The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Sports

June 27, 2014

H.S. softball: Milton's Mackenna Miller named Player of the Year

MILTON — After Nicole Smith left the halls at Milton High School in 2009, softball coach Bill Keefer knew she was one of those players that come along “once in a lifetime.”

The odds of another player that talented coming along? Probably a longshot.

Fast forward just two years, however, and lo and behold, another “once in a lifetime” player was at Milton, this time crouched behind home plate instead of in the circle.

After a sensational senior year as Milton’s catcher, Mackenna Miller was named The Daily Item’s Player of the Year.

“You’re lucky to get a kid like Mackenna,” Keefer said. “Just pretty special to coach a kid like that.”

Other area athletes considered for Player of the Year included Upper Dauphin senior Amber Bingaman, Shamokin senior Jenny Hornberger, Mifflinburg sophomore Kayla Kline and Millersburg junior Marlo Roadcap.

Miller becomes the first Milton player to receive the honor since Smith was a four-time winner from 2006-09. She is also the first non-pitcher to ever win the award.

“I’m very surprised. There’s never been a non-pitcher (to be named Player of the Year) and I think it’s awesome I got the opportunity to get this. I worked hard all year,” Miller said.

The Black Panther was a brick wall behind home plate, rarely, if ever, letting a passed ball get behind her. That was something she learned six years ago at a Jennie Finch softball camp, which she said stuck with her through her high school career.

Miller also took pride in the fact that opposing runners were afraid to steal bases on her. Over the past two years, just one player — Shamokin’s Hornberger — recorded a steal against her.

“I actually loved (that runners were afraid to steal). I like being dangerous behind the plate,” Miller said. “I took into consideration that it helped my team a lot because no one would advance, even if I had a bad throw.”

Miller tied Smith for most hits in a single-season with 39, and even more impressive, didn’t record a single strikeout in 71 at-bats, just the second player Keefer’s ever coached to accomplish that feat (Jennalee Williams).

For Miller, that all was from paying attention to pitchers and using her position to her advantage.

“(As a catcher) I know the pitches. I call them (and) I know how they spin,” Miller said. “I look at them, pay attention and if something’s not right, I won’t swing at it.”

The Heartland Athletic Conference-Division I first-team catcher also became second all-time in hits for Milton with 118, just shy of Smith’s all-time mark.

The senior Black Panther ended the 2014 campaign batting .549 and scored 43 runs while driving in 17.

“I never expected it actually,” Miller said of the year she had, including that the amount of hits she had was “an absurd amount when you think about it.”

While Miller was a force at the plate — one opposing pitchers probably hated seeing come up to bat with a runner in scoring position — behind it was where she was perhaps even better.

After catching for Kristi Weaver for two years, Miller had to get used to Taylor Batman last year in the circle. While Batman struggled a bit, Keefer simply handed the control to Miller to call the pitches.

Miller took the reins and never looked back. She played extremely smart behind home in calling pitches.

“When they first get up in batting order, I test them out. Once they came up again, I saw what they did in the beginning, so I memorized the batters and then (called) pitches from there,” Miller said.

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