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Emily Norton knows how to win. The 19-year-old freshman pitcher for the Radford University Softball team mesmerized the Binghamton University Bearcats on March 18 when she threw a complete game. Norton allowed just one hit, zero runs and struck out six.
What’s even more amazing is that Norton’s one-hit gem was her first win as a pitcher in collegiate softball. True, she’s pitched in other games, but the March 18 shutout victory over Binghamton was her first win.
“I was just really focused for that game. I had my mind set, and my team was really there to back me up,” Norton said. “I think pressure causes a pitcher to have that much more focus, and it was a tight game, so I was just really focusing on my pitches and making sure they worked.”
Norton has the distinct advantage of playing on an experienced pitching staff; sophomore Stephanie Dameron and junior Jackie Jenkins have combined to post a record of 9-2 this season. As a whole, the Highlander starters post an ERA of just 2.88, which means they allow less than three earned runs for every seven innings they pitch.
The emergence of young pitchers like Norton and fellow freshman Micalah Sacre have kept the Highlanders competitive in close games, which they’ve often found themselves in this season. Sacre pitched a full seven innings against No. 20 Florida State on March 3, when the Highs stunned the previously undefeated Seminoles with a 3-2 win. While Dameron and Jenkins still command respect in the Big South, Norton and Sacre have made their presence known.
“It’s definitely tough being a new player, but that’s what I’m looking for. I want a tough team, and I want people who push me,” Norton said. “I know that I have a team that can pick me up when I’m down, so that’s good.”
Despite her tremendous performance against Binghamton, Norton will be the first to admit that she’s had to endure her fair share of bumps and bruises this season. A former all-state selection from the suburbs just outside of Chicago with a state championship under her belt, Norton suffered three consecutive losses earlier in the season while the Highlanders limped to a 10-8 overall record.
Since the win against Binghamton at the Radford Invitational, the Highs have exploded to win six consecutive games, and Norton’s ERA has plummeted to 4.25; she’s also recorded 24 strikeouts over 29 innings pitched, which is ahead of both Dameron (12) and Jenkins (18).
“In high school, the leadoff hitter through the number five hitter were the ones where you needed to work hard,” Norton said. “In college, you need to be focused for every single hitter in the lineup. I know that whoever I’m facing, I need to work hard. They can hit a home run at any moment, so I need to be at my best. The game against Binghamton just let me know what I need to do to get better.”
That attitude sums up the season so far for the Highlanders, who stand at 14-8 on the season and are just now starting Big South Conference play. They know what they need to do; now it’s just time to go out and do it.
The Highs’ next game will be against Liberty University on March 28, when they take on the Flames at home in a double header.