0

Archer senior comes up big at key moments in championship season

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Nani Cabrales of Archer has been selected as the Gwinnett Daily Post's softball pitcher of the year.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Nani Cabrales of Archer has been selected as the Gwinnett Daily Post's softball pitcher of the year.

It's one thing for a softball pitcher to have overwhelming action on all her pitches that allows her to dominate opposing hitters.

Archer's Nani Cabrales definitely had such action throughout much of the season, rolling up an impressive 24-4 record with a save, a 1.23 ERA and 184 strikeouts in 182 innings this season.

But what set the senior right-hander apart from other strong pitchers from around Gwinnett County, and made her the Daily Post's Pitcher of the Year, was her ability to make big pitches when her team needed it the most.

"She definitely battled through some high-pressure situations this year," said Archer coach Kris Daniels, the Daily Post's Coach of the Year. "That's just her mentality. She refuses to give in."

There are several examples of Cabrales -- who was also a force at the plate, hitting .405 with five home runs, 31 RBIs and a 1.117 OPS -- coming up big for the Tigers during their run for the first state championship in Archer school history.

But few of those moments draw a more clear picture of her ability in the clutch than her final three of four outings during the Class AAAAAA state tournament in Columbus last month.

After she and the Tigers rolled through an opening-round win over Hillgrove, Cabrales and her teammates were faced with several make-or-break situations.

First, Cabrales had to match Lassiter's Mackenzie Kayler, who had set down Archer's first 16 hitters of the game, nearly pitch-for-pitch before consecutive hits by Brittany Marasett, Alesha Mann, Abby Lyall and herself led to a sixth-inning rally that made the difference in a 3-0 second-round win.

Then, she overcame another pitching duel with Collins Hill's Aeshia Miles and a few errors behind her that led to a pair of unearned runs, which forced the winner's bracket finals into extra innings.

Most importantly, Cabrales made clutch pitches in the two extra frames to prevent international tie-breaker runs from scoring, giving Lyall a chance to drive in the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth of Archer's 3-2 win over the three-time defending state champion Eagles.

"You just have to work every batter at a time and just focus on the batter (at the plate)," Cabrales said about situations like the extra-inning game. "That's all you can do, ... just get try to get them out. If you get them out, there will be no baserunners."

Even when Cabrales didn't have her best stuff, as was the case in Archer's 7-4 championship game win over Kennesaw Mountain, she found a way to make the exact pitch needed at the exact time it was needed.

Perhaps the best example was her strikeout of the Mustangs' Morgan Howard representing the tying run at the plate to escape a jam in the bottom of the sixth with the Tigers clinging to a 6-4 lead.

But Cabrales is also the first to admit that despite the lapse a game earlier, she depended a lot on her defense -- as best demonstrated by freshman Jacqui Switzer's running catch deep in the gap in right-center to end another KMHS threat in the fifth.

And the trust she felt in the defense behind only grew as the season progressed, thought Daniels points out it took a little change in her normal mentality to foster that trust.

"She's a power pitcher, but she didn't rely on the strikeout (this season)," Daniels said. "She relied on her defense a little more and tried to get outs earlier in the count."

That strategy was also prompted by a knowledge that she would have to carry a larger workload in the circle than she had in previous high school seasons at Archer last year, and at Grayson, which she helped to appearances in Columbus during her freshman and sophomore seasons.

While she shared innings with fellow senior Aaliyah Williams and then-senior Madison Wyngaert during her junior season, but saw the vast majority of innings this season.

"I was just mentally preparing for that," Cabrales said. "I always had to be careful and had to limit myself. ... I had to take care of my body and keep from overdoing myself. ... I knew I had to have my best stuff, and I knew I had to count on my defense behind me."

But while Cabrales was able to pace herself and sacrifice being so dominant at times this season, that didn't make getting a hit off her any less of an accomplishment.

Just ask Daily Post Player of the Year, and Cabrales' friend and future college teammate at Georgia Tech, Sam Pierannunzi of Peachtree Ridge.

The senior cited a home run she hit off the Archer ace in a regular-season tournament as a key moment not only in her season, but her career.

"I don't know if I ever (told) her this, but it was one of the highlights of my career," Pierannunzi said. "I've played against her since we were 10 years old, and I've always struggled against her."