Calligraphy

The sweet spot: Billings West’s Marleigh Nieto has found the balance between personality and talent, and it shows | High school softball

BILLING — Google the name of Marleigh Nieto, click on the images tab and you’ll quickly see that an item is like no other.

There, mixed in with all manner of softball photos, is a drawing of Olaf, the cheerful and thoughtful animated snowman from the popular 2013 film “Frozen.” Nieto drew the picture in fifth grade after she and her family moved to Billings from California.

The image, by the way, also appears in the archives of The Billings Gazette, and Nieto burst out laughing when asked about it.

“Oh my God,” Nieto replied, his memory rekindled. “It was a drawing competition. My school put it on around Christmas. We were supposed to draw something festive and for some reason I drew Olaf and wrote “Merry Christmas” on it. Somehow I won, and now every time someone looks at my name, Olaf is the first picture that pops up.

An artistic eye is just one of the many talents that Nieto is blessed with. She loves to sing and dance, learned calligraphy and, during the COVID-19 quarantine period, took up painting. But this is only a partial list.

Currently, one of his main abilities is helping the Billings West softball team win games. The Golden Bears senior outfielder beats the lead, and the heat index from the start of her season at home plate would quickly liquefy poor Olaf into a puddle.

Through nine games for the undefeated Bears, Nieto is .677 batting with a .703 on-base percentage and 2.477 OPS. She has nine circuits and has driven in 21 races.

That Nieto is playing at this level – an extension of his game last season – surprises her a bit. As a somewhat withdrawn freshman, Nieto was primarily a slap hitter and courtesy runner. She appeared in 19 games in 2019, but only had 21 at-bats.

She felt a little out of place, an outcast, to be honest. Nieto was one of two freshmen on the college roster — Avery Martin was the other — and it didn’t make it easy for him that his dad, Steve, was an assistant coach.

Normally outgoing and gregarious, Nieto has instead bottled up some of her personality in order to fit in and not stand out. Head coach Preston Sanders felt that Nieto could have walked on eggshells a bit to avoid any semblance of favoritism because his father was on the coaching staff.

Then COVID hit and its second season was cancelled. Maybe that was a good thing, because in her first year, the effervescent Nieto, now more comfortable with her place in the program, could shine.

And she did. She hit .500 last season with four home runs and 27 RBIs, playing 1.457 OPS and landing on the radar of MSU Billings, who Nieto signed late in 2021.

Nieto has reached that sweet spot of staying true to who she is — lighthearted and jovial — while taking the game seriously, which is what Sanders said Nieto needed to do.

She also wants people to know she’s in their corner, and that’s why she’s everyone’s cheerleader, whether it’s the small occasion of a pitcher simply throwing a strike or bursting with joy on a teammate’s home run.

“It’s part of his maturity now,” Sanders said. “She’s a good team leader, but she still kept her personality along the way. It’s not, ‘I’m a senior, I’m the leader, do as I say’ and this and that.

“No, she’s still a personality, she’s still a team leader. She is there to support her teammates, whether they are university or JV.

This support extends to former classmate Tommy Lindsay and his family. Lindsay was one of three teenagers who died in a car accident in February 2021. Nieto was good friends with Lindsay, and she dedicated last season and this season to him and his family.

Nieto traces the initials “TL” in the circle on the deck and in the dirt near the batter’s box before each at-bat, a habit she started last season.

“I just feel like playing with a goal (last season) and that made it 10 times better,” Nieto said. “I was pushing for something bigger than softball. It was way bigger than a game.

Steve Nieto recalled a story from two years ago during the COVID quarantine. He and Marleigh were batting practice and next to them on different ground was another father with a son and a daughter. The boy and the father were playing catch, while the young girl watched.

They all happened to leave the fields at the same time but in different directions, and before everyone separated, Marleigh grabbed one of Nieto’s softballs and ran it over to the little girl. daughter, telling her to keep it so she can play with it. his father next time.

“He’s just a good person to be around,” Sanders said. “She has a big heart, really.”

Having empathy is another of Olaf’s characteristics. Maybe this drawing, placed among all those softball photos when you Google Marleigh Nieto’s name, isn’t so out of place after all.