SB : In sophomore season with Orange, shortstop Nandin anchors defense
On her way to Syracuse for the first time in 2006, Leigh Ross stopped at a tournament in Binghamton. The new SU softball head coach was already looking for talent for her program. Before she even unpacked or coached a game, Ross saw her shortstop of the future in a high school sophomore named Morgan Nandin.
Ross noticed her confidence and feel for the game out at shortstop. Nandin had great instincts and smarts in the field and a unique ability to read plays before they happened. She had everything the coach was looking for at that position.
‘I knew when I was watching her that that’s the type of kid that I wanted to play shortstop for me,’ Ross said.
More than four years later, Nandin is now a sophomore at Syracuse and the team’s starting shortstop. She has started every game there for the Orange in her first two seasons, despite having the lowest batting average (.193) of all the starters both years. Nandin will anchor the defense again at 1 p.m. on Tuesday when Syracuse (30-11, 8-5 Big East) takes on Georgetown (12-36, 5-8) at SU Softball Stadium.
For Nandin, her smooth fielding is the product of a childhood spent playing baseball with her dad, Bob, and her brother, Matt.
Morgan Nandin started fielding groundballs in the backyard when she was 3 years old. Bob, a former Syracuse Chiefs infielder and Le Moyne baseball assistant coach, would alternate hitting hardballs to 7-year-old Matt and tennis balls to Morgan.
Bob worked from home at the time, so he would often hit Morgan groundballs all morning until lunch. But the 3-year-old didn’t even want to take a break to eat.
‘She never wanted to stop,’ Bob said. ‘She just kept saying, ‘Dad, one more, one more, let’s keep going. I’m not hungry, let’s keep playing.”
That passion for the game was only deepened by her competitive relationship with Matt. The two competed in backyard games all the time. And Matt never let his sister win.
So when she finally beat him in a one-on-one basketball game on a circus shot thrown over her head, he wasn’t exactly happy for her.
‘I turned and I saw it go in, and as soon as I saw it go in and turned back around,’ Matt said, ‘she had already ran back in the house because she knew how mad I was getting.’
Though they had their battles, Morgan said she always wanted to be like Matt, who was a star shortstop in high school and at Le Moyne. Whenever Matt was hitting or fielding with their dad, so was Morgan. She wanted to be as good as her brother, if not better.
And like Matt, Morgan always wanted to be a baseball player. She grew up going to all of her dad’s baseball practices at Le Moyne, staying after to take groundballs.
Morgan played youth baseball until she was 10. Bob remembers one time when another team needed a pitcher to throw strikes. Morgan volunteered and went to the mound. Soon, a big crowd formed to watch the little girl strike out about 10 hitters.
But after she struck out the opposing coach’s son, her baseball career was over.
‘They took me out, and they said they didn’t want a girl pitching,’ Morgan said. ‘So then that was the last time that I played baseball.’
Though she never played baseball competitively again, the fundamentals and instincts she developed watching and playing the game throughout her childhood easily translated to softball. Nandin led Cicero-North Syracuse High School to a state championship and earned All-Central New York Player of the Year and first-team all-state honors.
And Nandin still carries that baseball swagger on the softball field.
‘A lot of people tell me that I look just like a baseball player,’ Nandin said. ‘I think that’s what set me apart from all the other shortstops around the country is that I had my dad and my brother teaching me baseball.’
The countless hours taking groundballs with them have paid off. Ross said her fielding ability makes up for her struggles at the plate, where she’s hitting .205 in 83 at-bats this season. Nandin understands she will help win more games with her glove than with her bat anyway.
From diving in the hole to ranging up the middle, Nandin can make any play. Ross was amazed during a game against Florida earlier this season when Nandin fielded a ball and quickly threw from her back to get the out at first.
For Ross, Nandin’s spectacular defense is just part of her daily routine.
‘At practice, it’s every day you never know what to expect, sometimes it’s like an ESPN highlight clip,’ Ross said. ‘But she’s done that all her life. She loves to play the game.’
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