ITEM PHOTO BY KATIE MORRISON
Mia Nowicki has turned in one of the best performances in Spartans softball history.
By KATIE MORRISON
There are certain moments that can define an entire career, or games that can define an entire season. Monday’s game between the Austin Prep and St. Mary’s softball teams is one that can be deemed an instant classic, and a huge moment in the career of Spartans senior, Mia Nowicki.
Nowicki turned in one of the best performances in Spartans softball history Monday, as she did it all against Austin Prep on the road to lead St. Mary’s to a 1-0 win in 13 innings.
Nowicki went the distance for the Spartans, striking out 27. As if that wasn’t enough, she also cracked a solo home run to give her team the win in the 13th, handing St. Mary’s rival Austin Prep its first loss of the season. The Spartans (10-1) clinched a state tournament berth with the victory and moved into a tie for first place, with Austin Prep (9-1), in the Catholic Central League. It also helps ease the pain of the Spartans’ loss to the Cougars in last season’s Division 3 North final.
“I haven’t seen anything like it,” St. Mary’s coach Paige Licata said of Nowicki’s performance Monday. “I can’t even describe what it was like.”
The righthander, who has committed to play softball at Assumption College next season, has been pitching for the Spartans for six years. Widely regarded as one of the most formidable pitchers in the area, Nowicki lived up to the hype Monday, as she does almost every time she steps into the circle.
“Dominant isn’t the right word. It’s hard to come up with a word for what she did,” said St. Mary’s athletic director Jeff Newhall. “For that to happen against an opponent that’s undefeated, it carries even more meaning.”
“My riseball and two-seam fastball were working really good,” Nowicki said, adding that she was able to locate her pitches better than she had over the past few games.
In the 12th, Nowicki ran into trouble with two outs and the bases loaded. The Spartans intentionally walked two of Austin Prep’s best hitters, and it was up to Nowicki to keep the runner on third.
“I knew I just needed to get her to hit it and not walk her,” Nowicki said. “I think being a senior captain, and taking on that role of always staying positive and not showing defeat or nerves, it helped keep me in it.”
She ran the count to 3-1 on the hitter, but buckled down to strike her out and keep the game going.
“I don’t know how a kid in high school handles that, we’re on the road and it was a big crowd,” Licata said. “Everyone was screaming, and there’s a girl 60 feet from scoring. One bad pitch and she could score. But she wasn’t panicked at all. I think I might need a pacemaker, but I don’t know how she could do that, with all the pressure solely on her. Unbelievable.”
Nowicki clearly handled the pressure well, because she knocked in a home run to give St. Mary’s the lead the next half inning.
“I had struck out my past two at-bats, and I made an adjustment because I struggle with outside pitches, so I moved closer to the plate,” Nowicki recalled. “I stopped thinking and relaxed, and swung at the first one I liked.”
The win was a game to remember for St. Mary’s.
“It’s a big win because we beat a phenomenal team,” Licata said. “Three great things happened today.”
It was also a thrill for the big crowd that came to watch, which included Newhall.
“Anyone who was there probably hasn’t seen a softball game quite like that before,” said Newhall, who coached Nowicki for five seasons with the St. Mary’s basketball team. “I can’t imagine they’ll see another like that again.”
And, Newhall said, it was especially sweet to see the hard work Nowicki has put in over the course of her high school career pay off in a big way.
“It’s always nice to see it happen to someone who has put as much work into her craft as she does,” Newhall said. “This is a kid who works really hard at this game, she puts 365 days a year into it.”