To see the faces was to see the terror.
Marian Catholic junior softball standout and Patch Athlete of the Month for April Alex Nickel never will forget riding Disney/MGM’s Tower of Terror. Talk about a thrill.
“Because we all went on it as a team,” Nickel said. “We got to see the picture at the end. The faces of everyone, the people sitting next to each other just grabbing onto each other, it was unbelievable.”
Nickel and her Marian Catholic teammates spent five days in early April at Walt Disney World. The spring trip to Florida was a little about softball, but more about team bonding. The Spartans returned with four wins in five games and a general understanding of where they were headed next.
“We definitely got a lot closer,” Nickel said. “Not only were we playing together, but we were hanging out together. We got to see what people really are like and who we really are. The experience does go beyond just playing the games.
“When we were at the Disney parks, we all just hung out. We went out to eat a couple times all together.”
What is they say? A team that plays together stays together?
Nickel finished the month of April hitting .486 with eight doubles, four triples and three home runs. She also had 25 RBIs, nine walks and five stolen bases. She combined with the likes of Rebecca Stanton and Jennifer LaBella to form a Yankees-like murderer’s row in the 3-4-5 slots in the batting order as the Spartans went 13-4.
One highlight was an 8-3 victory over Oak Forest on April 27 in a battle between potential Class 3A sectional playoff rivals. The Bengals jumped to a 3-1 lead before Marian battled back. With one out in the top of the sixth, a pitch hit Nickel, putting runners on first and second. Stanton homered.
And the Spartans—19-7 heading into Tuesday’s game at Stagg—were on their way.
“If we get two runs behind—we don’t see it as we’re behind,” Nickel said. “We know that we’re going to make contact with the ball. We know that we’re still playing to our ability. And we know that we’re going to get the runs back.
“It’s not, ‘Oh, we’re down.’ Or, ‘Oh, man, we might lose this game.’ It’s always, ‘We’re fine. We’ll get up there the next inning and we’ll score runs.’ Because eventually we’re going to hit the gaps when we hit the ball.”
Nickel Destined to Play on Next Level
Nickel delivers the hits more often than being hit. She has grown in her second season playing on the varsity level into a more complete player, one that already is attracting the interest of Division I college scouts.
“She came in, obviously, as a very talented player,” Marian Catholic coach Kerri Evans said. “But I think her biggest area of growth was in her maturity. I’m not saying she was immature, but just being calmer in the field and at the plate.
“Having better at-bats this year, compared to last year, although she was an excellent hitter for us last year. You saw her as a very good player. Now you see her as a very well-defined player.”
Nickel is one that is going to put the bat on the ball.
In Marian Catholic’s first 25 games, she had three strikeouts—two of those coming on questionable called third strikes. Her ability to get on base consistently sparks the Spartans.
“If you have three people go up and three people strike out, obviously the team’s confidence gets down,” Evans said. “But since Alex has those good at-bats and she fouls those balls off, works the counts, either walks or hits the ball solidly, the rest of the team gets confidence from seeing her do that.”
Evans sees Nickel make plays on defense in practice every day that cause her to pause. She can range into the hole and still cut down opponent runners. And, then, there are the intangible traits she brings to the Spartan dugout.
“Sometimes you think superstar and you think arrogance,” Evans said. “You would never think that about her. She never comes across as arrogant. She’s always giving other people credit. She never takes it on herself.
“She’s always the team player. She cares more about the team winning than any stat that she can have, and I think that makes her an amazing kid to coach. She’s always the first one to help out if someone needs help. If the field needs to be cleaned, she’s the first one to do it.”
And if there is a thrill ride to be had in the postseason, bet on Nickel and the Spartans to hop on board. They’re always up for another adventure.
Read More: Previous Patch Athlete of the Month Picks