RICHMOND — The Richmond High School softball team entered this season with a winning streak to continue, a fifth state championship to pursue, and one major hole to patch up to get there.

Coach Tony Martin could see it developing, well before the season got underway. Gone were Kalah Patterson, the Bobcats’ smooth-fielding shortstop, and Kelsea Anair, Richmond’s steady third baseman, hanging a vacant sign on the entire left side of the infield. Shortcomings at those positions could bring about a quick end to the then-70-game winning streak, and potentially trip up the Bobcats on their way to that fifth title.

Richmond had no replacements, so Martin set about creating some. Senior second baseman Camryn Hurley became a third baseman. Sophomore right fielder Caitlin Kendrick became a shortstop. Freshman Bri Lancaster, a middle school pitcher, moved a few feet back to second base.

It was Martin’s plan. He just didn’t know right away if it was a good one.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Martin said. “I knew the kids that I wanted to get to play there, but I didn’t know how they’d adapt.”

It didn’t take him long to get an answer. The winning streak is now up to 88 games, the Bobcats are back playing for that state championship, and a big reason why has been the mix-and-match infield that has become one of Richmond’s biggest strengths.

“You had to move all that stuff around … and they’ve pulled it right together,” Martin said. “They’ve done a hell of a job, and it’s nice to see them work hard and try to learn the different plays and what to do with the ball and what’s going to happen next.”

“We started off with Bri at second and everyone in a different position, (and) we were pleasantly surprised,” Hurley said. “We actually have gotten better from there, and that’s not something that I expected. They started out really strong and they’ve only gotten stronger.”

The growing process has been smooth, but all parties involved had their doubts that the experiment would work at first.

“Bri and I sure were pretty nervous at the beginning of the year moving to the infield, because I was in right field last year and Bri pitched all her middle school career,” Kendrick said. “So it was definitely an adjustment.”

For Hurley, the veteran presence of the trio, changing positions was nothing new, as she had played second base and catcher at varsity during her career. But third base was a whole new test, with a whole new set of responsibilities.

“I definitely have to focus on the position itself and being ready,” she said. “Every pitch is way more important at third base than it is at second base, because if you just stop the ball you can always flip the ball to first base when you’re at second. But at third, I really have to focus on ‘OK, where am I going to throw it next?’ I need to be prepared every pitch.”

Kendrick’s and Lancaster’s challenges were just as significant. Lancaster had to take on a new position while adjusting to the varsity pace and fitting in with a roster of players that had come to expect to win every game that they played.

“I’ve been very nervous coming into it. … I was psyching myself out before I even got a chance to play there,” she said. “It was also physically (tough) too, because at pitcher the ball usually gets hit around you, you don’t get the ball. So now I had to get used to hard grounders, line drives, balls coming at me fast.”

Time was tight in the spring, and Lancaster didn’t have much time to learn the spot.

“He, in practice, just said ‘Go to the infield and play second.’ I was like ‘OK,’ ” she said. “And then during the (first scrimmage) game he’s like ‘Yeah, you’re playing second.’ I said ‘OK, here we go!’ ”

Kendrick faced perhaps the biggest course correction, going from fly balls in right field to shortstop and one of the busiest positions on the field. Her early problem was getting in front of the ball; through constant practice, she fixed it.

“Everyone helped me out a lot. Like, every play, ‘Body behind the ball, body behind the ball, body behind the ball,’ ” she said. “It took a lot of reps for me to get confident.”

And then, suddenly, it clicked. Richmond took on Morse in a preseason scrimmage, and as the game went on, the players felt a natural feel for their positions they didn’t have before.

“That was just where it all collected together, because we were practicing and like ‘Ehh…’ ” Lancaster said, her voice trailing off. “Then we went into the game and (thought) ‘OK, we’re good. We’re OK.’ ”

They’ve just gotten better. Hurley has settled in at third base, drawing praise from teammates for her fearlessness at the position, and Kendrick has become one of the team’s most reliable fielders.

“(Kendrick’s) in front of the ball now, she’s moving quicker side to side,” Martin said. “She’s really trying to get those little bloopers behind third base or behind short. Her aggressiveness has picked up a lot.”

“Catie is not afraid of the ball at all,” Lancaster said. “She gets down on every single ball, and Camryn, if Tony tells her to play in, she plays right in as fast as she can and she’s just ready all the time. They’re just so good.”

Lancaster has done just as much work with the bat as with her glove. In Richmond’s biggest test to date this season, a 2-1 victory over Traip Academy, it was the freshman’s single that ignited the winning two-run rally in the seventh inning.

“She’s been very positive, and she actually does very, very well when we least expect it,” Hurley said. “She can pick up the team just like that.”

Everything has gone Richmond’s way in recent years. Add a revamped, redone infield to the list.

“It’s nice being able to put those kids where I want them,” Coach Martin said. “It just makes it so much nicer.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

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Twitter: @dbonifantMTM