It didn't take Jessie DeNardo long to prove she could hang with the best. Just about a dozen pitches into her freshman season.
DeNardo, who transferred to Denmark from Pinecrest Academy in 2018, started at shortstop and batted second in the Danes' first-ever athletic event, a 10-0 win against Johns Creek. In the top of the first inning, DeNardo showed off her range, snaring a line drive off the bat of Ella Hollands with a diving catch behind third base.
"I came in the dugout and Coach Corr, who was an assistant coach freshman year, just went crazy," DeNardo said. "That's probably what I'll remember. That started the whole thing."
She scored twice and drove in a run in the win, sparking a freshman campaign that saw DeNardo hit .452 with five home runs and emerge as one of the county's top players. Two days later, she hit the first home run in school history against Dawson County.
DeNardo's production only grew two seasons ago when Denmark jumped from Class 4A to Class 7A. She once again led the Danes offensively, finishing with a .457 batting average with seven homers and 39 RBIs.
And as a senior, DeNardo hit a whopping .526 with 11 home runs and 12 doubles, adding nine stolen bases to finish as the 2021 Forsyth County News Player of the Year. She reached base more often than not, compiling a .578 on-base percentage.
DeNardo grew up playing the travel ball circuit, but enrolling at Denmark provided a more team-oriented environment.
"Basically, Pinecrest didn't have a softball team and just the whole aspect of being able to play for a high school, which was completely different from travel ball," DeNardo said. "Being a part of something bigger and representing a school was the whole idea."
DeNardo is one of thee players who played all four years for the Danes — joining Taylor Gajdik and Caitlin McGinn.
Denmark won just four games in its inaugural season, but by the time those three players were seniors, the Danes won 14 games and reached the Class 7A playoffs.
Demark fell in the first round of the playoffs to ultimate state champion North Gwinnett, but not before DeNardo hit two solo home runs off Amber Reed, one of the top pitchers in the nation.
"Even though we lost in the North Gwinnett game, just seeing the potential and the talent that we had this season, and just the great fight we had being able to compete with one of the top teams in the state," DeNardo said.
Denmark's softball program has grown immensely through its first four seasons thanks to players such as DeNardo, Gajdik and McGinn. And while DeNardo's plans take her away from the softball field, she figures to be close should the Danes lift the championship trophy in Columbus.
"I am graduating early in December and I am going to UGA in January," DeNardo said. "I am studying hospitality and food management and food science. My family owns the Forsyth County winery, so that's where I want to end up."