Milton's Nicole Smith delivers a pitch during Friday's game against Jersey Shore. May 18, 2007

Three perfect games. One-hundred eighty-two strikeouts. Susquehanna Valley League and District 4 titles.

Guess what? Milton's Nicole Smith still isn't satisfied.

The sophomore right-hander accomplished all of the above this season, which is why she's The Daily Item Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. But ask her about the 2007 campaign, and she can't get that 1-0, state-playoff loss to Abington Heights out of her head.

"We have to practice harder for next year," says Smith, the daughter of Judy and Marlin Smith of Milton. "We were expecting to go further than that. That may have been part of the problem: We were expecting too much. We need to take it one step at a time."

That loss to Abington Heights in the first round of the PIAA Class AAA tournament was doubly tough for Smith: She had to watch the state title games on TV.

"I didn't want to watch it, my dad made me," she says. "You know you could be there in that situation. It makes you feel bad."

If Smith -- who led Milton Little League teams to three consecutive World Series from 2004-06, including a Senior Division world title last year -- needs some cheering up, she can look ahead to next year, when the Black Panthers bring back every member of a team that was 21-2 this season. All those girls have been part of the World Series teams the last few years.

"I love having my friends around (on the diamond)," says Smith, who also was named the SVL player of the year by the league's coaches. "They know what they have to do and we all get along really well. That helps when you're meshing together."

Indeed, Smith is quick to credit her defense when asked about her most memorable pitching performance of the year: a perfect game against Jersey Shore in the regular-season finale. That 1-0 win clinched the league title for the Black Panthers.

"I wasn't even paying attention (to a perfect game)," she says. "I just wanted to keep them from scoring. Our defense really helped me out that game."

Of course, defense begins inside the circle, and Smith was once again the area's most dominant pitcher. In addition to the Jersey Shore game, she also had perfect games against Line Mountain (in a three-inning contest) and Montoursville. She was 17-2 with a 0.28 ERA and just 11 walks in 117 innings.

Smith, whose arsenal includes a fastball (clocked in the mid-60s), rise and curve, wants to work on her drop for next year. But she really wants to improve her changeup, which has been a liability at times.

"I'm afraid to throw it because ... it's too slow," she says. "They have time to check (swing) and get back and hit it. That's when happened last weekend (at an ASA tournament): A girl just smashed it. It's hard for me to throw slower like that."

Although she hit .431 out of the three hole, posting 19 RBIs and scoring 22 runs in the regular season, Smith also is hoping to improve her batting next season.

"I want to work on hitting outside pitches better to right field, and not popping them up," says Smith, who adds that many girls are now pitching her that way. "If you get an umpire that calls it way out, you have to hit it."

If Smith can consistently get to that outside pitch, and add the changeup to her repertoire, then Milton will be even tougher to stop next year. And who knows? Maybe she'll will be too busy pitching in the state final to watch it on TV.

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