Burlington Township softball coach Nicolette Cannizzaro decided before this season that her pitcher and catcher had earned enough trust that she would let them call their own pitches as opposed being called by the coaching staff.
Senior catcher Mackenzie Fitzpatrick and junior pitcher Bailey Enoch have known each other since T-ball. They have chemistry, and they know their opponents well enough. They have played against many of them almost as long as they have known each other.
But what Cannizzaro really liked was the trajectory on which Enoch has been as pitcher. Every year -- sometimes it feels like every game -- she gets better.
“With Bailey, there is no, ‘That’s not my best pitch,’ ” Cannizzaro said. “Overall, she is definitely coming in ready to throw whatever she needs to throw at any time, all the time.”
Cannizzaro’s hunch was right: In the first game of this season Enoch, with the help of Fitzpatrick’s guidance, tossed a no-hitter with 16 strikeouts against New Egypt.
She recorded her second no-hitter in her fifth start when she blanked Bordentown in a statement win for the Falcons on Thursday.
Enoch has 68 strikeouts in 35 innings.
“Our plan is just to keep the hitters guessing or off balance. Personally, from a hitting perspective, I do best when I’m mentally ahead of the pitcher,” said Enoch, a Fordham recruit who struck out 163 batters in 114 innings as a sophomore while carrying a .443 average as a batter. “So from a pitching perspective, I want to be able to throw any pitch in any count so that the batter is always guessing.”
Enoch values the trust her coach and her teammates placed in her, and she wants to continue to build trust with her catcher.
Trust, she said, helped the Falcons to a 19-2 record last year. And trust will hopefully carry them through a season in which — in stroke of hard luck for the team — Burlington Township will compete in arguably the state’s hardest division and sectional bracket.
“I do think it’s important to try to lead by example,” Enoch said. “And we know we have to be completely comfortable and trust in one another. We need to work every day to eliminate not only mental errors but physical errors.”
Cannizzaro said she’s impressed not just with Enoch’s results, but with how she’s turned into something of a perfectionist in practice and how she goes out of her way to guide her teammates.
That attitude is essential considering Burlington Township’s schedule. The Falcons moved to the Burlington County Scholastic League Liberty Division this year, featuring teams such as Bordentown, Rancocas Valley and division favorite Northern Burlington, a team that handed the 4-2 Falcons one of their two losses this season.
Northern Burlington, a team widely regarded as a top-10 team in the state, is also in the Falcons’ Central Jersey Group 3 bracket. That bracket also features Steinert, last year’s Tournament of Champions winner.
It adds up to a schedule that feels more like a gauntlet than a typical spring season.
The Falcons are fully aware of the uphill battle, the fact that in many other situations they might be waltzing to divisional and sectional championships.
But Enoch said there’s real positives to be had from this setup, even through a loss here and there.
“We’re learning a lot about ourselves right now,” Enoch said. “Personally, I think it’s better for our team to be faced with adversity early on, so that we can learn how to deal with it, as opposed to last year. We only had one loss going into playoffs. And then our second loss of the season was our last game.”
Enoch has often been compared to Northern Burlington’s stud pitcher, junior Haylei Archer. Both have mutual respect for each other, and Enoch conceded to feeling extra hyped for their game against the Greyhounds earlier this season.
It was the kind of game she lives to play, the kind of moment that made her want to be a pitcher in the first place.
Enoch first started pitching in fifth grade. Her dad, who was also her coach, noticed her habit of regularly practicing a wind-up during downtime in the infield.
“Eventually, he asked me if I wanted to try out pitching, and, of course, I did,” she said.
Since then, Enoch has been relentless about perfecting her craft. She has an array of pitches as effective as any in South Jersey. And now she’s most focused on the mental part of her game, on playing with confidence both in the circle and as the team’s leadoff hitter.