The first time Courtney Cuzick started a game as a pitcher for the Nipomo High softball team, she was a freshman.
She threw a complete game, 4-0 shutout against Cabrillo early in the season.
Afterward her coach, Matt Paradis, knew he had a player who was going to help carry the Titans for the next few years.
“Sure enough, it happened almost instantly,” Paradis said. “For her to have been that impactful since her freshman year is really incredible.”
Cuzick, a four-year starter, led the Titans to a 20-6 record this season, the best in school history.
As a senior, she recorded 267 strikeouts and allowed 28 walks while posting a 0.69 earned run average with an 18-6 record.
She’s this year’s Tribune County Player of the Year.
Cuzick led Nipomo to a second-place finish in the Los Padres League and tallied nonleague wins against three PAC 7 teams — Arroyo Grande, Atascadero and Paso Robles.
“This year, Courtney was absolutely incredible,” Paradis said. “Her whole approach to the game from a sports psychology standpoint was tremendous. She really analyzed each hitter and figured out how to attack them. She’s really cerebral (in the circle).”
The right-hander finished her high school career with 972 strikeouts and 159 walks.
Cuzick pitched 177 of her team’s 194 innings this season.
In addition to her pitching prowess, Cuzick finished with a .257 batting average, down from .487 her junior season and .333 as a sophomore. But she scored 19 runs, ranking second on the team.
Cuzick will play collegiately at Pennsylvania in the Ivy League. Ivy League schools don’t offer athletic scholarships, but Cuzick will be on about an “80 percent” academic scholarship.
“Courtney set the standard for the level of competition and what we expect of our athletes,” Paradis said. “In a high school of 1,200 students, we’re not going to get all all-stars. But Courtney left a legacy of desire, dedication and incredible discipline. She really has created a standard that we anticipate future generations will follow.”
Fine-tuning her craft
Cuzick is not only one of the hardest workers on the field, she was salutatorian of her senior class.
Paradis got to know her well as a student in his biology and environmental science classes besides as a player.
“Courtney doesn’t do anything halfway,” Paradis said. “Her drive and her competitive nature are intertwined with every aspect of her life.”
To improve her softball, Cuzick works out “365 days per year,” her coach said.
“Whether it’s through conditioning, weight lifting, pitching, fielding, hitting, she’s constantly putting herself in a position to be prepared and to be incredibly durable,” Paradis said.
When she’s not practicing or playing with her high school team, Cuzick works out with a private coach and also plays on the San Jose Sting, a softball travel team.
“We play pretty much all year,” Cuzick said. “We took a break during high school, but we just started up again. Most of the girls I play with are going on to play in college. That’s the goal of the team — to get players recruited and going to where they want to go.”
Cuzick, who also is an adept infielder, has mastered pitches that include a dropball, riseball, curveball and multiple types of changeups.
In previous years, her riseball served as her out pitch. But anticipating that batters would be ready for it having faced her over the past few years, she mixed in her dropball with two strikes to throw hitters off this year.
One of the imposing aspects of her game is that Cuzick, who stands “5-foot-3-and-a-half inches,” violently thrusts herself toward the hitter with a powerful leg drive as she flings her pitches.
“I have a long drive,” Cuzick said. “That’s not necessarily normal. It’s something I’ve adapted to because I’m not a typical pitcher stature-wise. And I have to find ways to get more speed and get the most out of my pitches as I can. And that’s one of the things that has helped me do that.”
A Go-To Player
Against Arroyo Grande in Nipomo’s first game of the season, Cuzick’s pitches hit all corners of the strike zone effectively.
She throws her fastball about 60 miles per hour. But it’s her skill in changing speeds, locating the ball throughout the zone and creating movement that makes it difficult for batters to square up her pitches.
The Eagles struck out only once but managed just three hits off her in a 6-0 shutout loss in the opener.
The auspicious start was Cuzick’s first of seven shutouts this season.
Against Atascadero, the Greyhounds managed only two runs combined against her in consecutive tournament losses, striking out 21 times.
