NEWPORT — Nokomis High School junior third baseman Austin Leighton had been having a frustrating time at the plate on Friday afternoon.
That all changed with one swing of the bat.
Leighton, who had struck out twice on a total of seven pitches in her first two at-bats, launched Jill Bisson’s first pitch of the seventh inning over the left-field fence to give the Warriors a 1-0 victory over previously undefeated Gardiner in an error-free Class B North softball game.
Nokomis improved to 2-2 while Gardiner is now 3-1.
Leighton’s homer was her first of the season. She hit three last year.
“I was getting really discouraged, honestly,” admitted Leighton. “I don’t strike out a lot. It’s something I don’t like to do. But my teammates were cheering me on and having that confidence really helped.”
Leighton said she thought it had a good chance of carrying out of the park.
“But I didn’t notice it had gone over the fence until I got past first base,” said Leighton, who added that the pitch was “right down the middle.
“It was one of those pitches you would want to hit,” Leighton said.
“It was supposed to be low and outside but I kind of left it hanging over (the plate),” said Bisson, a sophomore right-hander. “She got a hold of it. It was a good hit.”
Leighton was impressed with Bisson’s velocity, saying “she had a lot more speed than we’ve seen the past few games.”
The homer ended a brilliant pitchers’ duel between Bisson and Nokomis junior righty Britney Bubar, who had contrasting styles.
The hard-throwing Bisson featured a live rise ball while Bubar kept the Tigers off-balance with her slow deliveries including a drop, curve and knuckleball.
Bubar allowed three singles and struck out six while throwing just 79 pitches, 58 for strikes. She induced 11 ground-ball outs.
Bisson gave up four hits and struck out 11. She threw only 80 pitches, 66 for strikes.
Neither pitcher walked anyone.
“She was the slowest pitcher we’ve faced this season,” said Gardiner freshman catcher Jazmin Clary. “We probably should had slapped and bunted more than we did.”
“I’m not the fastest pitcher around so I had to utilize my other pitches,” said Bubar. “I threw a lot of drops because that was what was working against them. My curve is my go-to pitch but they were hitting those so I threw mostly drops.
“I thought I did pretty well. I know I have my defense behind me. They helped me out a lot,” said Bubar, who stands just 5-foot-1 — “if you round up.”
Her defense had come up big in the top of the seventh.
Julie Nadeau reached on a one-out infield single and Mallory Bailey followed with a bloop single into left field. Outfielder Maci Leali threw to third baseman Leighton, who noticed Nadeau was trapped between second and third and promptly chased her down and tagged her out.
“I don’t like people coming near the third-base bag, that’s my territory,” said Leighton.
A a grounder to Leighton ended the inning.
Chelsea Crockett hit two singles for Nokomis and Bailey, who came on as a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning, singled twice for Gardiner.
“I told the girls to be aggressive at the plate because (Bisson) wasn’t going to walk anyone,” said Nokomis coach J.D. McLellan. “She had a great rise ball. She was burning us with it. She may have made one mistake and that’s all it takes.”
“It was a typical Gardiner-Nokomis ballgame,” said Gardiner coach Don Brochu. “It always goes down to the wire. Both pitchers were hitting the strike zone and no one made adjustments except for that last swing.”