She may not be the biggest player on the field, but senior Nicole Osteen may be the quintessential Cactus Cobra softball player.
Going into tryouts during her freshman season (2015), Osteen was an outfielder who head coach Bartt Underwood knew nothing about.
“I’ll be honest, I had never heard of her, but my niece said there was a girl at her old middle school who was very good,” Underwood said. “After her first tryouts, I asked her if she had ever played infield and she said no.”
Osteen had the speed, moved her feet well and thought she would excel at second base, Underwood said.
“She had good feet and was fast and, since I had played middle infield, I knew she would pick it up quick,” Underwood said. “She learned everything fast and has been here for four years.”
Losing her father
Osteen’s parents are divorced. Her father had never seen her play live and was planning to see her play during the Cobras playoff run.
Cactus, having won 52 straight home games, was preparing to play chief rival Sunrise Mountain April 17 when things would change forever.
“I got a text about an hour before the game from (Osteen’s) mother,” Underwood said. “She said her dad had been killed in a car accident and she hadn’t told (Osteen) yet.”
During warm-ups, Sunrise Mountain head coach Jody Pruitt noticed something was wrong, Underwood said.
“It was weird because the game before, (Pruitt) actually joked that we still had that Osteen girl on our team and she wondered how long she had been with me,” Underwood said. “When I told her, (Pruitt) gave me sympathy and it really put the game in perspective.”
He said he didn’t say anything after the game and Osteen’s mother took her and her brother out after the game and informed them what had happened.
“I wasn’t upset that nobody told me because if they had, I probably would not have played my best or wanted to play at all,” Osteen said. “Even though we lost for the first time at home in a long time, nobody said anything and everyone was very comforting after.”
Underwood said he saw her the next day and told her he was there for her if she needed anyone to talk to, but she returned to the field as if nothing has happened.
“I am sure she is hurting, but on the field she is just like she always is, strong and playing hard,” Underwood said.
Osteen, who was excited for her father to go see her play for the first time, said it has been hard, but she is trying to focus on her play on the field.
“It has been hard and I miss and think about him a lot, but I know he is watching me play and so it makes me play even better,” Osteen said. “My stepmom, the woman my dad was married to, is going to come down to watch me play, so that is a nice feeling that she is coming to take his place, so to speak.”
4 years with the Cobras
When she joined the team as a freshman, assistant coach Jeff Griffith couldn’t remember her name and came up with a nickname that has stuck with her for four years.
“Coach Griff couldn’t remember my name and started calling me the LBO,” Osteen said. “I didn’t know what it meant, but he told me it means little blond one and he has called me that ever since. It is fine, I kind of like it, and I have been LBO ever since.”
During her freshman season, Osteen played in 28 games but only went to the plate 14 times. That improved to 35 games her sophomore season and 19 at bats.
“She only got to the plate a handful of times her first two seasons and she struggled with her hitting,” Underwood said. “But she really turned it around in her junior season.”
In her junior season, Osteen turned it around, hitting .390 with four doubles, a triple and her first high school home run, which she said is her best softball memory. This season, she is batting .432 with 20 RBIs and six doubles.
“Hitting my first high school home run my junior year is probably my greatest personal memory,” Osteen said. “It was at the Tournament of Champions Tournament in Bullhead City and I didn’t see it coming. Coach was most excited, and I knew when I hit, it was going to get out. I have never seen coaches that excited, so that was an amazing feeling.”
Entering her senior season, Osteen has been the cornerstone of the team and said she owes her success to her mother and her coaches.
“My coaches never gave up on me, and they make me keep working every day to get better,” Osteen said. “That and my mom who has told me to do my best in anything I do. She has never pushed me to play. In fact, she has told me if I wanted to quit, I could. She has helped me with the mental side of the game and told to me take breaks when I need it.”
Osteen said she has taken breaks in the off-season and likes the time off from the game. She played badminton for the Cobras and finished second in doubles with Emma Dinnigan, losing the finals to Jerikah Davis and Taylor Alphabet of Scottsdale Chaparral in the Division II state title game.
“I played volleyball my freshman season, but gave it up to play badminton,” Osteen said. “I played with (Dinnigan) and we finished second in the state tournament this year. I like badminton because it is a completely different sport from softball.”
End of her high school career
It has been 12 years since Cactus softball won a state title and two years since it advanced to a championship game, losing to Tucson Ironwood Ridge.
The Cobras (as of press time) have advanced to the 4A semifinals by outscoring their three opponents 29-6.
“Even though the scores may look like it was easy, we still get nervous even if we are winning by 10 because we know anyone can come back and get us,” Osteen said. “That is why we never stop trying to and actually try to play harder every inning.”
Osteen excels on and off the field, as she has accumulated a 3.4 GPA and said she actually studies for fun.
“When I am not playing softball, I like to hang out with my friends and, actually, this team is a big part of my fun,” Osteen said. “Even on our off days, we actually all hang out and like to swim together. I also like studying and will actually study in my private time.”
Osteen signed to attend Scottsdale Community College and is already planning on starting with summer workouts with the team in mid-June.
“I am planning on majoring in education because I want to be a teacher,” Osteen said. “But I want to continue to play softball at the next level and the level after that, wherever it may be.”
When asked how she will feel when that final out is recorded and her career is over, Osteen didn’t hesitate.
“I will remember my coaches and teammates,” Osteen said. “I love them all and I wish I didn’t have to graduate because I just love Cactus softball and I really want to leave a state champion.”