NEWPORT — Sara Packard was a sophomore, pitching a no-hitter against Belfast, when Nokomis softball coach J.D. McLellan saw something he couldn’t tolerate.
Packard was shaking off his sign.
When Packard paused and stepped back off the pitcher’s plate, McLellan called timeout and went to talk to her. Packard explained where the batter had been standing and what she had done in her previous at-bats. McLellan said, in effect, “Don’t shake me off, sophomore.”
“She was right,” McLellan admits now. “But (it was) the whole idea a sophomore shook me off.”
Packard is a senior now, and she’s been the top starter for one of the best teams in Eastern B. McLellan trusts her with pitch selection these days, and also knows that she helps the Warriors with her mind.
“I don’t know really when it started, but whenever we needed to find out about a pitcher or a player on certain team, she looks up some information, and she likes doing that,” McLellan said. “In fact, this year she ended up taking our book, and she’s made a layout sheet of all the different stats. She did it herself at home.
“She just knows numbers. Everybody was teasing her because she didn’t know how many errors happened in this last game. We all teased her, because it was like the first time, ever. She could probably tell you each inning, who was on and how they played.”
Packard’s reputation for memory is a running theme with the team. In preseason, McLellan was joking around on the bus and asked Packard to write down all of the Nokomis players’ uniform numbers. She got them all, then started listing off their numbers in other sports.
“I just have a memory like that, and I can remember different games, and what happened in what games,” Packard said. “I usually do well on a lot of sciences. Especially anatomy, I can just remember all the body parts, and it comes really easily and natural to me. I wouldn’t say math’s my strong suit.”
Combined with that knowledge is someone who can pitch and loves softball. Packard was in the circle when Nokomis made its run to the Eastern B final in 2012, and has won three games in three starts this season. She works year-round with former Nokomis pitcher Patrice Witham, and says she throws six different pitches.
“Growing up, I just always played it,” Packard said. “I started in first game. I was playing with my sister. Around third or fourth grade, I really started loving it.”
In past years, Packard was almost exclusively a pitcher, and the Warriors batted for her in the lineup. This year, after making a point to improve her hitting, she’s batting second in the lineup. On Monday, with Nokomis trailing Winslow 6-3 in the top of the seventh, Packard drilled a triple to deep left-center field. The blast would have been a home run at a lot of fields, and sparked a five-run rally.
“I worked really hard this offseason,” Packard said. “I go to Sluggers (in Brewer), at the training facility. I worked with coach Terren Hall a lot this offseason. She basically changed my whole swing, and we worked on it really hard together. It’s great to have that hard work pay off.”
On that triple, Packard stumbled rounding third and limped off the field after being removed for a pinch runner. She came back in the bottom of the seventh to finish off the win.
“I was pretty sore, probably because I was just nervous, and then I tripped on third, basically,” Packard said. “(Coach) was like, âAre you good?’ and I said, âI’m going to pitch, and I’m going to finish this game.’ It didn’t hurt that bad. I roll my ankles a lot. It just hurts for like a couple minutes, maybe, and then it goes away, so it’s not a big deal.”
Packard has already decided that she’ll attend the University of Maine at Presque Isle and continue to play softball. UMPI isn’t a softball powerhouse — the Owls were 6-22 this season — but Packard liked the atmosphere, the people, and the chance to keep playing softball.
“She’ll be able to work it pretty good,” McLellan said. “If she picked up a little more speed, she could go D-I. She’s got enough ball movement. D-III, it’ll be an easy adjustment for her.”
“I need to play at least four more years,” Packard said. “If I can help them, that’ll be great, but I’m just looking for a place to play.”