The biggest impediment to Olivia Tyson's success last year wasn't the person standing in the batter's box. She knew how to handle them.
North Forsyth's ace won 11 games and struck out 81 batters in 2020, averaging nearly one strikeout per inning.
Oftentimes, it was Tyson versus herself.
For every three innings pitched, Tyson issued two walks. This year, however, Tyson is piecing together her best season yet. She owns a 2.88 ERA and 54 strikeouts through 59 1/3 innings, issuing only 10 walks in her past eight outings.
Most importantly, the Raiders are 24-2 and playing like the best team in the state.
"I know that I have to throw strikes for them to work for me," Tyson said of her defense. "I'm not going to strike out everyone. I've kind of figured out that you can't really throw around every single batter. Sometimes you have to throw right at them."
It's a lesson Tyson learned earlier this season and one that has endured through the Raiders' mesmerizing 23-game winning streak.
North's first of only two losses this season came Aug. 14 against Central-Carrollton, just two games into the season. Tyson walked the first batter she faced and labored through a six-inning, 117-pitch performance in a 4-2 loss.
Two weeks later, something clicked. Tyson twirled a two-hit, complete-game shutout against Dunwoody, striking out eight batters and walking only one.
Since then, she's pitched 41 1/3 innings and given up only eight earned runs.
"I would say my mental game, because that's where I really struggle," Tyson said. "It's definitely being able to get through tough situations and bear down, knowing it's for the team and not for myself. I've really got to control and know that even if I'm not having my best game, they'll still pick me up."
Tyson's confidence in her teammates was on display Saturday during North's 9-0 win against Denmark. She walked the first batter of the game on four pitches, then got Avery Callaway to line out to Logan Currie and forced Jessie DeNardo into a fielder's choice — Ali Jones to Alexis Monroe. Tyson fell behind Sara Harris 3-0, then dialed up a called strike and battled through three straight foul balls to get her to fly out to Taylor Pipkins.
Her approach is vastly different than it would have been last season.
"Last year I probably would have been getting a little negative, but this year I'm like, 'If you're going to hit it, hit it,'" Tyson said. "It's mostly my team — I just have to put it in play so they can get the out."
That one year has made all the difference, according to North coach Jim Cahill
"Yeah, she's matured," Cahill said earlier this month after Tyson helped North to a 3-2 win against South. "She just doesn't let things get to her anymore. She would throw ball one, then the next thing you know, it'd be ball four. She does a good job."
Tyson also has a new catcher this season in Abby Castleberry.
The two have cultivated a relationship that has Castleberry playing the role of coach on the field.
"With Abby, she'll tell me, 'Hey, you have to fix this,'" Tyson said. "She's kind of like my own instructor, because she's been doing lessons with me, so she's like, 'Hey, you're looking a little off. Try this.' Then I'll do it. So, she's like my mirror. She's my extra coach."
The Raiders put their undefeated streak on the line Monday against Buford, the top-ranked team in Class 6A.
Tyson knows the Wolves well; she pitched at Mill Creek before arriving at North last year as a junior.
No matter the opponent, though, the recipe for North's success remains the same.
"I would say our chemistry, and being able to support each other," Tyson said. "You have a lot of girls who will get down on each other and start getting mad, but we have girls who are like, 'Hey, it's OK. We can come back. We're winning.' And most of the time we are winning."