In the eyes of Nipomo High softball coach Matt Paradis, pitcher Courtney Cuzick isn’t a very intimidating figure.
“At first glance,” he said about his starter, “if you look at her stature and frame, she’s shorter (than other pitchers) and not outrageously built.”
Which brings us to Arroyo of El Monte — a team that hadn’t seen Cuzick prior to Thursday afternoon in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs. The Knights quickly learned how hard and efficient her pitches can be, as the right-handed junior fanned the first six batters with curveballs and rise balls in a 16-strikeout performance to lead the Titans to a 4-0 victory at home.
It was Nipomo’s first playoff win in school history, adding another season highlight to the Titans (17-9) capturing back-to-back Los Padres League titles. They will face Silverado or Montebello on Tuesday in the second round.
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“We expect that it’ll be the first of many (playoff wins),” Paradis said.
Cuzick made the Titans’ victory a memorable one by allowing just two hits and two walks in a complete-game outing, though she did hit two batters in the process. She was just two strikeouts from matching her career-best.
“It was just outstanding,” Nipomo sophomore catcher Candace Fryckman said about the pitching showcase. “That’s all I really got to say.”
“All my pitches were working and it’s always nice to play a team that has never seen me before,” added Cuzick, who is 16-7. “And we had good defense backing me up.”
Meanwhile, the Titans had the bats going with nine hits.
Nipomo took a 2-0 lead in the first inning, thanks to Fryckman’s grounder that bounced off third base and reached the outfield to send in two runners. She went 3 for 3 with three RBI and two doubles, while Cuzick added two runs scored and two hits. Junior Gianna Abatti finished with two hits, and her RBI single in the second put the Titans ahead 3-0.
The pitches “were just right there,” said Fryckman, who also gave Nipomo an insurance run in the fifth with another RBI double. “They were my favorite pitches. It felt good to get a hold of them.”
Saundra Renner had a double in the third, and Vangie Lopez scored in the second and had a single in the fourth.
“This year,” Paradis said, “this team has gone above and beyond to start a game with a very high level of energy and enthusiasm, and they were able to maintain that through the game. And so when Courtney comes out in the first inning and strikes out the first batters, the team’s pumped.
“That’s when the team says, ‘All right, Courtney, we’re going to help you.’ ”
Arroyo (10-10) had runners reach third base in the third and fifth, but Cuzick wrapped up both of those innings with back-to-back strikeouts.
Surely, the Knights went home with a different image of Cuzick than the one they started with.
“The only difference is that I don’t really know what to expect from their batters,” she said about facing a new team, “but it’s all pretty much the same. Just going out and gunning for all of them.”