HOLLY SPRINGS - Erica Nunn makes it look easy as Wake County’s softball maestro of the mound, mowing down batters at the rate of 2.1 strikeouts per inning the last two seasons.
The Holly Springs senior strikes an intimidating pose as a 5-foot-11 left-hander, but her game is more sophisticated than a simple lock-and-load fireballer. Nunn’s mind and arm churn together, playing a game of chess with each victim stepping into the batter’s box.
“Pitching is mental,” Nunn says. “You have to coach yourself through situations. That’s really fun to me. You’ve got to remember the batter, what the batter did last time up and adjust. You’re always working the batter, the catcher and the umpire.
“I have my own idea of the strike zone – and it’s bigger than the umpire’s – but I have to adjust to his strike zone.”
However, Nunn’s chessboard acuity, it turns out, is limited to the mound.
“I stink at chess,” the girl with the 4.5 GPA says, throwing her head back with an embarrassed laugh. “I’ve never understood it. I’m good at checkers, though.”
But in the game that matters, Nunn has led Holly Springs to its first two Tri-Nine Conference titles in school history. She clinched the second straight title with 13 strikeouts in Friday’s regular-season finale, a 13-0 win against Lee County. The game’s second K was the 1,000th of Nunn’s career, the first Wake County player to reach that mark..
Her junior year she posted a 23-2 record with a 0.20 ERA, and she enters the playoffs as a senior with an 18-2 record and a 0.25 ERA.
As a college prospect, Nunn would have been heavily recruited, but she truncated the process. She committed as a sophomore to University of South Florida, a Top 25 program currently ranked No. 19.
The Bulls recruited Nunn as a pitcher, but she also is ticketed to bat. She bats third for Holly Springs with an average of .614, 3 home runs, five doubles, four triples and 30 RBIs.
Nunn’s success is equal parts natural talent and hard-working overachiever.
She didn’t intimidate anyone as a gangly 9-year-old whose precocious height exceeded her still developing coordination.
“She was 9 when she first started playing travel ball, and she didn’t play a lot,” said her father, Tommy Nunn. “But she wanted to get better. She started taking hitting lessons, and it took off from there.”
By the time Nunn turned 11, her coordination was catching up. Informal sessions tossing the ball with her father in the backyard revealed improving arm strength. Soon she wanted to try her hand at pitching.
As a seventh-grader, Nunn began working with Leigh Ann Genetti, a former N.C. State pitching coach who still gives pitching lessons at Grand Slam USA in Raleigh. Genetti said Nunn possessed the curiosity to learn the craft of pitching.
“She listens,” Genetti said. “She can make adjustments quickly, which is what you need to play at a high level. She hasn’t stopped developing, and I don’t think she will anytime soon. When she gets to South Florida, she’ll keep getting better.”
The mystery of why some high school phenoms are college busts while other lightly recruited athletes surpass them often boils down to work ethic.
“She’s been blessed with a gift, but she works hard,” Holly Springs coach Jill Munchick said. “She has a tremendous work ethic. When nobody is looking, she’s working hard.”
The work her teammates see includes grabbing a rake and getting dirty when it’s time to groom the infield. Jenna Firestein, one of the team’s four seniors along with Nunn, Kristen Krebs and Kayla Minyard, said Nunn’s “one-of-the-girls” leadership style enhances the Hawks’ camaraderie.
“She brings everyone up,” Firestein said. “It’s never about her. She says it’s about Holly Springs – the team. She’s one of those girls you can talk to about anything.”
Anything but chess, that is.