“I would definitely put Courtney above any other pitcher in the county,” Atascadero coach Darin Traverso said. “She shut us down both times we played them.”
Nipomo’s season ended with a second-round loss to Silverado of Victorville in the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 playoffs.
But the Titans’ program rose up after several losing seasons before Cuzick joined the program. After switching from the PAC 7 to the LPL in Cuzick’s sophomore season, the program had three straight winning seasons.
This year, Nipomo set a school record in winning percentage, achieving 20 victories for the first time.
“This is by far the most successful season in school history,” Paradis said.
Looking to the future
Cuzick will join an incoming class at Pennsylvania with five other freshmen, and already they’ve begun talking with each other and developing relationships from afar.
Cuzick picked the Quakers in part because of their strong business program. She plans to pursue a career in sports marketing.
She’ll play for a team that went 30-20 and was the Ivy League champion this year, qualifying for the NCAA Tournament for the first time before being eliminated by Arizona, a perennial powerhouse.
To prepare for the next level, Cuzick has added pitches to her game and steadily worked on her fielding and hitting if she’s called on to play a position.
She fields a nifty second base, but likely her primary role will be in the circle.
And just as she competed for playing time as a freshman on a team of older players at Nipomo, Cuzick hopes to find a way to make an impact at Penn.
“In high school or travel ball, you may have a couple of players on a team who can hit the ball out,” Cuzick said. “In college, anybody can hit the ball over the fence. You have to go after every single batter. My style is to get them to pop up and hit ground balls to help out the defense.”
Paradis said he won’t be able to replace Cuzick, but believes the Titans have build a good foundation for the future.
“Courtney is not replaceable, without question, but there will be someone or a few who can compete at the level she does,” Paradis said. “We have many good players returning and a strong eighth-grade class. Hopefully someone will carry on that tradition that Courtney really was critical in building.”
TRIBUNE ALL-COUNTY SOFTBALL TEAM
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Courtney Cuzick, Nipomo, Pitcher (Sr.)
P, 1B, CF — Megan Clark, Paso Robles (Sr.)
P, 1B – Andrea Reynolds, San Luis Obispo (Sr.)
P – Jenna Rogers, Paso Robles (So.)
3B – Ashley Ruiz, Nipomo (Jr.)
SS – Erica Chandler, San Luis Obispo (Sr.)
SS – Charlette Yracheta, Arroyo Grande (Sr.)
SS – MacKenzie Messina, Atascadero (Sr.)
2B – Keara Blodget, Atascadero (Jr.)
2B – Monica Garcia, Paso Robles (Sr.)
3B – Jordan Robinson, Arroyo Grande (Sr.)
1B – Vangie Lopez, Nipomo (Jr.)
P, 1B – Corinne Barto, Templeton (Jr.)
P – Rebekah Hernandez, Arroyo Grande (So.)
P, 1B – Jenna Wookey
Paso Robles (Sr.)
P – Marissa Tabares
Morro Bay (Jr.)
P – Kaala Wood, Atascadero (Jr.)
SS – Kiani Alba, Templeton (Jr.)
SS – Carli Watt, Morro Bay (Sr.)
SS – Gianna Abatti, Nipomo (Sr.)
OF – Nique Mack, Atascadero (Jr.)
2B – Hailey Rich, San Luis Obispo (Sr.)
OF – Michelle Cordova, Morro Bay (Sr.)
P, OF – Ashley Stevens, Templeton (Jr.)
Arroyo Grande – Ramie Castilleja (2B, Sr.)
Coast Union – Gabby Bucio (1B, Sr.), Cristina Plasencia, (P, INF, C, Jr.)
Coastal Christian – Roni Garrison ( P, SS, Sr.)
Mission Prep -- Kiana Harris (1B, P, INF, Jr.)
Morro Bay – Madelynn Martinez, (OF, Jr.)
Nipomo – Destiny Fryckman (OF, Jr.), Marisa Rodriguez (2B, Jr.)
Paso Robles – Chloe Kerns (SS, C, Fr.), Carly McCall (3B, Sr.)
Templeton – Ashanti Alba (C, Sr.)