Nikki Skerlong made abnormal plays look routine at shortstop. The former Mississippi Association of Junior Community and Junior Colleges Player of the Year did so at Ouachita, at Hinds Community College and at Northwestern State.

So how would you like to follow in her “cleats?” While many would find that task daunting, Madelyn Fletcher gladly accepted the challenge.

“I knew I’d have to step up if I was going to take her spot,” Fletcher said. “Everybody always talked about how good Nikki was, and so I definitely had to live up to her and try to do what she did. Going into my sophomore year, I talked with Nikki and she talked about what it would take to get to that level.”

So Fletcher did what she was known to do — worked her tail off. Fletcher had a desire to be as good as Skerlong but wanted to carve out a name for herself. And after her senior season was ended due to COVID-19, it’s fair to say she did so. After all, she batted .559 with nine home runs and 35 RBI in 16 games.

“It was nonstop working before the seasons,” Fletcher said. “Last year was a little bit different because we had a new coach (Samantha Hamby). (Hamby) was under Coach (Tim) Whitman, though, so when we found out she was the coach, we were like, ‘Alright, let’s get to work. We know what to do.’”

Hamby is still amazed at the transformation Fletcher underwent in her career, but she isn’t the least bit surprised.

“She went from hitting under .300 (her freshman year) to being one of the team’s leading sluggers the last two years,” Hamby said.

Fletcher, who hit .410 as a junior for the Lady Lions, transferred over from Ouachita Christian when she was a freshman, worked her way into the lineup and became a vital piece of a Lady Lion squad that won a state championship and was consistently one of the top teams in the state.

In Ouachita’s 10-9 thrilling come-from-behind victory against Hahnville in the 2018 Class 5A State Championship, the Lady Lions almost had to rally from a seven-run deficit without Fletcher on the field.

“I remember diving for a foul ball over third in the middle of the outfield and crashing into the left fielder,” Fletcher said. “It was early on in the game when I had my hand stepped up. Coach Whitman later told me he was nervous, but unless I couldn’t do anything at all with it, I was going to stay in the game and play.”

Fletcher saved her finest outings for her senior year, and perhaps her last outing ever trumped anything before it. In Fletcher’s final ballgame, she went 3-for-3 with three home runs.

“It’s definitely not how I wanted to (go out), but it wasn’t a terrible way to go out either,” Fletcher said.

The fun part about that is her final performances won’t be the last chance local fans get to see Fletcher. Fletcher will stay in the backyard of Ouachita Parish when she joins Molly Fichtner’s ULM Warhawks.

“It’s a dream come true to play at the collegiate level,” Fletcher said. “To be able to play 15 minutes from home and have my friends and family there, it’s very exciting.”

Award-winning sports writer for columns and features since joining the field in 2013. As the first-ever featured columnist of the month at Bleacher Report, Martin cut his teeth with online media before joining the newspaper business in 2014.

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