Only a freshman, it’s easy to see that Carroll County pitcher Sydney Nester is already one of those once-in-a-generation players.
No matter if she were to retire from the game today, Nester would have already secured her place to at least be in the conversation for the Mount Rushmore of Carroll County athletics. Just 5-6, she completed an unparalleled freshman season on Saturday by hurling the Cavaliers to the first team state championship in school history, allowing just two total runs in the victories over Deep Creek and Woodgrove.
In those two games, Nester showed amazing composure – not getting rattled while falling behind Deep Creek early, then fending off a miraculous at bat with two outs and the tying run on third in the final inning of the state semis. She coupled that with amazing determination, dominating defending state champ Woodgrove with 13 strikeouts and no walks in a two-hit shutout just one day after throwing 107 pitches.
For the season, Nester went a perfect 19-0. She tossed the first perfect game in school history against Blacksburg and hurled multiple one- and two-hit shutouts. She also recorded a miniscule earned run average of 0.82. The freshman also had an unprecedented strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly 10 to 1, whiffing 222 batters while only walking 24. She gave up 60 hits (an average of just over three per start) and allowed just 15 earned runs.
And finally, consider these statistics. Nester started six of Carroll’s eight postseason games this year, earning wins over Bassett, Jefferson Forest, Chancellor, Fluvanna, Deep Creek and Woodgrove. In those six games, Nester gave up just three runs and 16 hits in 40 innings of action.
“I’ve only been in softball three years, but coaching baseball, I have never had a pitcher with the skill level she has. She is above any pitcher,” Carroll County head softball coach Rick Nester said of his many years of coaching at Carroll County. “You don’t have much separation there. You have athletes. It doesn’t matter if they are male or female, I’ve never had a pitcher with the skills and velocity that she brings to the game.”
The Carroll skipper said Nester is easily a Division I prospect with multiple ACC and SEC schools already looking at the dominating right hander. The school has never had a Division I pitcher, he said.
“Mike Montgomery was probably the best pitcher we ever had. I never had the opportunity to coach Mike,” who played at East Tennessee State University. “He got drafted by the pros and he was probably one of our better pitchers. Rod Bryant was another one. Rod was All-State. But you look at Sydney, here she is going against the defending state champs and they get two hits. One of them was a bloop hit to right field and the other was an infield hit in the seventh.”
Nester’s success is a combination of many factors. Her head coach said she not only has great velocity on her pitches – having been clocked near the mid-60s – but she also has great control of her full pitch arsenal. She also has a wicked change-up that has made many batters look downright silly this season.
“Her change-up is a nice change of speed to where if they are sitting there on a fastball count or down in the count, she can throw the change to keep them guessing. We try to do that at the top of the lineup on stronger hitters,” Coach Nester said. “We try not to let them see the same pitch during the at bat. And with her, she is able to throw multiple pitches. She can throw the fastball in or out, go up with it, and she has a screwball that runs in on the hitters.”
During the last part of the season, Sydney Nester didn’t really go up with her screwball. But the coaching staff decided to change that once the playoffs started, going in high above the hands to give hitters a different look. Her repertoire also includes a curveball and a rise ball. She threw the riser quite a bit against Woodgrove.
“If they are going to chase it, we are going to stay up there with it. With her throwing that many pitches and in and out on the girls, we try not to throw the same pitch twice during an at bat, and that just keeps them guessing what’s next,” Rick Nester said. “She has confidence in any of the pitches we throw.”
Nester said his ace has composure on the mound extremely rare to find in a high school pitcher. That trait was on full display in the two state tournament games. Much of that has come from playing travel ball in the summer and fall, having already pitched in big games in pressure situations.
“It has helped her play much older than what she is,” Nester said. “We’ve also noticed in a lot of games she gets stronger in the last three or four innings than in the first three. It seems like she picks up velocity during the latter part of the games. In some of the bigger games, the more hyped up she has been, it has been coming in with more velocity on her pitches, which helps set up the change and her pitches with movement on them.”
Coach Nester was unsure how Sydney would respond to pitching on back-to-back days. She had not pitched on one day’s rest this season, much less on back-to-back days. That is where having such a high-quality No. 2 pitcher in Gracie Davidson, who was Carroll’s number one pitcher two years ago and split starts with Eden Durnil last season, is a huge advantage for the Cavaliers.
“Sydney said it would be no problem throwing back-to-back days, but that is not something we have done this year,” Rick Nester said. “It’s been a pleasant thing to have two quality pitchers. Gracie is able to throw when we have three games a week so we can keep both pitchers fresh all year long. If we could have gotten her a couple of runs, we would have had an excellent shot at a regional championship as well this year, but we were competitive and that kept Sydney fresh. Gracie had a no-hitter against William Fleming in the conference tournament and would have had a perfect game if not for a third strike on a strike out that went off the catcher’s shin guard.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN