Batting averages in the .300-range get you noticed in the Cascade Conference.
That’s what led the Falcon fastpitch team’s pitcher and third baseman to be voted to the all-league softball second team. Mackenzee Collins, a freshman, and sophomore Kacie Hanson were among the top 23 players in the eight-team league this season. Voting was conducted by the coaches, with the top vote-getters receiving offensive and defensive player of the year awards. Being consistent in the batter’s box was the key common trait for both Falcon girls, according to their coach.
“Kacie seemed to get big hits and Mackenzee kept us in games with her hitting,” said Falcon head coach Tim Collins, who is also Mackenzee’s father.
South Whidbey had the fewest selections out of the league, other than Cedar Park Christian, which did not have any. Cedarcrest, which won the league title, had five players in the first and second-team lists, as did Archbishop Murphy.
It was Hanson’s second time appearing on the second-team list, and South Whidbey’s second straight year with two players making all-conference appearances.
Both Hanson and Collins helped South Whidbey bounce back late in the regular season. Early on, Hanson was one of the power hitters in the third or fourth spot in the batting lineup, with Collins in the middle of the order. As the season wore on and the losses piled up, the Falcons’ head coach bucked conventional wisdom of having the fastest runners at the top. Coach Collins rearranged the order and moved Hanson’s team-leading batting average to the leadoff spot and his daughter as the second batter. It worked wonders as the offense improved.
Hanson finished with a team-high .333 average in the regular season. She also knocked in team-highs of 11 RBI, 13 runs scored and 19 hits, six of which were doubles.
“She was one of the kids that struck out the least amount of times,” the Falcon coach said of Hanson.
In the 2014 campaign, Hanson was a juggernaut at the plate with a batting average over .400. This year, coming off another three-sport school year in which she played volleyball in fall and basketball in winter, her bat didn’t come alive until later on in the softball season
Hanson also made a fielding switch this past season. In 2014, she was the freshman pitcher, the Falcons’ lone hurler, who shouldered a heavy burden as South Whidbey’s losses piled up and wins were hard to find. Having not thrown since her Little League days, Hanson was thrust into duty out of necessity.
This year, she filled another need as the third baseman, taking a lot of grounders and line drives just 60 feet away. Collins credited Hanson’s reflexes and fearlessness for helping stop a lot of shots ripped to the left.
“Just somebody who’s not afraid of the ball. She’s not, at all,” Collins said.
Mackenzee Collins was one of only three ninth-graders to make the all-conference lists. Her performance at both plates — home and pitcher’s — gained a lot of attention from other teams.
In the pitcher’s circle, she threw 103.3 innings and started all but a few games for South Whidbey. Collins threw 127 strikeouts, gave up 33 walks with a 2.78 earned-run average.
“She really did a great job,” Coach Collins said.
At home plate, Mackenzee Collins recovered from a rough stretch of hitting .167 through the first 10 games to finish with a .302 average. She also knocked in 10 runs on 16 hits. Coming in as a freshman, Collins said it took a while before she adjusted to the speed of the pitchers and settle in as a batter.
“It finally clicked in a game,” she said.
South Whidbey’s starter from the first game, Collins said she fought off nerves on the first day of the regular season and again just before her first playoff.
“I was really nervous, but everyone was really super supportive … Once I got through the first couple innings, I was fine,” she said.
“I realized you don’t do as well when you’re nervous,” she added.
Coach Collins was a diligent pitching coach during games, often reminding his daughter to keep the ball on the outside of the plate, anywhere that wouldn’t lead to a longball. The one-way conversation sometimes mounted to frustration for the pitcher.
“It’s been hard at times, because we’re both pretty stubborn people and don’t want to admit the other’s right,” she said. “There were times I left the field and was in tears. But it happens less often because I know he knows what he’s talking about.”
The offseason didn’t last long, if at all, for Collins. She’s already playing with a select team and training once again with a pitching coach, in addition to the help she gets from her dad.