It all starts with Mackenzee Collins.
From her vantage in the fastpitch pitcher’s circle, Collins controls when the play begins and how it will unfold.
“It’s cool to have everyone’s eyes on you and kind of depending on you,” Collins said. “Because if you throw it right down the middle they’re going to hit it or you could walk them so a lot of it depends on you.”
It’s those types of pressure-inducing situations that come with the territory of being a pitcher. It’s also what the South Whidbey High School sophomore enjoys about the position.
She faced plenty of pressure while pitching for Absolute Blast 2001 14A, a select team out of Woodinville, which played in the 2015 Amateur Softball Association 14A Girls’ Fast Pitch National Championship in Roanoke, Va. that spanned a week from July 26 to Aug. 2.
Over 120 teams from across the country played in the tournament. Collins’ team went a combined 1-3 during pool and bracket play, but she was able to showcase her talent to a number of college coaches in attendance hoping to spot the top recruits from the classes of 2018 and 2019.
Her best performance was July 28 during Absolute Blast’s win over Tennessee Premier. Collins struck out 10 batters while giving up six hits and no walks. She also brought in the lone RBI of the game.
Florida State University, Collins’ “dream team,” watched her play.
Collins has aspirations of playing NCAA Division I softball after playing high school softball.
“I want to be on a competitive team and I want people to come watch those games,” Collins said. “I like having lots of people watching and I want to be on a competitive team that goes and travels all over the country.”
On the final day of competition, she emailed college coaches from Indiana, North Carolina, and South Carolina asking them to send coaches to watch her play. The moment she sent the email, though, a whole new level of pressure was put on her shoulders.
She didn’t pitch her best game that day, giving up 10 hits, five earned runs, and six walks — a season high — while striking out six, but she was successful at the plate. In what she called her favorite play of the tournament, Collins went to bat with two outs and runners on second and third in the bottom of the seventh inning, trailing 8-5. With two strikes, Collins hammered a double to score two runs. The following batter was the third-and-final out, and Absolute Blast lost 8-7 to the Carolina Cardinals in the elimination game.
Absolute Blast’s head coach Ken Brooks praised Collins for both her talent and her attitude.
“She just hits her spots and rarely does she miss,” Brooks said. “She has a nice changeup. She’s confident out there. She’s not arrogant-confident, but she knows she can get it done. You gotta love that in a pitcher.”
Don’t let her cool demeanor on the mound fool you, though. She still gets nervous just like everybody else.
Sometimes she is able to calm her nerves through deep breathing or by reassuring herself. Other times, it can get the best of her, which is one of the reasons why she didn’t pitch her best against Carolina.
Despite the rough final outing on the mound, Tim Collins, Mackenzee’s father who is also head coach of the South Whidbey High School softball team, felt the national stage was a prime opportunity to get her name in the minds of recruiters.
“Competitively-wise, no, (they) weren’t really good enough to go to nationals and be competitive,” Tim Collins said. “But they thought it would be a good experience for the girls. You get your name out there. And now the team she’s playing for is ratcheted up a notch.”
Collins recently accepted an invitation to play for the Washington Ladyhawks, one of the premier club teams in the state.
The demands for being on the team are high and Collins’ chances at maintaining a social life for the next several months will take a hit, she said.
But that’s just fine with her.
“My weekends are gone,” Collins said. “I’m pretty lucky to be doing it. Lots of people, even if they wanted to, they can’t afford it. It’s a privilege and not everyone gets to do it, so I’m thankful. Even if I didn’t get to go places, I’m still playing softball and that’s what I love.”