Softball: Downers Grove South's McKay thrived in every situation
What makes an athlete choose a sport to participate in and stick with it?
For Downers Grove South senior pitcher Randi McKay, softball offered variety.
"Softball is so cool because every game is different. That's not like other sports," she said.
McKay, who started playing softball in first grade and started playing competitively in third grade, progressed steadily as a player, joining one of the state's elite programs, Downers Grove South, on the varsity level as a freshman.
She made strides in each season with the Mustangs leading up to her senior season this spring. Her efforts were vital to a 31-3 record and sectional final appearance. And for that she is the Daily Herald's DuPage County All-Area Team Captain for softball.
The Mustangs' top pitcher, she was the winning hurler in 22 of those games and struck out over 170 opposing hitters. She gave up just 3 unearned runs during the postseason.
McKay said the biggest difference between her as a freshman player and as a senior player is her mental outlook on the game.
"I think it's my maturity on the field. I think I have improved on how I handle situations," she said. "I would get all frazzled when things didn't go my way. Now, I love pressure and being under those situations."
Downers South coach Jim Cushing said he and the other coaches were well aware of McKay's talents before she entered Downers South.
"Randi was in our summer camp during sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Every year she got better and she was very focused," he said.
McKay was the team's starting center fielder her freshman season as the Mustangs finished third in the state in Class 4A and 36-4 overall. She was named the team's MVP in her first of four varsity and all-conference seasons.
Downers South is no stranger to 30-plus win seasons and staying long in the postseason. McKay said she wanted to be part of that right from the start.
"Stepping in as a freshman, I wanted to make varsity and I knew what it would take," she said. "I was so proud that season of being on a team that finished third in state."
This season's Mustangs squad has been a team that's solid all-around whether it be pitching, hitting or defense.
"I think our team has worked so hard. The offense and defense have strengthened and defense definitely wins games and we've perfected that part. This team is driven and we build off each other's success and we knew the more we practiced the better we would be," McKay said.
In additional to her mental outlook on the game, Cushing said McKay has grown as a pitcher in regards to physical skills.
"She's learned how to pitch instead of just throwing. She's worked on her changeup. She's not overpowering, but she has a fastball and there's the curveball and screwball. She's learned to hit her spots," he said.
While a standout pitcher, Cushing said McKay's contributions with her hitting were vital to this spring's Mustangs success although there were several other teammates with higher batting averages. She led the team in doubles with 19 while hitting third in the lineup.
Not done yet
McKay will continue playing this fall at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. She committed to the school as a sophomore and thought it the best choice to succeed at the college level.
"I had the feeling there of being like at home. There's smaller class sizes and I had a good feeling about the coaching staff and players," McKay said. "It's a smaller (Division I school), but you still get the competition of D-I and can get playing time. I chose it because of my size and position."
McKay plans to study public relations/communication.
"Randi has played at a high level for a long time and understands what it takes to compete. We are excited to add her athleticism to our program. She can compete anywhere defensively and her prowess in the circle will be a great addition to our young pitching staff," said Phoenix coach Scott Wachholz in a statement on the team's website announcing national letter of intent signings last November.
The Phoenix competed in an NCAA regional in 2014.
UW-Green Bay is a member of the Horizon League and McKay is glad of the additional chance family and friends can see her play during games at the University of Illinois-Chicago, another conference member.
Cushing said McKay left her mark on the Downers South team and finished her senior season the same way.
"Her every day intensity reflects in how her whole team performed on the field. She was truly our leader this year," he said.
McKay was asked if she could narrow down and choose a favorite memory of being on the Downers South team. With all of the squad's success and team chemistry, she said that would be difficult.
"I love any memories," she said. "This sport is so special."