High school softball pitcher Gracie Johnston struck out 35 batters in two games. Both opponents won their respective league titles last season. Johnston still "mowed them down."
Circle was first. Johnston whiffed 17. She fanned the first 11 batters she faced. Five days later, she struck out 18 against Wellington.
Johnston said she wasn't surprised, but considering her journey to get there, at least two others were.
Augusta softball coach Jamie VanDever has coached a handful of sports at a handful of levels in Augusta. He met Johnston when she was playing seventh-grade volleyball and basketball
"I thought, 'This girl's not an athlete,'" VanDever said. "Couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time. I thought, 'What is this girl gonna do?' And then I watched her pitch."
Even now, as perhaps the ace of the league, Johnston is not the most nimble player on the field.
And she knows that.
"I've never been athletic in my life," she said. "I'm not fast. Sometimes I can swing a bat, but I can't run. I'm really awkward."
Growing up, Johnston's mom noticed this, too. Johnston said her mom pokes fun at her when she can.
"My mom says it's a miracle I don't fall on my face when I pitch," Johnston said.
For some reason, pitching just comes naturally for her, she said, but that doesn't mean she hasn't faced struggles with the game.
Before her freshman season of high school, Johnston said a former coach told her she would be the varsity starter. She got her hopes up, but when the first game came, she was in the circle for junior-varsity. Three solid junior pitchers were ahead of her on the top squad.
She was "crushed" at first, she said. But she soon accepted her role and realized the process.
Johnston was rarely challenged on the JV team. She threw two no-hitters in her first two games and showed early that she was a strikeout pitcher.
She and the Augusta team reached the Class 4A third-place game that season. Johnston made her first varsity appearance down 2-0.
"I struck almost everyone out; they had one hit," she said. "We still lost 2-0, but after the game, I was just ecstatic. Everyone was so upset, but I had the biggest smile on my face."
A year later, she was back on JV. But through injuries, she also gained more playing time. VanDever, then Augusta's JV coach, said he knew that when Johnston got to varsity she would be special.
"When she's on, look out," he said. "She's tough to deal with. I wouldn't want to face her."
Augusta has a rich softball history. The Orioles have won four state championships, including back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015.
When Augusta won it all in 2006, Ashley Spalding was the team's ace. VanDever said Spalding was capable of putting up outrageous strikeout totals, and the Orioles relied on her to a state championship.
He said he doesn't know if Spalding ever got to where Johnston is now.
VanDever said Johnston has the sort of speed that would allow her to compete in any classification. She consistently hits her spots.
But her rise-ball sets her apart.
Few pitchers in the AVCTL's bottom two leagues throw a rise-ball because it is extremely hard to learn. Johnston learned almost completely on her own. She spent hours in the backyard throwing to her dad. Eventually, she nailed it. Now, it's her primary pitch.
But maybe most impressive, Johnston keeps a veritable softball database in her head.
Through years of summer ball and playing against her eventual competition on JV, Johnston learned many batters' tendencies. With quick turnarounds in softball, there is little time to scout the next opponent. Memory becomes wildly important.
She said that if she doesn't have a plan coming into an at-bat, she can often pick up on a batter's weaknesses after one swing.
Against Wellington, Johnston noticed one batter swung with her hands out over the plate. She said she knew she needed to throw up and in to jam her on the handle of the bat.
Yes, she is talented. Yes, she has speed and a rise-ball that surprises almost any batter. But her mind and memory set her apart.
"It's only in softball, though," Johnston said. "I can memorize history fine, just not math and science. But softball is my thing."
A thing that she shares with a sibling. Johnston's sister, Sophie, is her catcher. Johnston said having that connection behind the plate makes pitching a lot easier.
"We're 11 months apart, so I've been pitching to her since I was 8 years old," she said. "When she's back there, I trust her so much."
Augusta is 10-0 after sweeping Rose Hill on Thursday, and Johnston is one of the biggest reasons for the team's success. She has pitched 40 innings with 67 strikeouts. Her strikeout-to-walk ratio is 7.44:1 and she has a WHIP (walks plus hits per inning) of .925.
The Orioles could go a long way this season. Johnston said that after not qualifying for the state tournament last season, a championship would mean the world.
"I want it so bad," she said. "I think we have a wonderful team: great bats, good pitching and a great team dynamic. Even when I don't have my best stuff, my team has my back."