POLAND — They stood side by side, trying to throw their best pitches.

But as they focused on their own offerings, they couldn’t help but sneak peeks, trying to gauge the skills of the other.

Poland seniors Kylie Martin and Kolby Woods grew up pitching against each other as youngsters, but by eighth grade, they were on the same team, vying for the same job. Their relationship began with those side-by-side throwing sessions in middle school.

“To be honest, we were both intimidated by each other,” Woods said. “But we got along really well and worked really good together.”

What began as a bit of a rivalry evolved into a solid partnership that has benefited the two senior pitchers and their Knights softball team.

“We saw each other and thought we were pretty comparable,” Martin said of those early throwing sessions together. “I thought there was still a competition between us, but as we grew up together, it became a working together type of thing.”

The Knights have high hopes for this season with a senior-laden club. Having veterans like Martin and Woods to pitch is a great benefit and luxury.

“They’re pretty interchangeable,” Poland coach Kat McKay said. “They back each other up very well. If one starts the game, the other can close it. They both can go seven innings. They both have different styles. Kylie has a lot of speed. Kolby has accuracy. Either one can be off or on and whichever one isn’t, the other one seems to be.”

Having an equal vying for the same role as you as early as eighth grade can be a challenge, but these two pitchers have made it work. They shared pitching duties in eighth grade and then moved onto varsity together as freshmen. They’ve been staples with the Knights ever since.

“They’ve been with me since freshman year,” McKay said. “Both have improved dramatically. They both knew from freshman year that they wanted to be the starting pitcher. They battled each other a little bit, but it was a good battle. They pushed each other. Now they’re at the point where they’re ready to rock n’ roll. They want it bad. They want to win.”

The two pitchers have developed a great working relationship and significant trust in the other.

“I know if I’m down, she has my back,” Woods said. “If she’s down, I have her back. It’s good to have someone else and we’re a lot alike, too.”

Though one takes pitching time away from the other, it’s a working relationship the two pitchers have grown to enjoy and value.

“I love working with another senior pitcher,” Martin said. “We both have had similar instruction from various coaches. So we know how to help each other out. We’ve worked together since eighth grade on improving each other and ourselves. We have a really good system going. Being together and working together makes us that much more excited for this season.”

The Knights went 8-8 last year and lost in the Western B quarterfinals. Poland gave Cape Elizabeth a scare before the Capers moved on to the regional final.

“We’ve always competed well against Cape,” Martin said. “But we’ve never really been able to beat them. That’s definitely a goal this year, along with other teams. That’s our foundation – how competitive we’ve been against Cape. Now we’re ready to take it to the next level.”

Poland has seven seniors on this club. In addition to the two pitchers, catcher Kelsey DeBurra, infielders Michaella Arsenault, Kalor Plummer and outfielders Emily Gibson and Haley Whitworth give the Knights a seasoned team. That gives Poland some great expectations.

“We’re trying to build on the success we’ve had the last three years,” McKay said. “We kind of been stopped every year in the quarterfinals. We’d like to push past that point this year. I think part of that will be the mental process of it — shaking off an error and learning how to do that.”

Woods and Martin are a key piece of that. McKay has the option of alternating their starts or using them both in the same game. She’s used both scenarios with them. It’s a great benefit to have two pitchers that provide so much versatility and options.

“We have two powerhouses and leadership on the mound from both of them,” McKay said. “When Kylie and Kolby are on the mound, there’s a presence that they bring. Each one is a little different, but that leadership presence comes from both of them.”

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