When the ball left Macie Shirk’s bat in the 12th inning of the 2019 softball regional against Oak Hill — every fan there thought Southmont softball was headed to the semi-state for the second time in six seasons.
Instead the ball was caught, and the Mounties’ season ended two innings later with a 2-0 loss to Oak Hill.
But Shirk’s disappointment didn’t go away. It only fueled the young freshman to come back the next three years as the best softball player she could be.
The whole 2019 offseason Shirk dedicated it to improving as a hitter and a pitcher. And then COVID-19 canceled the 2020 season.
So it was back to more practice.
“When I hit in the regional game, I knew right there if I put more practice into it, we could have won it,” she said. “That helped me practice throughout the COVID season to hit more so I could hit better for the season we were just in.”
Hours and hours in the basement at home, and day after day of hitting and pitching lessons.
There is no doubt that hard work pays off — as Shirk’s dedication coupled with her natural ability turned her into one the Sagamore Conference’s best players as a junior in 2021.
Shirk hit .534 to rank second in the Sagamore Conference, ranked second with 14 pitching wins and had 141 strikeouts with a 4.27 ERA. She also had 27 RBI on 15 extra-base-hits, including three home runs.
She is the 2021 Journal Review Softball Player of the Year.
“She really improved from ‘19,” Southmont coach Dan Taylor said. “We had the COVID year and I think when a lot of people stopped, Macie just kept working. She had a new pitching coach and a new hitting coach and she just kept working. And when she came in this spring, we really noticed a difference in all aspects of her game. Her pitching was much better, her hitting was much better. You could tell that she had worked at it and worked at it.”
Shirk hit .272 as a freshman, and Taylor saw the biggest improvement from her ability to hit pitches located anywhere in the zone.
“What I saw as the biggest difference was she was a really great low-ball hitter as a freshman,” he said. “But she really struggled with the pitch up and that’s one of the new emphasis is to throw up, and so what I saw was that she learned to handle that pitch and that meant there was really nowhere to go if you were pitching against her. She could really handle any pitch, and her swing is really compact and simple, which meant she could adjust to pitches without much trouble at all. Macie really reads the pitch and really takes the knob to the ball better than anyone we’ve had in a long time.”
While Shirk’s hitting performance ranks as one of the best single seasons in Southmont softball history, her dominance in the circle is what helped Southmont to a 14-9 regular season record and Montgomery County title. It’s something she’s dreamed about since watching McKenzi Jordan lead Southmont to the state finals from the circle and the plate in 2014 and had the opportunity to play alongside Paige Knowling, who did the same as a senior in 2019 in leading Southmont to a third sectional title in six years.
“Watching Paige pitch and she had a bunch of confidence when pitching,” Shirk said. “I just wanted to be like that when I moved up, because I knew when she left there wasn’t going to be anyone left except for me to pitch, so I took what Paige was doing and put it into my work.”
And it all comes back to all that work that was put in during the 2019 and 2020 offseasons.
“Her pitching was really good all year,” Taylor said. “She was more confident. She’s really a good example of how if players take it upon themselves to work at it and get better then they can do that. And she really did that on her own. I really give Macie and her private coaches a lot of credit, because by the time she got to us this spring, she was ready to go.”
The hard work that her Dad told her would be required if she wanted to be the best some day. So she never let it rest. Day after day — she didn’t want to take any chance that she wouldn’t be a better softball player today than she was yesterday.
“I’ve put in the work, so it was kind of expected to do well this season for practicing through COVID and stuff,” Shirk added.
So what’s next? .600 batting average? 10 home runs? 200 strikeouts?
Shirk only knows one thing. That feeling of defeat she had in the regional loss as a freshman in 2019 is the same she felt in the postseason this season.
A sectional title in 2022 — that’s the goal for Southmont softball and its star player.