When she woke up on March 30, Episcopal’s Nancy Walker figured that day’s softball game would be called off. She had no need for her sacred game-day rituals. The afternoon matchup with Holy Child would surely not happen, she thought.
By noon, though, the skies opened up and the word got out. Game on.
“At first, I was kind of freaked out because I’m usually very religious about everything,” Walker said. “Go to bed at this time on game night, wake up at this time, have this to eat it’s all very in-place.”
Luckily for the Maroon, that didn’t matter.
Walker, the team’s ace and co-captain, shut down Holy Child with a 21-strikeout no-hitter. Despite a walk, a hit batter and several fielding errors, her performance was enough to lead Episcopal to a 4-2 win, its first of the year.
It was Walker’s fifth no-hitter in three years as Episcopal’s starting pitcher, but the 21-strikeout outing, a school record, was an entirely new experience and totally unexpected for the junior hurler.
“I was expecting it to be a pretty rough game because I wasn’t feeling prepared, I hadn’t done my usual routine,” Walker said.
“I was not at all ‘in the zone’ earlier that day. I don’t know if that ended up working in my favor or what maybe that should be a new routine for me,” she said.
A day later, news of her record outing had spread across campus in more than one language. When she stopped by the Spanish classroom that morning to drop off a paper, the teacher immediately changed the subject and caught Walker off guard with a “21” chant.
“I’m in AP Spanish and I didn’t know what she was talking about except she kept saying, ‘Veintiuno! Veintiuno!'” Walker said. “It’s a pretty small community so everybody gets really excited for each other. The support was just awesome.”
The proliferation of K’s in the scorebook was unlike anything Episcopal coach Suzy Willemssen had seen before.
“We knew we were getting close,” Willemssen said. “But our main thing was wanting to get that first win. That was the big cherry on top, her having such a dominating experience.”
Walker called the feat a “once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing,” but it didn’t come out of thin air. As a freshman, she struck out 162 batters in 107 innings of work, amassing a 10-8 record with a 1.11 ERA.
Now a little more than halfway through her high school career, she has notched 346 strikeouts for the Maroon (1-3 through last Tuesday). However, this year has presented a new challenge. Four of Walker’s teammates are getting a varsity-level introduction to the sport with little experience.
Her catcher, junior Lallie Lukens, picked up the game last year and played third base. Moving behind the plate was intimidating, she said, but by all accounts she is learning fast fast enough to catch a no-hitter in only her third start.
Like her teammates, Lukens said she tries to follow Walker’s lead.
“She surprises us every game with how amazing she pitches,” Lukens said. “It’s hard for her because we expect so much of her, but every game she meets our expectations and exceeds them.”
As green as the Maroon were to start the year, Walker said she felt an added weight to pitch her best going into each of the team’s first two games both lopsided losses.
The disappearance of that anxiety happened to coincide with the Holy Child game and it has yet to return. She threw a two-hitter in a loss to powerful Georgetown Visitation the next day.
“She was trying to carry the whole team and you can’t do that,” Willemssen said. “When she just focused on what she can do on the mound and not what’s going on behind her, it was great.”
Considering her teammates’ development, Walker said the 21-strikeout game was also tinged with a little bit of guilt.
“It would be awesome if it happened again, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if every game from here on out didn’t end with 21 strikeouts,” Walker said. “If every game was a 21-strikeout no-hitter, that wouldn’t be a lot of fun for anyone else on the Episcopal softball team.”