Flowery Branch’s Nikki Harris thrives under pressure.
The Lady Falcons’ junior left-handed pitcher enjoys having the ball in the circle against the best competition.
More often than not, she comes out on top.
After a superb sophomore season, where Harris went 13-2 and allowed just six earned runs in 103 innings, her college opportunities are likely going to be expansive, once she’s able to start talking to coaches on Sept. 1. Last season, Harris set the bar high as the Lady Falcons went unbeaten in Region 8-4A play. She came out on top in three one-run victories against a very talented Madison County squad in 2020.
Already, Harris said, Flowery Branch coach Blake Cagle has heard from Georgia Tech, Georgia, Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU and NC State, among others, with interest in the 2020 Region 8-4A Pitcher of the Year.
When it comes to recruiting, Harris plans on enjoying the process and seeing what every school has to offer.
“I’m keeping my options wide open,” Harris said. “I’m not going to put all my eggs in one basket.”
However, great opportunities come with higher expectations.
Harris said she’s ready for the challenge in 2021 with Flowery Branch, which is looking to improve on its second-round trip to the playoffs in 2020.
“My biggest goal is to be a great team player,” said Harris, who already knows she wants to study biochemistry in college. “I think we have really good team chemistry.”
Even though Harris has experienced playing at the highest level of travel ball, she cherishes the high school season and friendships that come with the girls she grew up with.
With ample talent returning at Flowery Branch, Harris believes that a deep postseason run for the defending 8-4A champs is possible.
This season, Harris will get some relief on the mound with right-hander Alyssa Wagner working her way into a role of being a strong No. 2 starter for the Lady Falcons.
However, Flowery Branch’s ace knows it will be a busy fall, regardless.
On top of high school softball and then travel circuit, she’ll be able to start touring campuses of schools where she is receiving the most interest.
Harris cherishes having a close relationship with her father, Brian, who played two years of college basketball at Indiana State in the late 90s.
Both of her parents have facilitated these softball opportunities to pursue her dreams.
Since Nikki was about age 10, she’s been attached to her father’s hip, finding her love for the game and also learning how to compete at a high level. They were always working on throwing the ball. However, Harris was also learning valuable life lessons: like the value of hard work, resilience and learning to balance emotions in the pitching circle.
“My father has taught me so much,” Harris said. “I’ve grown up on a softball field.”
Rather quickly, Harris started picking up, from others, that she had a unique talent.
And it’s not just because she’s a left-handed pitcher, but that is a huge advantage.
The feedback from others became rather consistent that Harris was an elite talent.
However, that just made Harris want to be even better.
Her focus is on pounding the strike zone and maximizing spin to keep hitters off-balanced.
Velocity, she said, is a bit of a misleading marker for success as a pitcher.
Harris feels like she has a huge network of support in grooming her pitching ability.
She’s excited for two more seasons of high school softball at Flowery Branch, playing for Cagle.
Harris also gives a lot of credit to her pitching coach Angela Thompson. They work together out of a facility in Buford.
Once she got into high school, Harris started playing with some elite talent on the travel circuit.
Her first experience was playing with Mojo Henson, a club based in northwest Georgia. Harris recalls packing the car, almost every weekend, and making the three-hour trip to Dalton to play with the club for coaches, Joshua Henson and Donny Farmer, who she really learned a great deal about the game of softball.
Now 16, Harris is coming off one of her most memorable experiences.
Just last week, the Flowery Branch High hurler was pitching with Georgia Team Impact Jeffreys/Townsend against 76 of the best clubs in the country at the Premier Girls Fast Pitch National Championships in Huntington Beach, California.
There, Harris held her own, allowing only two runs over seven innings against the No. 1-ranked program from Montgomery, Texas.
She was also under the watchful eyes of dozens of college coaches who were all able to do one-stop shopping for players in the current recruiting cycle.
Just like during the high school season, Harris flourishes under pressure.
“I thrive under pressure,” Harris said. “I like feeling like an underdog.”
FIVE MORE PLAYERS TO WATCH IN HALL COUNTY
1. Stephanie Condland, Cherokee Bluff: Senior power-hitting catcher and first baseman for the Lady Bears, who carries a .391 career batting average with 20 homers.
2. Izzy Herren, Cherokee Bluff: Senior multi-talented athlete who pitches and plays first base for the Lady Bears with a .351 career batting average, along with a 3.88 ERA in the pitching circle with 146 career strikeouts.
3. Calli Hardison, East Hall: Senior standout on the mound who will also be a valuable presence at the plate
4. Makaela Davis, Flowery Branch: Valued senior utility player who batted .414 with three homers and 27 RBIs last season for the Lady Falcons.
5. Savanna Rutledge, Flowery Branch: Senior infielder who hit .384 last season with only six strikeouts in 95 plate appearances.