Freshman Nicole Stockinger looked at Sherwood High School softball coach Pat Flanagan, shrugged, and smiled one too many times.
During Sherwood’s early-season practices, Stockinger had quickly proved she belonged on the varsity team. Just as quickly, she developed a reputation for rarely speaking.
So, Flanagan nicknamed Stockinger “Harpo” in reference to the silent Marx Brother — it was a moniker Stockinger needed to have explained to her by her father.
“I think her skills do the talking,” Flanagan said.
Entering Sherwood’s 4A state semifinal against Col. Zadok Magruder on Tuesday, the center fielder was leading the team with a .531 batting average, five home runs and 38 runs.
She also insists she can be plenty talkative, no matter what Flanagan thinks.
“I don’t know where she sees that from,” Stockinger said lightly, lacking the forceful tone that would add believability to her objection. “I’m not that quiet when it comes [to being] around a bunch of the girls I like to be around.”
Stockinger understands that camaraderie with her teammates well. She rebuffed a chance to move up from the junior varsity basketball team this season because she enjoyed the camaraderie of the JV team. When the JV season ended, Stockinger eventually became a starter for the varsity team.
“I can’t think of a sport that she probably wouldn’t be successful in if she decided to play,” Flanagan said. “Fortunately for me, it’s softball.”
That speaks to Stockinger's athleticism and determination.
Once, Stockinger blasted a line drive at the shortstop, who made an impressive play to knock it down. Because the ball was hit so hard, the shortstop had time to pick it up and throw out Stockinger.
“She wanted to know what she’d done wrong,” Flanagan said. “I said, ‘What? Are you kidding me? What have you done wrong? You didn’t do anything wrong.’”
Flanagan said she doesn’t mind Stockinger’s quietness, but she wants the freshman to become a little easier on herself. Ask Stockinger about her softball strengths, and she turns into the non-talker Flanagan claims she is.
“Hmm. Umm,” Stockinger said between a couple long pauses. “Probably defense out in the outfield.”
There’s little reason to hesitate. Stockinger hasn’t made an error all season and has made runners who test her arm pay. She used to pitch for her baseball team and, at some tournaments, a crowd would gather to marvel at the girl striking out all the boys. Stockinger just laughed and kept throwing.
Flanagan said she’s never seen Stockinger get nervous, but the freshman admits she did occasionally early in the season. Instead of showing it — or talking about it — she just internalized it and kept working.
“If they didn’t see it in the program that she was a freshman, by the way she carries herself, by the way she plays the game, I don’t think a lot of people would figure that she’s a freshman,” Flanagan said. “It sounds pretty trite, but she’s the real deal.”
And if she’s quiet, that’s fine with Flanagan, too.
“I don’t want her to talk too much,” Flanagan said. “Just let her play. We just let her play.”