EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 14, 2013

Saving best for last

Phillips' Pelletier on top of her game as career winds down

By Dave Dyer

---- — ANDOVER — Phillips Academy senior Nikki Pelletier is making the most of a shortened season.

With only about a week and a half of the season remaining, Phillips has played only six games, but Pelletier has been instrumental in converting every one into a victory.

Through eight games, which include two games against MIAA schools, Pelletier is batting .500 with two home runs, seven RBIs and eight runs scored while playing stellar defense as the team catcher for ace Kayla Maloney of Windham and rising sophomore Revenne Nasser of Methuen.

“She’s having a terrific year so far,” said Phillips coach Peter Drench. “She’s batting cleanup and has really emerged for us.

“Defensively, she is pretty agile and is good at blocking pitches. Plus, she works well with Kayla Maloney. I think they have a good relationship.”

Pelletier, a resident of Andover, says that “it’s almost impossible to not get better when you’re working with Kayla,” and she credits a new approach to her hot start at the plate.

“I love playing softball but I was too focused last year, too intense, and put a lot of pressure on myself,” said Pelletier. “This year, I’m a lot more relaxed and trying to enjoy the game more.”

Because of her new approach, Pelletier didn’t have any individual goals for herself, but she had high hopes for the team. It is undefeated but, because of — among other things — rain, schedule conflicts and the Boston Marathon bombing — the schedule has been drastically reduced.

“It is frustrating, especially since we’re such a cohesive team and I think it’s a good team,” said Pelletier, who is headed to Cornell University next year. “We went to Florida as a team during spring break and really bonded. We were really excited about the season ... and then we’ve missed so many games.”

But Pelletier and the Warriors can salvage some satisfaction this weekend when they strive for their third straight Big East tournament title at Phillips.

Behind the pitching and batting of Maloney, who is a two-time tourney MVP and has played sensationally in the tournament, with help from Pelletier, the Big Blue has been in peak form for the Big East, which is the closest thing to a New England prep softball tourney.

Two years ago, when star catcher Sarah Onorato was injured, Pelletier stepped into the lineup and played admirably, including catching two no-hitters, and she has steadily gotten better since that time.

“I was told three days before the tournament that I’d be playing, so I didn’t have time to be nervous,” said Pelletier, who will major in biology at Cornell. “We like playing (in it) and we definitely want to win it again.”

With no plans on playing softball in college, that would be a fitting end to what has become a fine career.