Niki Carver is quickly making her mark as a second-year starter for North Hall’s softball program. This week, she accomplished something only a handful of players have done before her, and what most pitchers only dream of doing in their playing careers.
She only needed 62 pitches to do it.
The senior Lady Trojan became just the fourth in program history to toss a perfect game in North Hall’s 8-0 shutout of Dawson County at home on Tuesday.
Carver’s approach from the mound was quite simple: Just work ahead in the count and let her defense take care of the rest.
“It was really exciting. ... My defense was really strong (on Tuesday). They were diving, making plays, and I couldn’t ask for anything better than that,” Carver said.
Pitching coach Gerry Pope took notice of Dawson County’s struggles from the plate early on, mostly on the inside pitches. From there, Pope made the conscious effort to have Carver deliver to that one spot for the remainder of the game.
Her off-speed stuff was also on point, constantly jamming batters at the plate in order to force the routine groundouts.
“We realized around the (top of the fifth) inning we had something special, or had a chance to do something special for the school,” North Hall assistant coach Adam Allison said.
After striking out the first batter to open the sixth inning, Carver was well aware she was two outs away from the sport’s Holy Grail of pitching gems.
She continued to execute her coach’s called strategy and watched her third baseman scoop up the hard-hit chopper to fire it to first for the second out. The finale could not have been more fitting — a called strike-three looking.
“My changeup was working really well, keeping them off balanced,” Carver said. “The final pitch, it was just exciting because I knew what happened, and I was just glad to do that and be able to do that with my team.”
Carver turned back around to pitch a two-hit shutout in the Lady Trojans’ (5-3) 1-0 win against No. 2 East Hall on Thursday, her third-consecutive shutout in Region 7-AAA play. Ashlyn Brewster (1 for 3) led off the top of the fourth with a single, and eventually scored the lone run of the game that same inning.
The victory preserved North Hall’s No. 1 status in the region with a 5-0 record.
Harnessing a relentless competitive drive puts Carver in situations for more opportunities to win, according to Pope, who made note of her impressive resume in region play thus far.
Pope added while her region ERA is most likely below 1.00, she has held her own against a slew of tough non-region teams on the schedule that range from the Class 6A to Class 7A. Carver currently boasts a 1.56 ERA overall with three strikeouts in 31.1 innings pitched for the Lady Trojans.
While primarily a catcher, Carver’s athleticism gives her the ability to play just about any position in the infield. That particular trait helped North Hall head coach Brooke Russell and her staff tremendously after injuries put the team in a tough spot to start the spring and lingered on into the season, causing them to dig deeper into their lineup.
“She had pitched a couple of innings last year, but nothing like what we had asked her to do this year,” said Pope, a longtime baseball and softball coach. “So she’s gotten better and better with basically every outing and she just does a great job of spotting up her pitches, hitting her spots basically, she does a great job at it.”
An unyielding work ethic coupled with a strong moral character are traits coaches see in Carver every day.
“You don’t get to where she is, doing the things she does without being a hard worker,” Russell said. “She’s a great leader for our team. She just has a positive attitude. When she gets to the pitcher’s circle, it’s not all about her.”
North Hall girls basketball coach Kristi House considers Carver to be an invaluable member of her team.
“She brings so much to the team for the way she leads,” House said. “I’m so proud of her and all she’s doing on the softball field. We’re blessed.”
Overall, Russell applaudes her players for rising to the occasion this year.
“We’re excited about the future,” Pope said. “She’s getting better and, more importantly, most of our staff is getting healthier. So it gives us some opportunities, some options, to move people around and get other pitchers involved to make us a better team.”