Five years ago, a York County Little League coach asked Kevin Bonilla if he’d take Nikki Gibson in a trade because he wasn’t sure he’d know how to coach a girl.Bonilla said he’d gladly obliged, but said to be truthful that Gibson was “really good, probably the best player on your team.”That description still holds true for Gibson, now 12, who was better than any boy in the recent District 7 All-Star Tournament. In four games for the York County Nationals, she batted .583 (7-for-12) with three home runs — including a go-ahead three-run shot in a crucial 7-5 win over host Poquoson — and had 15 RBI.Gibson, an eighth-grader at Grafton Middle, pitched a one-hitter in a 10-0 win over Poquoson for the ages 11-12 championship, scoring the game-ending run to clinch a state tournament berth. York National will begin state play at 4:30 p.m. on Friday against Annandale North-Springfield in Triangle.“I’ve never seen a better female baseball player that age, not around here,” said Bonilla, who also coaches Gibson on the Yorktown Renegades travel team. “She can do everything.“You talk about the five-tool player, she can hit, field, throw, run and pitch. She has baseball smarts and always wants to learn, and she can apply what she learns. She’s super competitive.”Credit older brother Trey Gibson for helping sharpen the latter trait. Whether it’s baseball or basketball, Nikki’s favorite sport, the two compete against each other hard.If Trey, 6-foot-4, dunks on her in hoops, Nikki, 5-6, will foul to stop him the next time. Asked how often she’d get a hit off of Trey — a standout pitcher for the Grafton High varsity baseball team as a freshman this spring — she jokes, “Every time.”The rivalry is a friendly one, though, and Nikki appreciates Trey’s advice on doing things such as “bend your knee on the follow through” when she pitches. Her favorite part of baseball, however, is hitting.“I like hitting because I can hit home runs now,” Gibson said.She hit her first homer in an all-star game at Hampton-Wythe a year ago.“I just started swinging harder,” she said.Gibson added three more in the regular season this year, before her three home run outburst in District 7 tournament. The biggie was her bomb, 220 feet to right field, against co-favorite Poquoson, breaking a 1-1 tie in the fourth inning.She hit it off of a pitcher who had struck her out recently in a travel ball game, then again in the first inning of their District 7 tourney game.“That was the most important one I’ve ever hit,” Gibson said. “We heard their pitching and hitting was good, and that was probably the biggest game (in the tournament).”Although she is the lone girl on the York Nationals, and almost always the only girl in any baseball game she plays, her teammates, opposing players and opposing parents treat her respectfully. Neither Nikki or her father J.R. Gibson recall hearing any catcalls because of her gender or success.“She surprises a lot of people playing sports, because most people think girls aren’t as good as boys,” York National teammate DJ Brooks said. “Some people are better than others and sometimes things are different.“In that case it is.”York National teammate Grady Steele said, “She can pitch and hit really well, and is better than all the guys on our team. It doesn’t matter (about being a boy or girl in baseball) she’s shown you can do what you want.”The state tournament will be among Gibson’s last as a baseball player. Afterward, she will increase her focus on softball and basketball, and perhaps hit the golf course more often with an eye toward playing that sport at Grafton High as well.Gibson says she’s excited about playing in the Little League state tournament, but doesn’t appear to mind the prospect of leaving baseball behind thereafter to play girls sports.“I’ll miss playing baseball a little, I guess, but I want to be with my friends,” she said.O’Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.
Gibson had three home runs, 15 hits and pitched a one-hitter to lead York County to state tournament
Copyright © 2019, The Virginia Gazette