Before a recent practice,
recalled the first time she stepped into the pitcher's circle for Colorado softball powerhouse Legacy (Broomfield, Colo.)
. Let's just say it didn't go exactly as planned.
"I still remember the first game I pitched as a freshman against Thornton," Gaffin said. "I was so nervous; I literally threw the ball over the backstop."
Gaffin, a senior, can laugh about the moment now. As the reigning Gatorade Colorado Player of the Year, Gaffin has the Lightning in line to win their fifth consecutive Class 5A state title. Legacy (20-2) is seeded third in the 16-team field, and the tournament will be played Friday and Saturday in Aurora.
Gaffin, who will play collegiately at Tennessee, certainly has come a long way since that first outing. Last season she took over the pitching duties full-time for Legacy and promptly posted a 23-0 record and 0.98 ERA. The speedy Gaffin supported that with a .693 batting average, three homers and 41 RBIs.
The 5-foot-10 righthander continued with that success this year, so far compiling an 18-2 mark with a 1.95 ERA. She is among the top five in 5A batting with a .620 average, and her 12 home runs lead the state, to go along with 43 RBI.
"I always set personal goals, but it was more about the team for me this year," Gaffin said. "I wanted to make sure the legacy kept going. These past four years have gone so fast. It's unreal."
During her career, Gaffin has faced two challenges that might have overwhelmed lesser players. First, she took over for the top pitcher in state history in Shelby Babcock, who led Legacy to its first three titles before moving on to the University of Arizona. Secondly, Gaffin had to perform under the watch of coach - and mom - Dawn Gaffin.
"I hadn't really thought about which was harder," Rainey said. "Following Shelby was really hard, because all the questions I used to get were, ‘How are you going to fill Shelby's shoes?' I had to let people know that I wasn't Shelby, and I didn't want to be Shelby. I just wanted to be me.
"But I think it has been harder to play for my mom because we butt heads a lot. Sometimes I will say something, but then I have to cover my mouth and go, "Whoa, whoa, I shouldn't have said that,' but it will be too late. I get pulled aside a lot."
Normal mom and teenage daughter exchanges aside, it's obvious neither would trade the experience they have shared. No one can argue with the results either, which include a 70-game win streak that was snapped earlier this season.
The dynamic works, too, because there is clear distinction on and off the field.
"We don't talk softball unless we are out on the field," said coach Gaffin, who started the Lightning program in 2000 when the school opened. "Maybe while we are driving we will talk strategy and stuff, but if it has something to do with her specifically, we do it on the field."
Perhaps the biggest compliment Rainey offered overall came in her choice of schools. She considered Washington, Nebraska, Georgia, Oklahoma and Oregon before choosing the Volunteers for a variety of reasons, but one in particular.
"(Tennessee co-coach) Karen Weekly is so much like my mom," said Rainey, who was recruited as an outfielder. "Her mentality and the way she carries herself reminds me of my mom. It was a comfort level."
That sentiment was not lost on the elder Gaffin, who has had the Lightning in the Sweet 16 every season since 2003. Although she will have Rainey in a Legacy uniform only through this weekend, she plans to continue her familial approach.
"I've tried to always make the program be what everyone would want for their daughter, and not just mine," she said. "It definitely gives you a different perspective actually coaching with your kid here, because you want that for every kid that goes through your program."
In the big-school division, Loveland (19-2) is the top seed in state. The Indians ended the Lightning's lengthy win streak during Front Range League play.
In the Class 4A state bracket, Wheat Ridge (19-1-1) is the top seed and is led by pitcher Elle Madsen, while in the 3A classification defending champion Valley (20-1) assumes the favorite's role behind Haley Hutton.