By AARON BRAND - ocala.com
Sitting in the nonfiction section of the Forest High School library, Nicole Smith and Molly Shutters wrote the first words to the next chapter of an already decade-long friendship.
The senior softball standouts signed Tuesday, together of course, with Northwest Florida State College.
The pair met while playing together on an 8-under softball team and have been integral parts of each other's lives since. Both Smith and Shutters had offers to other schools, but once the chance to play together presented itself, it was too good to pass up.
"It's such a good support system knowing that we have each other," Shutters said.
During the event, several friends, family members and former coaches spoke to Smith and Shutters' personality as well as their ability.
"Molly holds the record for the player that made me laugh more than anyone else," Former Forest coach Anthony White said. "Nicole holds the record ... for inflicting the most pain on a coach, when she lined me in the shin. I still feel it just talking about it."
Shutters is known for her positive and upbeat personality, which lifts teammates when they need it most. Smith has a relentless aggression toward life, one which may come at a steep price for her dad.
"Probably seven years ago, my dad made a bet with me at a travel ball tournament that if I could hit five home runs in a single season, he'd buy me a Jeep," Smith said. "Years went by and I never did it. Finally my sophomore year I hit five, and it clicked with me that I'd won, but I still don't have my Jeep."
Smith and Shutters are also the last remaining players from the Wildcats' 2015 state championship team. Both were freshmen on that 30-2 squad, but were key to winning the title.
"They earned their spot. They knew what they needed to do, and they worked hard to earn their spot," former Forest coach Pam Silvestre said of Shutters and Smith's freshman season. "They did a lot of extra things on their own. Extra conditioning, hit the batting cages a lot and just worked real hard."
During that season, Shutters hit .341 in 100 plate appearances. Smith hit .374 and had a .408 OBP in 98 plate appearances.
Northwest Florida State is a stepping stone for both players. The power-hitting Smith and slap-hitting Shutters both have big-program dreams.
"The coaches can get us to the next level, to SEC level, to Division I level," Smith said of the Niceville school.
Both still have their senior seasons ahead of them with Forest. Smith is coming off a junior season in which she hit .303 and led the team with 20 RBIs. Shutters led the Wildcats with a .383 average, 18 runs, four doubles and four triples.
Regardless of how they do on the field, Smith and Shutters will always have each other.
"We've never fought," Shutters said of the pair's relationship. "Our friendship that we have is going to carry us a long way, not only through Northwest Florida, but through life."