At Stevensville's pregame softball practice one day before the team's 7-4 pivotal Southwest A conference win against Butte Central on Friday, Syd Paul was absolutely crushing the ball.
The junior left fielder hit at least seven home runs in batting practice at her home field in the Bitterroot according to one of the Yellowjackets assistant coaches.
The power surge carried over for Paul on Friday, even at the bigger stage — with a bigger fence — of Grizzly Softball Field in Missoula. She hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the second inning against the Maroons, giving the Yellowjackets a 7-3 lead that they wouldn't relinquish.
"I never used to hit away that much, I used to slap and bunt, but this year my coaches have been having me swing away," said Paul, Stevensville's No. 2 hitter who connected on her first high school career home run. "I've been working on it constantly in practice, and getting those reps in has really helped out."
Paul's homer, a part of a three-hit day for the junior, cleared the high right-center field fence at the pristine turf field, one that players on both teams marveled over before and after the game.
"When we first walked in the dugout the girls are looking at the size of the dugout and how many bat hooks there are, and we didn't have to put our own out," Stevi coach Joey Wark said, chuckling. "We did a little extra warming up to get used to the surface. ...We even did sliding practice, which we've never done before a game, just to get some of those things out of the way."
Paul's swing of the bat seemed almost unimpressed, however.
That wasn't the case, as the Stevensville team gathered for photo-ops beneath the scoreboard and by the Griz logo post game.
Still, for Paul — and the handful of other Yellowjackets committed to play softball after high school — the stage in Missoula certainly wasn't too big.
"Knowing it was on this field, I was just so excited," said Paul, who has committed to play at Bemidji State in Minnesota and study biology. "Just trying to get ready for college ball, that was a big part of it, too."
Batting immediately behind Paul in the Stevensville lineup was Haley Kampka, who added an RBI base hit in the Yellowjackets four-run first inning. Kampka is also set to play softball at the next level, as she's signed with Carroll College.
Since the Fighting Saints traditionally play the University of Montana softball team, Kampka will likely take the field again in Missoula a time or two.
"I was just talking about that before the game, like, wow, I can't believe I'm going to be here next year playing for Carroll," Kampka said. "That was pretty cool to think about."
Kampka will likely have a bruise to remember her first game at the Griz field, though, as the third baseman took a scorching one-hopper off her left shoulder. Although she briefly went to the turf, she shrugged off concerned coaches and teammates and maintained a smile throughout the entire ordeal.
"I'm just a really happy person," Kampka said, laughing. "I've taken a lot of hard grounders so I'm just kind of used to it."
That demonstrated toughness has Stevensville (3-2 in conference, 10-3 overall) sitting in a good spot after its win on Friday. The Yellowjackets — who missed the 2018 state tournament due to a tiebreaker — currently hold the advantage over Corvallis (3-4, 4-10) and Butte Central (2-3, 6-7). That puts Stevi in what would be a playoff-clinching third place behind Hamilton and Frenchtown if the season were to end today.
The season didn't end Friday, of course.
But the Yellowjackets showed they potentially have the pieces to extend their season. Along with Paul and Kampka, Stevi first baseman Mikayla Newman adds to the next-level pedigree with commitment to Black Hills State in South Dakota.
Add in a good pitching performance from Ashlin Hiller, whose complete-game effort was rewarded with a win on Friday, and Stevensville looks tough going forward.
It's only fitting the Yellowjackets looked that impressive on a college field.