COLUMBIA — Sydney Washington stands on first base, peering across the diamond at her third base coach for the sign. As the pitcher comes set, Washington crouches lower, leaning forward in anticipation. Her eyes are locked on the pitcher. She needs to time this perfectly.
Then, as the pitcher releases the ball, Washington launches forward, as if she were a tightly coiled spring suddenly released. Dirt flies into the air. Her hands and legs churn forward furiously, violently.
Hickman’s softball team won decisively over Pilot Grove on the road Monday, beating the Tigers 12-1 in five innings.
The Kewpies had 14 hits in the game, including home runs by Molly Carter, Allie Dishinger, and Andrea Drake.
Carter, a freshman, had three hits, three runs scored, and three RBI in the game. Dishinger contributed with two hits and three RBI of her own.
The scoring outburst came in support of freshman pitcher Shannon Greene, who gave up only one hit, one earned run, and struck out five in five innings pitched.
Hickman (11-10) will try to pick up another road win Tuesday, when they take on Wentzville Holt.
And just like that, she's gone.
Washington, Hickman's junior center fielder and leadoff hitter, knows her way around the base paths. In her first two seasons, Washington has stolen the second and fourth most bases in a season for the program. Statistics were first recorded in 2003.
She has earned the trust of everyone on her team, including her coach.
"She's had the green light since she was a freshman," Hickman coach Courtney Haskell said. "She just makes good reads. It's not like I don't ever give her the steal sign, but if I don't give it to her, and she sees something … she's going."
Washington has something that a coach can't teach — speed. Her mother, Susan Washington, recognized that at an early age.
"When she was little, she played soccer," Susan Washington said. "She didn't have much footwork at all, but she would just scoot past the other girls and score. She was still little, but you could just see it."
Eventually, Washington lost interest in soccer, instead channeling that speed into gymnastics as well as softball. While she uses the power she learned in gymnastics with her hitting and throwing, she said the mentalities in the sports are decidedly different.
"In gymnastics you have to be tight all the time," Washington said. "In softball you can be loose and relax, so that can be kind of hard to transfer."
As she grew up, Washington has also learned how to play through injuries. She tore the meniscus in her right knee twice, at the ages of 13 and 14. Then, before this softball season, she learned that the lingering foot pain she was experiencing was actually a sign that her right foot was broken.
Now, while at school or at home, her foot is hidden inside a protective boot. Washington tapes her foot before practices and games, trying to stabilize it so she can play the way she always has.
"I always ask her how much it hurts, and it's always, 'No, I’m fine," Haskell said. "It hasn't slowed her down any, I'll tell you that. It really hasn't."
The impediment has not stopped her from contributing to her team in the best way she can — by running.
"I don't really feel it when I'm running," Washington said. "I just run."
Her ability to continue playing, despite all the setbacks, is a credit to the mindset she learned from gymnastics, her mother said.
"It's just you and preparing yourself mentally to perform, and I think she brings that to the softball field," Susan Washington said. "That helps her battle through the injury."
There's nothing fake about Washington’s ability to overcome obstacles. Regardless of the injury, Washington shrugs her shoulders, smiles and keeps moving.
"She's a tough girl, and she doesn't really complain about her injuries," Susan Washington said. "She always battles through, and I'm proud of her for that."
While her speed on the bases produces runs, and her range in the outfield takes them away from her opponent, Washington's genuinely caring attitude toward her teammates also sets her apart.
"She's a good friend,” Susan Washington said. "She cares about everyone on the team. I guess more than anything, I think she's just a good girl."
Once she is standing on first base, Sydney Washington doesn't think about the things that have held her back. Her torn meniscusi are a thing of the past. Her broken foot is a mere afterthought.
When it comes down to it, Washington doesn't have much of a strategy. She just goes.
As she smiled and laughed quietly to herself, Washington explained in simple terms her thought process on the base paths.
"Once I get on base, I usually just go on the very next pitch, honestly," Washington said.
No one, and nothing, has stopped her yet.