PORT ANGELES — For a player capable of producing so much noise on the diamond, Port Angeles’ Jada Cargo is quiet and reserved off the field.
The Roughriders’ senior, a stalwart at shortstop since her freshman year, will get the chance to continue wreaking havoc at the plate and in the field after she signed a letter of intent to continue her softball career at a familiar and welcoming destination: Lower Columbia College in Longview.
Cargo will follow the path of recent Port Angeles graduates Nizhoni Wheeler and Lauren Lunt, who reached the state championship game as Riders and later played together for the Red Devils.
“I’ve talked to Nizhoni and Lauren a lot, and they tell me there’s no other place they’d have me go,” Cargo said. “They said it’s like a family down there, and they will always have your back. Knowing they care about their players like that stood out.”
Lunt even aided in Cargo’s recruitment, telling Lower Columbia assistant Dave Andrew about a special player up in Port Angeles after a talk with Riders coach Randy Steinman. A call between Steinman and Andrew yielded a personal workout at the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s Billy Whiteshoes Memorial Park and ultimately a scholarship offer.
Steinman is enthusiastic in his praise for Cargo, calling her “the hardest worker I’ve ever coached.”
“After practice, the coaches will stay around for an extra half-hour for some extra hitting, and we usually have 90 percent stick around. But after the hitting, she asks if she can take some ground balls. And we practice from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., and a couple of times we didn’t get out of there until 7 p.m. And you start to get one or two, then four, five, six other girls staying for more infield.”
That lead-by-example approach coming from the team’s most talented player stands out to Steinman.
“She really helps the team that way,” Steinman said. “I’ve hit her more ground balls than anybody in my career. Even if she isn’t the verbal leader, I’ll take that over a rah-rah girl who doesn’t work hard. I’m so proud of her for signing; she deserves it more than anyone for putting in the time and putting in the work. To be able to extend her career in college, Jada deserves it 100 percent.”
Cargo said staying after practice was a habit she got into early on.
“I wouldn’t exactly be satisfied with the amount of grounders we got. I would always want a few more buckets,” Cargo said. “Then it got to the point where nobody wants to leave, and the coaches have to tell us it’s time to go home.”
Lower Columbia is getting an all-around athlete, as well.
As a Rider, Cargo recorded batting averages of .500 as a freshman and .545 as a sophomore, lacing extra-base hits to the gaps, driving in and scoring runs and holding down the middle infield.
Steinman, who coached former Major League Baseball pitcher Jeff Ridgway when he was at Port Angeles, said Cargo is “one of the best natural athletes I’ve ever coached.
“What I mean by that is, softball-wise, she does things that no human should possibly do,” Steinmain said. “Her IQ on the field, she just sees and reacts so quickly. If there’s a ball hit to her and a runner on second, she’ll see out of the corner of her eye that runner will be moving toward third on the throw, so she’ll fake the throw, pull the runner off the base, make the tag and throw out the hitter at first. She is the master at that fake throw and getting baserunners to bite on the fake.”
Steinman’s favorite memory so far is a three-run blast in extra innings that proved pivotal in a Port Angeles win over Olympic.
“The bottom line is she is a gamer,” Steinman said. “And it doesn’t matter what sport she plays. She ran cross country for two years and then came out to play soccer, becomes a starter and helps them to a league title and to state. No matter what she does, she picks it up and excels.”
Steinman hopes she’ll get another chance to play for Port Angeles this spring.
“The first two weeks of practice [last spring] before COVID, 8o percent of the balls she was hitting in practice were 20 or 30 feet past the fence,” he said.
Assistant coach Dirk Gouge commented, “There’s your league MVP right there. Unfortunately, she and the team lost out on a season, but I hope we can do something, some games, this spring.”
Cargo thanked Steinman for his help along the way.
“He has been a huge part of my accomplishments and has helped me in making the decision of going to LCC,” Cargo said. “Randy is the coach everyone wished they had and would be lucky to have.”
Cargo also thanked softball coaches Warren Stevens, Chuck Perrizo, Duffy Fors, Gouge, the late Bill Lammie and “everyone that has supported me over all the years.”
Her mom Vashti White-Acosta and stepdad Jeremy Acosta also received praise.
“I want to thank them for simply everything,” Cargo said. “Driving me to and from tournaments, spending time and money just to make sure I’m successful in something I’m passionate about. I obviously wouldn’t be here without them, but I really wouldn’t be where I am without them and all their support.”
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or [email protected].