Before every game, Gloucester Catholic softball coach Tom Sullivan has the same brief conversation with Cait Eltzholtz.
"I look her in the eyes," Sullivan said, "and I tell her, 'I need you to get on base.' "
How the scrappy leadoff hitter does so is generally not Sullivan's concern.
And why should it be?
Eltzholtz has won two state championships. She has as much softball in her blood as any South Jersey athlete. And she has done nothing but earn the trust of her coaches and teammates in a career that includes more than 100 hits.
"I've seen Cait grow, in the last four years, into a mature player and a mature person," Sullivan said. "She's a hard-nosed player. She can hit for power, and she's an excellent slap hitter and bunter. She definitely sets the table for us. When she gets on, we win games."
Table-setter is a role Eltzholtz relishes and in which she thrives. The senior second baseman is batting .403 with eight stolen bases for a Rams team aspiring to three-peat as Non-Public B state champion.
"I like being the catalyst," Eltzholtz said. "I like giving my teammates the opportunity to drive in runs.
"And the best part of my own play this year is that I've been more of a complete hitter. The last couple of years, I've pretty much been bunting and slapping, but this year I've really been working on my hitting, and it's definitely made me a better player. It keeps the defense off balance."
Eltzholtz owes much of that growth to a softball pedigree that includes a mother, Patti, who was a standout at Bloomfield University, and a father, Kevin, who is a former head coach at Rutgers-Camden.
That's part of the reason that Cait Eltzholtz will continue her career next year at Rutgers-Camden.
"It makes me feel like I'm carrying on something that my family was a part of," she said.
More than just a coach, Kevin Eltzholtz was a standout fast-pitch softball pitcher in various leagues in his younger days.
"That's helped me a lot, too," Cait Eltzholtz said with a laugh. "He throws hard, and he has a lot of good pitches, so it's good practice for what I'm going to see in a game.
"It's actually a big help to always have someone there to give you live pitching whenever you need it.
"My parents have both coached me my whole life," she continued. "My mom turned me into a lefthanded hitter when I was 12, because that's what she did - and that's been a big part of my success."
Eltzholtz is the only senior on a team that Sullivan said is growing with every game it plays.
Just as Eltzholtz is his leadoff hitter during games, Sullivan said the second baseman is out front in an effort to help the younger players understand the game and learn what it takes to succeed at the varsity level.
"We're starting four freshmen this year," Sullivan said. "And she's really been mentoring them. She's a senior. She wants to win a state title. She makes it known that she wants to win a state title, and she'll make it known what it takes to do it."