When a first-year school takes the field, expectations are not very high, but when your first-year school features the caliber of pitching of Nicole Baxter, April Wilson and a solid defense, they start to change.
Baxter, a sophomore, has compiled a 13-6 record on the mound, thrown 13 complete games and has 10 games with eight or more strikeouts.
Baxter chooses to deflect the attention and accolades believing her teammates are a large part of her success.
â€œIâ€™m really proud of my teammates. Youâ€™re first year school, so everybody expects you to do really bad, but we did better than everyone expected. The whole team gets credit for our success, they did really well, offense and defense. I couldnâ€™t have done it without them,â€ she said.
Her mother, Alice Baxter, believes her success has come from a strong work ethic and desire to excel.
â€œItâ€™s not been real surprising because she works really hard. She practices a lot and she really cares about the game and wants to do her best,â€ Baxter said.
Nicole began playing fast-pitch softball at the age of 10, but she started playing sports in the first grade participating in coachesâ€™ pitch baseball.
So what does goes through a dominant pitcherâ€™s mind when a batter stands in against them?
â€œIâ€™m thinking I canâ€™t let them get to me. I canâ€™t let them see any emotion and just go for it,â€ Nicole said.
Part of being a good pitcher is belief in your teammates. Baxter definitely possesses that.
â€œMy goal is to not to let them hit. If they do, then I let my defense go to work. I have a lot of confidence in my defense, because if you donâ€™t then youâ€™re really not a team,â€ she said.
Her goal of no-hitting the other team became a reality in the First Annual Round Robin Softball Tournament against the East Lincoln Mustangs. The event was one Baxter will never forget.
â€œIt was really impressive and it made me believe in myself. Some of the time I get down on myself so that (the no-hitter) just gave me the confidence because I know East has really good hitters, so I knew I accomplished something when I did that,â€ she said.
Her mother is thrilled by the many accomplishments on the softball field, but the Baxter household also places emphasis on the classroom.
â€œWeâ€™re really proud of her and excited for her. The fact that sheâ€™s kept her grades up too is really great. Nicole has gotten a really good balance between athletics and academics,â€ Alice said.
Sophomore 13-6, 10 games with eight or more strikeouts, over 170 strikeouts, 13 complete games.
Her father, David, recalls one event that although ordinary spoke volumes to him about Nicoleâ€™s character.
The Lady Knights were in a close game and one her teammates on a routine play made an error. Nicole was the first over to the girl at the end of the inning and put her arm around her and encourage her.
What was the explanation she gave her dad when he asked her after the game? â€˜Well dad weâ€™re a team, everybody tries as hard as they can. We win together and we lose together. When I make a mistake people encourage me, so I just want to do the same.â€™
Several years ago when Etta Tate was a star pitcher at East Lincoln she helped Nicole out in becoming a better pitcher.
This past summer, the chain of good acts came full-circle when Nicole spent a couple of hours for three or four Saturdays she went and worked with 9 and 10 year olds with East Lincoln Optimist. Sheâ€™s also going to be helping Pumpkin Center Middle School out next year.
David, although proud of her season, is more proud of her giving back. Nicole will have another opportunity to give back in her own household as her 11-year old sister Jill also plays softball. What position, pitcher of course.
â€œIâ€™m real proud of her on-field accomplishments. They are a great group of girls, none with previous varsity experience, and Nicole has had a great time. There are some really good hitters, so sheâ€™s been really fortunate to do as well as she has.â€ David says.by John Mark Brooks