Nicole Pearce will never forget what she and her teammates on the Reynoldsburg softball team accomplished during the 2018 season.

Nor will the senior forget how she helped a program that had been down for so long return to prominence that spring.

In a Division I district semifinal against second-seeded Central Crossing and highly touted pitcher Emily Gant, Pearce smashed a solo home run in the third inning for the game's first run.

The 18th-seeded Raiders added one run in both the fifth and seventh innings and pulled off a 3-0 upset in their first district semifinal appearance since 1999. They then lost to 13th-seeded Olentangy 3-0 in a district final to finish that season 15-10, marking their first winning season since 2003.

Gant, who was named first-team all-state and Division I district Player of the Year that season, has since gone to pitch for Boston University.

"The (moment) that sticks out the most was my sophomore year when we went to districts," Pearce said. "It was the game before (the district final) that we beat Central Crossing, and that was probably the most memorable. Everyone was always nervous to bat against Emily Gant and I hit a home run off of her."

Pearce, who hit .378 with four home runs, 15 RBI and a team-best 31 runs scored in 2018, was hoping for a bounce-back year at the plate this spring after struggling at times last season, but the spring sports season was canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Pearce played mostly shortstop, third base and center field for the Raiders, though she also spent time at catcher. Her primary position this spring, however, likely would have been shortstop.

"Nicole has had a pretty successful career here at Reynoldsburg," coach Tony Rettke said. "She would have been a four-year varsity starter, being very versatile in her skill set to balance the needs of the team. She's a great shortstop, but with (high) school ball, versatility is key. She started in the outfield for the first couple of years for us and ended up moving to third her junior year. This year, she was probably going to see a good amount of time at short. She's an athlete who can play any position on the ball field (except pitcher).

"She was a leader in the batter's box, batting leadoff most of her career for us here at Reynoldsburg. Her biggest moment in my opinion was our tournament game a couple years ago versus Central Crossing where she led the team that day in hitting in that huge win to move on in the tournament and get a district runner-up (finish)."

Pearce, who is hoping to play collegiately and is considering studying nursing at either the University of Indianapolis or Heidelberg, took an unconventional path to prep success.

Although she began playing at the youth level, she did not play softball as a seventh-grader.

"I just wasn't feeling softball at the time and I took a year off and realized how much I missed it, so that's why I came back," Pearce said. "We only had two other seniors on the team this year and, unfortunately, we didn't get too deep into the season, so it's kind of hard to tell who was going to play where. We did a lot of open gyms before tryouts and after tryouts, but then all of this stuff happened."

Pearce, whose father, David, played baseball at Johnstown, also grew up playing hockey and soccer before focusing on softball.

This spring, she has spent as much time as possible working out and hitting in her garage. She could end up playing for a travel team this summer.

Pearce's strength, according to Rettke, is being an aggressive baserunner to complement her abilities to slap hit while batting left-handed.

"She's been a pleasure to coach as her goals often align with mine, to become a better player every day, leave everything you have on the field and play to win," Rettke said.

"Nicole is a unique athlete. She can play about any sport and through junior high was an avid hockey player. That makes her special. She has no worries or hesitations. She just goes after it. She makes the hard plays look easy, she dives, she goes all out, she has a natural read on the ball and makes some tremendous plays. ... She's well-known for throwing caution to the wind and getting an angle into the base to avoid a tag."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek