She never saw this kind of a season coming. Then again, no one could have expected these types of numbers - 301 strikeouts, a 23-0 record, a 0.28 earned-run average, seven no-hitters, and team highs in batting (.600 average), home runs (7), and RBIs (30).
This season, Ashland High School junior Nicole D'Argento quashed any questions about her ability to follow up a brilliant sophomore campaign, piling up statistics rarely seen on the softball diamond. She will enter next spring with virtually no stone unturned, having completed a perfect season for the 28-0 Clockers with a 13-strikeout, three-hit, 3-0 win over Hudson High School in the Division 2 state final Saturday at Worcester State College.
She'll be teetering on some state records, too. D'Argento, who has verbally committed to Boston College, needs 16 strikeouts to pass the 500 milestone, and is 35-0 in two seasons.
"It's incredible," said D'Argento, the state's Gat orade Player of the Year. "It's unbelievable just to get all this as a junior. I've worked really hard, and it's nice to get a little recognition."
Ashland coach Steve O'Neill added, "Sometimes it doesn't seem real that she has over 300 strikeouts, over a .600 batting average . . . and on and on. Just the greatest season that I've ever heard of for anybody in a high school sport."
And O'Neill, with an extensive resume that includes stints coaching boys' hockey at both Framingham North and Ashland, has seen his share of talented athletes.
So where does D'Argento's season rank in state history?
Russ Davis, retiring as Hudson's softball coach, says D'Argento reminds him of Robyn King, a star hurler at North Middlesex in the mid-1990s. Closer to home, Lisa Moore, Wellesley High's ace two decades ago, and Julie Phipps, who pitched Ashland to the Division 3 crown in 1998, come to mind.
"Julie was very intimidating," said Bellingham coach Dennis Baker, whose Blackhawks finished second to the Clockers in the Tri-Valley League. "She'd take that first step and as a batter you felt like she was stepping halfway to home plate."
However, with D'Argento, he said, "it's hard to pinpoint - I haven't seen anyone like her."
Her brother, Russ, was the starting center fielder on the 2000 Ashland High baseball team that won the Division 3 state title, and went on to play for Old Dominion and the University of Connecticut.
Baker remembers D'Argento constantly showing up to watch her brother, playing toss on the sidelines, the baseball equivalent of a "gym rat."
And in his 37 years coaching baseball and softball, Baker said, he hasn't "seen a female athlete better than D'Argento."
"I'm telling you, she's just such a complete player that even when she doesn't have her best stuff, she'll find a way to beat you," he said. "That's the difference between her and the other girls right now."
End of the road for Hudson leaders
Championship Saturday also marked the end of two eras for Hudson softball.
Senior ace Kaitlin Andrews lost her final game, but the hard-throwing right-hander hurled the Hawks to three straight Division 2 finals, winning it all a year ago.
Andrews, who is lined up to play at Stonehill College next season, isn't close to D'Argento, but the two consider themselves "friends through softball." They first faced each other when Andrews was 11, and they estimate there have been roughly 20 games since then, involving select teams, high school games, and out-of-season tournaments. They characterize their relationship as a friendly rivalry.
D'Argento "is a great pitcher, and what it usually comes down to is whoever gets the clutch hit," said Andrews. "These are always great games."
Saturday also marked the final game for Davis, who is retiring after 16 seasons at the helm. The 61-year-old said he'll step down from coaching completely after the upcoming girls' soccer season.
"The kids have meant everything to me in my 16 years," Davis said. "But it's time to step away. I'm not a kid anymore."