KENNEWICK -- Caitlin Klepper loves pitching.
"I hate standing around and not doing much," she said. "I like being in every play."
As a four-year varsity starter for the Southridge softball team, Klepper has done plenty.
During her freshman season, she split pitching duties with then-sophomore Kacie Sams and helped lead the Suns to a fifth-place finish at the state tournament.
Though the Suns have been league champions and made the postseason both years since, they haven't returned to state.
Klepper hopes this season will be different.
"We all want to go to state and come back with a trophy," she said.
The three-time all-league pitcher's experience will be vital to a team going through a lot of changes.
Only six players return from last year's team, and both catchers are in their first varsity season. Also, Eric Weisgerber, who coached the Suns to their first state berth in 2005, is at the helm again after three years as Columbia Basin College's head coach.
Through all the change, Klepper has been a steadying presence for the Suns, and her teammates are motivated to help her return to state.
"It would be a good way to send her out," said senior right fielder Mallory Jones, who played with Klepper on Southridge's 2008 state squad. "Hopefully, we can pull through for Caitlin."
Klepper started playing softball in second grade and took up pitching at age 11, when she played on the Tri-City Breeze club team. Jones faced her as a member of the Tri-City Heat.
"I remember we'd say, 'Uh-oh, that's that Klepper pitcher; she's really good,' " Jones said.
Now, Jones is glad to be playing with her, not against her.
"She never loses her composure," Jones said. "Even if a team's hitting against her, her facial expressions never change. She keeps her intimidation factor."
Klepper says she has developed her mental toughness since her freshman year.
"I'd mess up and feel bad for everyone else, and it would make things worse," she said.
Now, she takes deep breaths and tries not to overthink. Those tactics appear to work: Last year, she was named the CBBN Columbia Division MVP after leading the division with a 1.40 ERA and 140 strikeouts over 125 innings. She also made the Class 4A all-state team as an honorable mention.
Weisgerber says Klepper's height (5-foot-10) also helps her effectiveness in the circle: "She has a pretty good understanding of what she can do with her size."
And, he added, "she can pretty much throw the ball wherever she wants it."
Weisgerber and Jones believe Klepper's best pitch is her drop ball, but the left-hander, who consistently throws 59-60 mph, has more in her arsenal.
"Her changeup gets a lot of batters," Jones said. "Her fastball works to her advantage. It's really fast, and a lot of batters can't catch up to it."
Klepper soon will see how her talent translates to a higher level. Next year, she will play softball at UNLV. Klepper took an unofficial visit to the University of Washington and also checked out Tulsa and Akron, but says she felt most comfortable with the Rebels' staff and players.
After taking a class in sports medicine as a sophomore and junior at Southridge, she plans to study athletic training in college.
"I want to be around sports and don't want to be in an office working," she said.
In the meantime, Klepper will try to lead Southridge to the state tournament in Lacey, but she doesn't expect an easy journey.
The Suns lost to state powers Walla Walla and Richland in nonleague play, and Kamiakin figures to be their biggest competition in the CBBN 3A.
Also, the Suns got caught in a lot of one-run games last year, including a 4-3, season-ending loss to Kamiakin in regionals.
"I think if we hit well, put runs on the board and take pressure off ourselves, it will be really helpful," she said.
And it could help her come full circle.
* Katie Dorsey: 509-582-1526; firstname.lastname@example.org