In a game in which she was in total control, for a moment, Kelly Norton looked puzzled.
The Abington High ace had hurled six hitless innings Tuesday afternoon. But with one out in the seventh inning, the Mashpee batter made contact twice, fouling off a pair of pitches.
Norton held the ball noticeably longer than she had all game, staring intently at the strike zone. She took her stride, delivered her pitch, and hit the inside corner for a called strike three.
Four pitches and another strikeout later, Norton had her no-hitter and an 8-0 Abington win. There was no celebration on the field, however, and hardly any fanfare in the stands: just a smile on the senior captain’s face, along with high fives from her teammates.
As the players walked to the bench to pack up their belongings, the grandfather of centerfielder Alicia Reid, aptly known as “Grandpa’’ to the players, walked from his spot along the third base line, stood behind the dugout, and shrugged his shoulders.
“She just threw a no-hitter,’’ he said. “Where’s all the excitement?’’
For the Green Wave, a Norton no-hitter has become almost routine. The 5-foot-6 Norton has notched four no-hitters in the past 22 regular season games, including a perfect game last season against Rockland.
Her final line against Mashpee: 7 innings, no walks, no hits, and a career-high of 16 strikeouts on 89 pitches. Only one at-bat went to a full count, and not a single ball left the infield.
The only thing that separated Norton from a perfect game was her own error on a ball that barely rolled 10 feet from the plate. But Norton has never been one to let little things like that get in her head.
“There’s not a whole lot that rattles her,’’ said second-year coach Ernie Ortega. “She has pitched in big game situations. We’ve been down and we’ve come back, and a couple times we haven’t, but we have always been in every game because she’s always able to go out and take the mound. She’s there to play the whole game, win, lose, or draw.’’
It’s been an exhilarating year and a half for a girl who has spent nearly a decade around Green Wave athletics.
Her older brother, Mike, a 2007 graduate of Abington High, was a member of the Green Wave baseball team. When she was younger, Norton would always beg to play catch with him and their father, John.
When she was 11, she started working on her pitching with Marty French, an assistant at Abington. She would attend the varsity games with her father, and work on her mechanics postgame with French.
The focus was precision and pitches. She developed a fastball, changeup, drop, curve, and screwball. She added velocity as she grew in size.
The hard work paid off early.
As a freshman, she earned the opening day nod from former coach Steve Kingman, striking out 13 and yielding two hits in a 4-0 victory over Rockland. She shared pitching duties the remainder of the season with senior Theresa Franey.
Since taking control as a sophomore, and pitching every inning the last three seasons, she has compiled a 42-11 record. Against South Shore League competition, she is 28-4.
“She’s one of the people that you know is going to come through for you when we’re under pressure,’’ said teammate Stephanie Cornish, “which is really key to have on a team, especially when it’s a pitcher.’’
She has been dominant against Rockland, in particular.
In a matchup against the undefeated Bulldogs earlier this season, Norton took a no-hitter into the seventh before a base hit soured the otherwise perfect 12-0 win.
Last year, Norton no-hit the Bulldogs in the first meeting, and pitched the perfect game the second time in the rematch. She also no-hit South Shore rival Harwich that same week.
But much as with the no-hitter against Mashpee, Norton is humble about her accolades, and is quick to put the accomplishments of the team before her own.
“She’s got a great poise and knows it’s about the team,’’ said Ortega. “She knows it’s not so much about her. She’ll ask later after the game how many strikeouts she had or what she did that day.’’
While Norton would like to continue her softball career in college, she has decided to put her education first. She will attend the University of Massachusetts Amherst and major in nursing.
Though she received an offer to play at a Division 2 program, she will step away. It was not an easy decision.
“It was definitely hard on my dad,’’ she said. “It was probably harder for him than it was for me. He’s been there through it all. He’s seen how much I loved it.
“He’s always pushing me. Even when I don’t want to pitch, he still wants to pitch. I definitely have him to thank [for my success]. I could have easily taken the easy way out. Every week, we pitch, and he’s always been involved. He brings me to all my AAU games, and I don’t think he’s missed a high school game yet.’’
Norton said she won’t say goodbye to the game completely, but this is just part of growing up.
“I’ll probably play intramurals, and I’ll obviously miss it like crazy,’’ said Norton. “If nursing doesn’t work out, I’d definitely think about transferring somewhere where I can play, but right now, it’s a matter of my education over the sport.
“You have to move on eventually.’’
2d time’s the charm for Oliver Ames’s Welch
Oliver Ames freshman Brendan Welch earned his first varsity win with three innings of relief on April 14 against Waltham. But his second appearance was spectacular.
Making his first varsity start on Wednesday against Canton, Welch fired a no-hitter, striking out eight with no walks.
“It was fun,’’ said Oliver Ames coach Leo Duggan. “Brandon has been coming along. . . . He’s gotten better and better each day in practice. [Against Canton], it was a great game. He had only two balls hit to the outfield.’’
The 6-foot-2 southpaw recorded 11 outs on ground balls, and two more on popups, while throwing fewer than 80 pitches over seven innings.
Welch was impressive in attacking the zone with first-pitch strikes and keeping the ball down. And he gave a lift to the Tigers, who were minus ace Ryan O’Shea for a week with a sore shoulder.
“Like Bill Parcells said of Curtis Martin, ‘You can’t put him in the Hall of Fame yet,’ ’’ said Duggan, who joked, that “maybe’’ he would give Welch another start.
His teammates, though, kept him in line. They made Welch carry the team gear back to the bus after the game.
After team’s first loss, Walpole beats Milton
The Walpole baseball team suffered its first loss, falling to Bay State rival Brookline (4-2) at Parsons Field Monday, 4-3. But the Rebels (8-1) rallied with six runs in the ninth ining of a 9-6 win over Milton on Wednesday.Andrew MacDougall can be reached at email@example.com.