Lake Orion's Tessa Nuss records 103rd consecutive successful steal, adding pair of homers in DH sweep of North Farmington
Good afternoon, Ms. Catcher. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, involves the attempt to stop one of the most efficient base stealers in the history of softball in the state of Michigan. You have seven innings to achieve this mission, but be aware that nobody has ever pulled it off. As always, if you should fail, we will disavow all knowledge of your actions. This message will self-destruct in five seconds — or slightly longer than it takes our target to make it to second base.
Welcome to the Mission: Impossible.
FARMINGTON HILLS — For the 103rd time in her career, Lake Orion’s Tessa Nuss saw her opening, and took it, sprinting the 60 feet to second base.
For the 103rd time in her career, a defender tried to — belatedly — slap a tag on her, only to realize Nuss was already on the bag.
This time, in Thursday’s doubleheader against North Farmington, that defender was good friend and summer-ball teammate Mara Sczecienski, who merely smiled and shook her head, as the two players shared a laugh.
“Mara was like ‘You’ve never been thrown out, have you?’ I said, ‘No.’ She was like ‘Of course …’” Nuss said with another laugh. “I love Mara — she plays on my travel team.”
Wait, like never-never?
“Not in high school,” Nuss said.
That head-shaking reaction is hardly new.
Not the first time she’s elicited that response from a defender.
When she takes her lead off first, and looks in toward the plate, she can tell, at times, that there are catchers who are fervently hoping she just stay put.
“Sometimes, if I’ve done it a couple of times, it’s like ‘Oh, she’s on again … But I just love stealing, so I’ll do it anyways,” Nuss said. “It’s kind of come naturally to me, honestly. I just want to perfect every part of my game, honestly, but that’s at the top of the list, because it’s one of my best attributes.”
It was the 18th time this season that Nuss has successfully swiped a bag. She was 41-for-41 in stolen-base attempts as a junior, after going 44-for-44 over her first two seasons.
Thursday’s theft puts her nine shy of the state record for consecutive successful stolen bases, set at 112 last season by Lansing Catholic’s Mikayla Sanford.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations record book, only four players nationwide have ever had a longer successful streak than the one Nuss has now — Sanford, Palmetto (Fla.) High’s Shelly Riker (131), Danville (Ala.) High’s Kristy Roberts (151) and Carlisle (Iowa) High’s Annesa Conrad (158).
Like a pitcher in the midst of a no-hitter, though, it’s not a topic that Nuss spends a lot of time chatting — or thinking — about.
“I just try to do my best — I don’t really like to talk about it,” she said. “I just try to do my best, and just always run fast.”
That last part is obviously the operative one — to steal bases, speed is required. It’s been years since Nuss realized she was considerably faster than most others around her — “Like 10. When I was really little,” she said. “My long legs help with that.”
At 5-foot-10, Nuss does have a long stride, something that helps her cover a considerable amount of ground in center field.
It also helps eat up the distance between the bases, seemingly only taking her four strides to get there.
“Sometimes it feels like that — and then I dive, and keep sliding,” she laughed. “(The long legs) for sure helps, but I work on it a lot. I do speed training and everything. I always want to get better and faster.”
And she’s a tireless worker.
“She’s matured. She works hard — very, very hard. If some of the kids would work half as hard as her, just half as hard,” Lake Orion coach Joe Woityra said. “Even last night, we got done with practice, and — you know how it’s been; we’ve been in the gym with the miserable weather — afterwards, I was leaving, and there was her car up on the hill, and she was walking down to the batting cage with her tee, to hit.”
It’s what has separated her from just being a talented player to being one of the all-time greats in the Dragons program. Woityra admitted he’s not had a better baserunner in his decade at Lake Orion.
“Probably not. Not with the speed she’s got. She gets a good jump, and her legs are so long. She’s stolen on the best catchers around, too, so it’s not a fluke. She’s not picking on the weak,” Woityra said, comparing Nuss to the program’s previous big base-stealing threat and school record-holder, Tessa Tomlin. “Totally different ballplayers. Tomlin was just a free spirit, didn’t really want to play, played because her dad wanted her to. She didn’t work hard at it at all, where Tessa is the opposite. It’s all she wants to do. Like I said, and once-in-a-generation player, but I’ll take it. It’s a nice four years.”
Nuss has been a mainstay in the Dragons’ lineup since her freshman season, earning first-team all-state honors each of her first three seasons, giving her a chance to be the first four-year all-state player in school history. She's also a candidate for the Total Softball Player of the Year.
She’s already put herself in the MHSAA record book with her offensive prowess, too, hitting .654 as a junior (20th-best all-time) with 79 runs (5th-best all-time) and 89 hits (4th-best all-time).
With Nuss’ base-stealing, though, it isn’t as much about quantity as it is efficiency.
Her name likely won’t end up at the top of the MHSAA lists for single-season steal totals — that list starts with Chesaning’s Melissa Sager, who had 115 swipes in 1997, and goes 28 players deep, down to 60 steals — or career steals. That list goes 20 deep after record-holder Kelsey Krych of Goodrich (261 steals in 263 attempts from 2004-07) and Nuss is still 55 steals from reaching the bottom rung.
There aren’t many times that Woityra — who coaches first base when the Dragons are at bat — watches Nuss take off and thinks 'Uh, oh … this might be the one where she gets caught.’
“She actually catches herself if she doesn’t get a good jump. She can feel it. She can get away with it against most catchers,” he said. “She’s just got great instincts. Great ballplayer.”
So how do you deal with a base-stealing threat like Nuss? Just keep her off base?
While catchers can back-pick runners in softball, unlike baseball the pitcher can’t throw over to first to keep a runner close.
What’s the best formula?
“The problem is this: If they walk her, she’s going to steal second, and it’s a double. If she bunts, it’s a double. If she swings away, it could be a double, or more. So you just don’t know. That’s a tough one, what to do,” Woityra said. “I don’t know what I’d do. If you walk her, it’s a double and maybe a triple. She’s stolen third base five to eight times this year.”
The North Farmington Raiders (5-5, 3-4 OAA Red) might have actually come up with one way of keeping her off the bases — let her hit it over the fence.
Nuss had a pair of home runs in the doubleheader sweep, as Lake Orion (13-0) won 14-3 and 9-5.
Her first came in a spurt of back-to-back-to-back home runs from Paisley Stevens, Nuss and Paytin Shadaia in the sixth inning of the first game, blowing open what had been a 3-0 game with a six-run rally. Hailey Melchert’s three-run homer in the seventh was the big blow in a five-run frame that made it 14-0 before the Raiders got three back in the bottom of the inning.
Following an earlier homer by Melchert in the nightcap, Nuss’ second home run was a two-run shot in the third, fueling a five-run rally that helped the Dragons take the lead for good.
“I think that showed her that she can do that. She had to have a little bit of doubt that she could. It’s happened one other time, maybe. I think she hit the fence last week one time, at the top,” Woityra said of the left-handed slap hitter. “It can only help us down the road.”
Down the road starts next week, when the Dragons take on the two other OAA Red powers — Oxford on Monday and Clarkston on Wednesday — that they’ll face in districts. It’s been a given over the last handful of years that the survivor of that district will inevitably go on a long postseason run.
That’s still a ways off … but not necessarily forever away, especially for the biggest senior class the Dragons have had in a while.
“It feels really strange, because we get out of school in like 19 days,” Nuss said. “It’s so crazy that this is my last season.”