Olivia Graham sits and waits until she's called to fire fastballs again.
Graham isn't used to sitting. Last season the pitcher devoured innings for Buffalo High School. Now when she's not pitching she's eating Snickers and watching Ali Mathison or Malerie Riewer stymie opposing batters.
The three pitchers have the Central Lakes College Raiders on top of the Division III fast-pitch softball polls.
The Raiders opened the season with a 7-6 loss to College of Lake County during their March Florida trip. They have not dropped a game since and own a 31-1 record.
Olivia Graham (left), Ali Mathison and Malerie Riewer have pitched the Central Lakes College Raiders into the top spot in the NJCAA Division III softball poll.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
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"I love it," said Mathison. "This is what I live for. This is why I came to school here. This is my life and this is my favorite team that I've ever played for."
Last season Mathison and Riewer pitched the Raiders to second place in the NJCAA national tournament. Riewer finished with a 16-6 record and 2.25 ERA. Mathison recorded a 10-6 record and 2.42 ERA.
The two adapted to sharing time after being the primary pitchers on their high school teams.
"I'm not going to lie, it was really hard to get used to," said Mathison. "Last year it was just me and Malerie so it was really hard. I was used to being one of the better people in high school. Now I come here and I'm not the best. It's what makes us have such a strong team."
Team camaraderie was Raider head coach Bob Sullivan's first order of business when it came to Mathison and Riewer. The addition of Graham this season was not a problem either.
"Last year when Malerie and Ali first got here during the very first practice I introduced them to one another and made it very clear that they needed to become best friends," said Sullivan. "They both come from high schools where their teams did very well. Malerie's team went to state and Ali's team was one run from going to state. They led their teams in pitching. As soon as you can get them to understand that we needed them both, and now all three, then the rest of it is easy. This group has understood that from the start."
High school: Buffalo
Pitching stats: 11-0, 0.486 ERA, 77 strikeouts, 21 walks, 51 hits, 5 earned runs in 72.0 innings pitched
High school: Bagley
Pitching stats: 10-0, 2.205 ERA, 25 strikeouts, 12 walks, 67 hits, 19 earned runs in 60.1 innings pitched
High school: Dassel-Cokato
Pitching stats: 10-1, 3.322 ERA, 27 strikeouts, 21 walks, 62 hits, 27 earned runs in 59.0 innings pitched
Riewer is 10-1 with a 3.322 ERA. The lefty throws a fastball, changeup, screwball, curveball and riseball.
Mathison is 10-0 with a 2.205 ERA. She throws a fastball, curve, rise and changeup.
Graham is 11-0 with a 0.486 ERA and a team- and Northern Division-leading 77 strikeouts in 72 innings. The righty throws a fastball, curveball, change, rise and drop.
"You give a lot of support to whoever is out on that mound because that's what it means to be a team," said Riewer. "You rely a lot on that pitcher.
"We're all supportive of each other, especially when we play a a team back-to-back. I've given Ali some advice, like don't throw your rise to this number because she hit mine. We talk about pitching with each other."
Sullivan said Graham pops hitters up, Riewer creates ground outs and Mathison fly outs. While each is close in talent all three bring different qualities to the mound. That diversity allows Sullivan to create favorable matchups depending on the opponent.
"It's a gift anytime you can have three pitchers with the caliber that they are," said Sullivan. "These girls are so close to one another. They're so equal. It's a real benefit because we can decide who can pitch better against a certain team, depending on the style of hitters they have."
As the Raiders head into the Minnesota Community College Conference state tournament this weekend at St. Cloud, all three pitchers are confident in themselves and each other.
"Against Fergus Falls I got rocked," said Mathison. "I wasn't pitching well and they hit everything. I knew that Bob could pull me at any time and put in someone else and that we could come back and be fine.
"You just never know when you're going to have a bad day. Obviously you don't want to have a bad day pitching, but you never know. It's nice to know we have other pitchers who can come in."
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