After sustaining a ruptured trachea in weightlifting season, Penny Nichols was not sure she would be able to start her junior softball season.
ORANGE CITY — After sustaining a ruptured trachea in weightlifting season, Penny Nichols was not sure she would be able to start her junior softball season.
Even after overcoming the injury and posting the best pitching statistics in the area, Nichols cannot seem to forget how this past season ended.
"I'm still not over the loss to (Oviedo) Hagerty," said Nichols, who took the loss in the 7-6 regional semifinal game. "Me and my dad talk about it every day, almost. We hear about it — what could have been different, what I could have done better."
Nichols experienced plenty of success in 2014, however. She led the area in wins (20), ERA (0.99) and strikeouts (170) in earning the News-Journal Player of the Year award for the second consecutive year, edging out Deltona senior catcher Evelynn Arguelles by one first-place vote.
"I definitely didn't think I was going to get it again, especially in a row," Nichols said. "I know last year we had a big target on our back, so this one's going to be even bigger."
Nichols, who committed to Mississippi College in February, gave hitters fits throughout the season. Opponents managed a measly .169 average against her in 579 at-bats. In 24 starts, the right-hander completed 23 games and notched 14 shutouts.
"I know that Penny can strike out anybody in the state — any time, any day," junior third baseman Lacey Crandall said.
University coach Kenny Walters attributes Nichols' continued success to her supreme work ethic, which included learning to better locate both her riseball and off-speed pitches.
"It's a big deal to be able to hit your marks," Walters said. "Certain batters, we like to attack them a certain way. She's able to do that. That's why the big-name batters do not succeed very well against her."
Nichols did not get an opportunity to face Volusia County's most dangerous hitter, Arguelles, who held an area-best .565 batting average in addition to four home runs, 37 RBIs and 15 doubles. University's scheduled April 8 game with Deltona was rained out and unable to be rescheduled.
She believes the head-to-head matchup would have been quite a challenge.
"I think it would have been difficult, but I love going against Evelynn," Nichols said. "She's a great player, and it would have been fun."
Nichols also managed to hold her own at the plate. While her pitching has made headlines, Nichols also batted .383 with 14 RBIs, six doubles and three triples as the Titans' cleanup hitter.
"She picked up the wheels this year," Crandall said.
Next season, University, which finished the season with a 23-4 record, is slated to return all but two players and will be expected to contend for the Class 8A championship.
While Nichols stopped short of predicting a title run, she holds high hopes for her final campaign.
"I expect to get past districts, and hopefully (we get) past the Elite Eight," Nichols said.