She’s got a devastating combination of speed and movement. Her curve ball – it’s not the ordinary curve. It breaks late, quick and out and up. And that’s tough. —Spanish Fork softball coach Don Andrews, on Cambrie Hazel
SPANISH FORK — For some people, going to a happy place might be relaxing on a beach or unwinding next to a campfire. For Spanish Fork pitcher Cambrie Hazel, it’s standing in the circle, game on the line, bases loaded and no outs.
OK, that might not be her "happy place," but it is the kind of scenario in which the three-time state champion thrives.
Dons coach Don Andrews isn’t sure whether that’s a skill she developed as a three-year starter or if it’s just the way she’s wired.
“I don’t know, to tell you the truth,” he said with a slight chuckle. “It’s hard to tell how competitive she is because of her demeanor. But I can remember when I realized, ‘Hey, she has what it takes.’ And it was on a bunt that popped up. She managed to catch it and then threw someone out at first.”
Hazel’s skill, toughness and leadership earned her the 2017 Ms. Softball Award. She finished the season with a 24-1 record, leading the Dons to a third consecutive state title with a 1.25 ERA. She earned 290 strikeouts and maintained a .439 batting average with six home runs.
Spanish Fork's Cambrie Hazel throws a pitch during the first 4A championship game against Uintah in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 25, 2017. | Alex Goodlett, Deseret News
“She just started playing at an early age, and when I first saw her throw me the ball underhand, that was probably the day I decided, ‘You need to start pitching,’” said her father, Brandon Hazel. “She played other sports: basketball and when she was young, soccer. It was a toss-up between softball and basketball for quite awhile. But I think she liked pitching, liked being able to determine how her team could do.”
The future Dixie State pitcher’s competitive fire isn’t one of those flashy displays. In fact, if she wasn’t a softball talent, she might want to consider professional poker.
She is, as her teammates and coaches joke, a woman of few words. But her intensity is evident in how she approaches every pitch, every play and every game. It’s the reason she lost only one game this season, and the reason that there is no situation in which the Dons found themselves this season that seemed hopeless when Hazel stood in the center of the infield.
“She’s quiet until you get to know her,” said Andrews. “Once you get to know her, she’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever been around. Athletically, she’s a very determined person. Most of the time if you get a hit or load the bases on her, she gets tougher.”
Brandon Hazel said that he thinks her confidence comes from her commitment and work ethic.
“Just a lot of practice,” he said of why she seems to get tougher as the situation gets more dire. “Knowing that she can get it done. I think she’s confident, just the way she holds herself.”
Because Hazel is so competitive and never sees a situation that she can’t work her way out of, she’s reluctant to ever wave the white flag. That made this year’s state championship game both a test of her own mental fortitude and her commitment to the team’s aspirations.
For the first time this season, she couldn’t seem to find a way to stop an opponent. Region rival Uintah had not beaten Spanish Fork this season, but the Utes shelled Hazel, earning four home runs before Hazel told her coaches to take her out of the game.
She said then that it was a difficult decision because, at that point, the Dons felt they could still win that first game. That meant her final prep game would end with her on the bench. As it turned out, the Utes just kept hitting and ended up forcing the second title game.
Hazel returned to the circle and, as she has done often in her career, found ways to stop and slow the Utes as Spanish Fork’s offense came alive to result in a 17-5 win.
“I was surprised,” Brandon Hazel said of his daughter’s decision to leave the first game in hopes of preserving a win. “She doesn’t want to come out of any game, no matter what sport. To do it is pretty big, but she did it for the sake of the team.”
Spanish Fork pitcher Cambrie Hazel, 2017 Deseret News Ms. Softball, poses for a portrait in Spanish Fork on Monday, June 12, 2017. | Alex Goodlett, Deseret News
Andrews said he’s seen Hazel mature in many ways over the course of her career, but she’s always been very committed to the team concept. This year, he said she had to adjust to a leadership role without most of the friends she’d been close to all of her high school career.
“Her best friends that she played with in summer were all gone,” he said. “She started the season out just kind of lost with a new group of friends. But she made more friends and she led them. In her own way, she’s a very good leader.”
Her teammates said they see how hard she works, and they trust her. Andrews said she’s got tremendous talent to go with her competitive fire.
“She’s got a devastating combination of speed and movement,” he said. “Her curve ball – it’s not the ordinary curve. It breaks late, quick and out and up. And that’s tough.”
Andrews admits Hazel is something special, and that might make it tough to replace her next year.
“Impossible,” he said. “When you’ve won as many games as she has, it’s going to be really hard to replace her and what she does. We can replace her, but it won’t be with another Cambrie.”