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Joe Salvatore won't forget the first time he saw Natalie Cutright play softball.

"When her father first brought her to me, he said, 'She can't hit, but she's a great fielder and will give you everything she can,'" Salvatore said. "When she tried out, she had a really bad cold and my coaching staff said let's not take her.

"But, we brought her back a second time and she didn't do well then. I just saw something in her. I saw her intensity and drive for the game. Her swing was awful, but it was very minor corrections."

Those tweaks were just with her balance at the plate.

"It dealt with her weight transfer. She would drive her back side to her front side and it would create this dip which made everything an uppercut," Salvatore said. "I showed her something I wanted her to do, and she got it quickly. And I said this girl is very coachable and I want her. My coaches thought I was nuts. By the time we went through the winter practices and got through the first few tournaments of the summer she became my No. 3 hitter as a freshman on a very good softball team. She really stepped it up."

Salvatore has been coaching Cutright, the Dover standout and YAIAA Division II Player of the Year, for the past three years for the New Jersey Breakers 18-and-under gold travel team.

So how did the Dover shortstop go from learning the game to one of the best players in the state?

The answer: her desire to be great and some outstanding DNA.

"My mom had played when she was in high school and my dad had played slow pitch for a number of years, so softball was in the family," Cutright said. "I love the competitiveness and the feeling you get when you're up to bat and knowing that you can do whatever you want."

There's been a constant effort from Natalie and her father, Dave, to keep improving her game.

"Her father has worked a lot with her to make sure her swing is where it needs to be," Dover head coach Lauren Craig said. "He was a great slow-pitch softball player. She is a great self-motivator and sets goals for herself. She is very driven as far as softball is concerned."

Says Natalie, "You have to do work during the week. You have to hit and take grounders."

Her bat was hot all season for the Division II-champion Eagles. Cutright didn't strike out in 64 at-bats and hit .594 with 12 doubles and three home runs.

"She handled the pressure very well. Nine times out of 10 she delivered," Craig said. "Her softball IQ and knowledge of the game is just awesome. She is a great player, student and kid."

She also hit very well for the Breakers, .480 for the season, including an excellent showing during two tournaments in Colorado and Nevada. Combined in those tournaments, she went 31-for-52.

"She was just on fire, and the outs she made were hard hit somewhere. It's been incredible to watch her grow, not only physically but mentally," Salvatore said.

A captain on both the Dover and New Jersey teams, Cutright cherishes the time she spends with her teammates.

"I love the team atmosphere. I've made lifelong friends, that I'll probably have the rest of my life," said Cutright.

Cutright has played every position but catcher, and that versatility hasn't hindered her defensive play.

"She's always been unbelievable in the field. Her fielding has been tremendous," Salvatore said of his second baseman.

Her travel league team has afforded Cutright the opportunity to see a lot of the country, and with the college showcases they participate in it has given players chances to be seen often by NCAA coaching staffs.

Cutright has taken advantage of that and has verbally committed to Division I James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va.

"When I was a freshman, we were in Colorado and our pitcher was committed to James Madison. The coach came out to see her and I was playing second base," Cutright said. "I had a great game and after the game he told my coach that he liked how I played and that was it. My coach told me and I said, 'OK.' A few weeks later I started looking into JMU's campus and academic part. So we went down and looked at the campus and I loved it the moment I stepped onto it. Coach Salvatore called (JMU coach Mickey Dean) and told him I was interested and coming down to the camp in the winter."

It was at the camp that everything fell into place.

"I did really well at the camp and after that I verbally committed. I'm not going just for the softball. I'm still looking to have a future after softball, so the academics were really important as well," said Cutright, who intends to major in justice studies.

Before her college experience begins, Cutright still has one more season with Dover and the Breaker.

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