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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Senior pitchers are leading the Lady Devils to victory

By Eric Killelea

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

The dominant spring of senior Carrie Nagle continues. And now she’s focused on leading her Dawson County High School softball team to victory at the Eastern A Divisionals and state.

The 5-11 right-hander is now 5-2 overall (4-0 conference) and seldom allows hits and runs, while intimidating batters with her four-pitch arsenal that includes a fastball, changeup, screwball and a recently learned curveball. 

“I’ve improved because of the curveball as long as I can be accurate,” Nagle said Thursday. “It’s really hard for people to hit the screwball, too. It scares them when I can get it to spin. It works like it’s going down the middle and then it moves inside on them.”

Nagle, 18, grew up on the family farm in Lindsay, where her mother Mary introduced her to softball at age 6. Her father Jim built an on-site “redneck net” inside the on-property shop when she was in 8th grade to prevent her from denting walls with wild pitches. She didn’t play softball her freshman year at DCHS because she tore her ACL in varsity basketball. She spent more than six months in physical therapy and endured two surgeries to hit the court the following fall season. 

“I was pretty devastated when I found out that I had tore it, but I pushed through because I love playing sports,” she said. 

She went on to earn Honorable Mention status as a first baseman and then received first-team All-Conference and All-State awards for her pitching as a sophomore and junior. Last season, she finished with a 14-5 record and 2.97 ERA, with an impressive .420 batting average.

Nagle is humble and doesn’t know her pitching record for this season. She just doesn’t keep track. But she does know that she wants to make the All-State team again and that she wants her team to win Divisionals and place in the top five at the state championships. 

“In the beginning of the year, we were kind of rusty,” Nagle said. “Now, we are really strong. If we keep playing the way we have been, we’ll do well this year.” 

She also knows the effort required to win and has goals of pitching in college, where she hopes to study business administration.

After the latest basketball season ended, Nagle went back into the family shop and practiced her pitches with her sister Courtney, who now plays second base on the varsity squad. The sisters entered that same shop with the same net in the mornings and at night so Nagle could throw at least 100 pitches. 

“My sister caught for me because she’s my sister and kind of got roped into it,” Nagle said. “It’s fun, but sometimes it gets tiring. I really enjoy pitching so it’s not a pain. And my mom motivates me. She was always catching for me, but she doesn’t like to do it anymore because it hurts her hand.” 

The Lady Red Devils are now 8-3, with an undefeated conference record. The team considers Nagle their ace and has succeeded largely due to her arm, along with the pitching performances of senior Wyniah Mintz.

Mintz, a 5-5 switch-hitting shortstop, has a pitching record of 3-2 overall (1-0 conference) and offers variety to the mound and, alongside Nagle, the two are a consistent threat to batters. 

Though Mintz is throwing harder than previous years and enjoys slinging the curveball, she believes that her best pitch is still the changeup. 

“I like how the changeup messes with batters,” Mintz said delicately on Thursday night.

Mintz’s parents Shane and Wendy are “very sports oriented” and met in college rodeo. In turn, Mintz grew up playing basketball and then softball in East Helena, before moving to Glendive in seventh grade and competing in traveling teams across the state. Last season, she carried a .481 batting average and led the lineup in doubles and runs. During the summer, she joined a softball team in Great Falls and played in Montana’s Veterans Memorial Softball Classic, alongside fellow All-State teammates Nagle and alumni Lexi Pettersen. 

With the help of DCHS head coach Todd Naasz and her dad Shane, the team’s pitching coach, Mintz, 18, has seen improvements to her batting and pitching technique and wants to continue developing to play both softball and basketball in college. But for now, she’s focused on helping her “team place at state, get on base every time, have no errors, pick teammates up when they’re down and have fun,” Mintz said. 

As a freshman, she was primarily a right-handed batter who would cross the plate to slap-hit. She remembers when her coaches told her to try batting left-handed against Polson that season, quit slap-hitting, and swing-away. 

“I hit a homerun left-handed and starting swinging away after that,” Mintz said. “Now I mainly bat lefty because I have better form, but I have better power righty.” 

Naasz asks the lead-off batter to steal bases as often as possible, while Shane focuses on having his daughter and Nagle throw at least 100 pitches each night. 

“My dad always tells me to stand tall and throw hard,” Mintz said. “He always tells me if I don’t hit my spot the first time I have to adjust right away for the next pitch.”

Mintz and Nagle are friends on and off the softball field and they believe that playing on the same teams since junior high has improved their team’s chances at winning. 

“We have eight seniors and we’ve played a lot together,” Mintz said. “I feel like we’re on the same level. I think we can make improvements and clean up our fielding. And as long as we hit the ball well, we have a lot of potential to go far.”

Reach Eric Killelea at rrsports@rangerreview.com.

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