freshman, when Bailey Cavanagh found herself in a two strike count, it usually ended with a jog back to the dugout.

This year, she’s replaced that jog with a trot around the bases when it has mattered the most for the North Idaho College softball team.

Cavanagh, a sophomore from Lake City High, has played in 43 games for the Cardinals, batting .469 (69 for 141) with 12 home runs and 63 runs batted in.

“She’s been having an awesome year,” NIC coach Don Don Williams said. “She’s been hitting in the fourth or fifth spot, and just been producing runs and had some timely RBIs. She’s just so much better than last year and she’s worked hard at improving her approach.”

Cavanagh had nine strikeouts as a freshman. She’s got six this year.

“She’s attacking good pitches and her swing path has gotten better,” Williams said. “Last year, she’d get two strikes, swing at the next pitch, and then run to the dugout. This year, she’s only struck out six times. Just her whole mental approach has improved. She’s attacking early and often. She put a lot of time into her swing in the offseason, and it’s paying off.”

Cavanagh had four home runs and 34 RBIs last year for NIC.

“She’s grown mentally and is a tougher player,” said Williams, who started the program at NIC in 1998. “She’s always been a tremendous defensive player, but has really bought in and put the work in.”

NIC (33-9-1) opens defense of its NWAC Championship against Southwestern Oregon (18-23-1) on Friday at 12:30 p.m. on Field 2 at the Dwight Merkel Sports Complex in Spokane.

The teams tied 9-9 in five innings in a previous matchup in Portland on April 19.

“We were playing on a turf field and it started raining,” Williams said. “Then it started raining sideways. If we were on a dirt field, the field was going to be destroyed. In the fourth inning, I didn’t think we should be out there, then it started dumping harder and our pitchers couldn’t feel their hands.”

NIC also returns sophomores Madi Mott, Ashlyn Winn and Devinne Amesquita, all of whom have at least 20 home runs this season. Mott was the conference’s MVP last year.

“They have high expectations and know what it takes to win,” Williams said. “They’re definitely ready to go play on Friday.”

NIC beat Lower Columbia of Longview, Wash., 8-5 in last year’s championship game.

“It’s a little different this year,” Williams said. “We’re the defending champions, but have a totally different team. It has been more of a process this year, but our goal was to be playing our best ball at the end of May. We had some adversity early due to weather and not being able to get outside that caused some errors, but the girls are playing well now.”

Bellevue (40-5) is the tournament’s top seed, with Mt. Hood second (32-7) and Edmonds third (37-8) and NIC fourth.

“It’s going to come down to who can play a clean game defensively and produces some runs,” Williams said.

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