Softball: MaKenzie Hilling thrives as Hilliard Bradley Jaguars’ multitasker

Scott Hennen
ThisWeek group
MaKenzie Hilling has been enjoying a standout senior season for Bradley. Because of her experience as a catcher, she has been calling pitches while playing shortstop. Through 16 games, she was batting .380 with three home runs, 17 RBI and a .458 on-base percentage.

MaKenzie Hilling has a different vantage point but a similar role for the Hilliard Bradley softball team.

The senior had started at catcher since her freshman season, but was moved to shortstop this spring to bring some experience to a young infield. She still is calling pitches for sophomore Chloe Sayre, however, despite no longer being behind the plate.

The approach has paid off for the Jaguars. After a 0-6 start, they were 8-9 overall and 6-3 in the OCC-Central Division before playing Olentangy Liberty on May 7.

“I’m calling the pitches,” said Hilling, who has signed to play at Bucknell. “We have a little wristband and it’s labeled with all of Chloe’s pitches. I call out every pitch with a number and sometimes a color code.

“I’ve played some shortstop in travel, so it’s something that I’m comfortable doing. I started the first three scrimmages behind the plate and coach (Kevin Moody) decided to move me, and I’ve been there since. He said it was a good building block to have someone experienced playing in a critical position and being able to make plays instead of just being behind the plate.”

Moody said it was an easy decision with Hilling’s experience and knowledge of the game.

“Kenzie is one of the rare complete players and she really understands the game,” Moody said. “She has an unselfishness and a willingness to do what we want her to do. She knows the game situations and what needs to be done. It’s like having a coach in the field, and it’s a luxury that’s awesome to have. Bucknell is getting a good one, that’s for sure.”

Through 16 games, Hilling was batting .380 with three home runs, 17 RBI, 20 runs, eight doubles and a .458 on-base percentage.

“The biggest change is the different angle of the game,” she said. “I had to reinforce my ground-ball skills.

“I also had to learn what my teammates can do. In travel ball, I’ve played with some of those girls for five to seven years, and I know what they can do and what their mindset is. For this (Bradley) team, basically the entire infield is underclassmen except for me. It was definitely a challenge to get to know them and how they play every day compared to my Stingray team.”

Hilling said once the familiarity set in, the wins started to come.

“We came together as a team,” she said. “At the beginning, we were still working things out with the lineup position-wise. There were some girls that I only met on the first day of practice, and we’ve really meshed as a team. That’s helped with the play.

“I didn’t have high expectations because we’re a really young team and we’re doing better than I thought we would. I’m proud of how far we have come at this point in time.”

The Jaguars were seeded 29th in the Division I district tournament and were scheduled to face 16th-seeded Watterson in the first round May 10. The winner advanced to a second-round game May 12 against 10th-seeded Canal Winchester.

The district semifinal is May 17, with fourth-seeded Marysville as a possible opponent, and the district final is May 19. 

Hilling has a 4.6 GPA and wants to “major in biomedicine leading into biomedical engineering.” She said working hard in the classroom and on the field go hand in hand.

“I feel like being a good student helps with determination and work ethic,” she said. “Being a good student isn’t about just getting good grades, it’s about taking the time to study and taking the time to understand the content.

“That translates on the field as well, because you’re learning the plays and dedicating yourself to learning what this team wants instead of what travel wants. Being a good student and having that passion to keep driving forward has definitely helped with my game because it’s a passion just the same.”

shennen@thisweeknews.com

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