The 4A Kingco softball league offers end of the season awards, like Most Valuable Player, Coach of the Year and a team sportsmanship award.
It’s too bad Kingco doesn’t designate a Most Valuable Vocal Leader award, because Redmond High senior Justine Bakker would be a shoe-in.
Bakker is a two-time honorable mention 4A Kingco player and two-time team co-captain who has caught nearly every game the last two years before injuries forced her to play shortstop this week.
And she has one of the most recognizable voices in any sport. She is often the loudest player on the field, and her quick wit and humor often leaves fans on both sides of the dugout laughing — even during pressure packed situations.
“I think the vocal part is huge,” Bakker said. “I try to emphasize a lot of my game with that because we have a quieter team. We have quiet leaders on the team. Baily (Mullins) is certainly one of them, but I think it’s also important to have a vocal leader trying to get the moral of the team up. And I’m always doing my best to give everyone direction out there, just keep everyone motivated, so I like to think I’m doing an okay job of that.”
That positive energy may be more important now more than any other time. Redmond’s bats have gone silent lately. The Mustangs were no-hit in a 3-0 loss to Inglemoor on Monday, before being shut out on just four hits — one a solid single by Bakker to left — in a 2-0 loss to Eastlake on Tuesday.
The Mustangs were shut out for the third straight time, 1-0, to Juanita on Wednesday.
“It’s definitely something we can turn around,” Bakker said. “We’ve been hitting good all season. We’re just in a little bit of funk right now, but we might as well get it out of the way now before playoffs because these games don’t mean anything right now.”
Redmond coach Jackie Bloom agreed that both the hitting will come around, and that the games in the middle part of the year aren’t as important. With a 9-6 record as of the Reporter’s deadline, the Mustangs are all but assured one of the eight 4A Kingco playoff spots and can’t reasonably go for the top seed, who gets a bye. Redmond is now 1-5 against the top teams in the league — Woodinville, Eastlake, Juanita and Lake Washington — and 8-1 against the rest of the teams.
“We are just in a little bit of a slump, which is fine because we are not in playoffs yet,” Bloom said. “I think of these games as a nice little chance to see what the other teams have, to see what the pitchers have, that way when we face them in the playoffs we know (what to expect).”
Due to a hamstring injury to Mullins, the team’s leadoff hitter and starting shortstop, Bakker was forced into shortstop role against Eastlake.
“This is the first game we’ve had her at shortstop and she is a leader anywhere on the field,” Bakker said. “So it’s nice to have her leading from short also.”
Bloom has talked all year about the importance of Bakker, both for her work on the field and her leadership off it.
“She brightens my world,” Bloom said before the first game of the year. “Since she was a sophomore, she’s brightened my world. It’s going to be a real shame to let her go. So I’m going to enjoy every possible moment this year.”
Bakker’s leadership importance is magnified because the team has just one other senior, University of Columbia-bound pitcher Jessica Rakonza
“It kind of falls on our shoulders because we are looked to as the leaders, but I don’t think that’s the job specifically for the seniors.” Bakker said. “Anyone can do it, because I was a little more vocal than I usually was as a sophomore coming out of my shell, so if we can get the underclassmen to talk a little bit more, it will leave the team in really good situation.”
But Bakker and the Mustangs are still focused on this year. Redmond is hoping to finally get to state after two years of coming up just short, including making it to a winner-to-state game last year.
“More than anything,” Bakker said, “(we want) to go out with a bang.”