Ace of diamonds
By SARAH MASON
Of the News-Register
In 2010, with decisions about life beyond high school looming, Karina Paavola threw a changeup.
Now a senior and the reigning Northwest Conference Softball Pitcher of the Year, the Kelso, Wash., native remembers not giving the idea much thought. Paavola (pronounced PA-vo-la) successfully completed her freshman season before spending two summers nursing a wrist injury and stress fracture in her foot.
While Paavola was sidelined, her teammates were gaining exposure to college coaches at tournaments.
“The injuries didn’t really affect me much because I didn’t see my career going anywhere,” Paavola said. “I was never serious about softball and preferred not to think about it at the time.”
It wasn’t until late in Paavola’s junior year of high school that she had a change in heart about college softball.
“When I told my dad I wanted to play, he was mad,” Paavola laughed. “He was frustrated because he had put so much money into pitching lessons and knew all along that I could do it. He told me that he knew I was going to Linfield even before I did.”
When her parents discovered how much fun she was having playing softball with her kindergarten friends during recess, they signed her up for the Purple Thunder, a tee ball team.
When Paavola turned 12, she moved to the next level and joined a fast-pitch team called Washington Illusion Gold. At 14, her dad hired a pitching coach for her.
Paavola helped the Kelso Highlanders to two Washington Interscholastic Activities Association 4A State titles in 2009 and 2010.
“My high school team was really good and I enjoyed winning,” Paavola said. “I couldn’t see myself giving it up.”
Originally Paavola was set on going to Pacific University to play softball. But when she visited Linfield, she changed her mind and committed to the Wildcats instead.
The union between pitcher and program has paid off with an NCAA Division III national championship in 2011. Paavola also garnered third-team NFCA All-America honors as a sophomore in 2012, going 24-4 with a 1.40 earned-run average and striking out 103 batters.
Paavola’s name is firmly imprinted across Linfield’s record books – in particular, the section detailing strikeouts. She has 515 for her career, trailing only Brittany Miller’s 632, against 131 career walks. Paavola’s next win in the circle will put her ahead of Miller as the winningest pitcher in Wildcat history.
“She has a commanding presence in the circle out there,” said Linfield senior pitcher Shelby VandeBergh. “Pitchers are natural leaders on teams and she has really stepped up. Karina always has a mentality that she isn’t going to let anyone get on base and really focuses on the little things.”
Linfield hosts the Northwest Conference Tournament, which begins Friday at 4 p.m.; the Wildcats’ first opponent is yet to be determined. At 25-2 in conference (31-6 overall), Linfield is the tournament’s No. 1 seed, having clinched that designation two weeks ago.
As she has done to so many hitters, Paavola helped keep that seeding out of reach.