The “8” next to McKenzie West’s name on the Monroe City softball team’s lineup card last Monday against Mark Twain didn’t just symbolize her jersey number. It was also the position West was assigned to play in the Lady Panthers season opener — center field.
No, Monroe City coach Melissa Chinn did not write an “8” instead of a “1” by mistake. The Lady Panthers ace inside the circle will not be seeing quite as much time on the rubber this season, but she will still be positioned in the middle of the diamond.
After starting all 26 games on the mound as a sophomore for the Lady Panthers last season, West’s mighty right arm will be given a breather a few times this season.
Freshman Riley Quinn will be inside the circle this season when the chance to give West a break presents itself.
Chinn admitted she has to do a double take at times with West being in center field.
“It actually is a little weird, especially since she pitched every game last season,” the veteran coach said. “But she is also a pretty fantastic outfielder too. It’s nice she can get a little bit of a breather out there, but stay in the game because her bat is also so phenomenal.”
West saw a lot of action inside the circle as a freshman as well. She admitted she’s marked this year on her calendar for a while now.
“I definitely knew I wouldn’t be pitching all the time this year,” West said with a smile. “ I have been looking forward to this since my freshman year. I have been counting back to see when we would have some more pitchers coming in.”
Through the Panthers first five games of the season (5-0), West has pitched three games, with Quinn pitching the other two.
The freshman admitted she’s a little nervous when she takes to the mound.
“Everyone is expecting me to be more like her, it’s a little nerve-wracking to try and do as much as she can do,” Quinn stated. “But it makes me want to put in a lot more extra work and hours to try and be better and get more out of my pitches.”
But Quinn isn’t the only freshman with big shoes to fill. Her battery mate is also replacing a staple in the Lady Panthers defense when Quinn’s number is penciled in as the hurler.
Bailee Hays has been Quinn’s personal catcher for the past few years in travel ball and junior high. Hays replaces Rachel Smith behind the dish when West and Quinn swap positions.
“It’s been awhile since we have had a good combination where we can switch out our pitchers and catchers,” Chinn said. “It’s huge for both our pitchers and catchers to have fresh arms and legs, especially during tournaments.”
Smith has been West’s personal catcher since the two were “seven or eight,” according to Smith.
Hays mentioned she hopes to be able to develop the same kind of relationship with Quinn.
“It’s easy to see they both relate really well and it motivates me to be able to get to know Riley better than I already do,” Hays said.
Hays and Smith will swap positions behind the plate and at the hot corner when Quinn and West swap.
Chinn mentioned she has no concerns with her two freshmen stepping into such prominent roles on the team.
“Both of them can hold their own, I am not nervous to switch them,” the Lady Panthers coach said. “They both play enough ball and they know how the game works.
“They both are just great athletes. You want to be able to put your players where you think they will do well and they have definitely came through for us.”
Smith admitted it’s a little different when she’s not behind the plate and receiving pitches from her good friend.
“It does seem a little odd just because I am used to being back there catching her,” she said of playing third base. “But at the same time it’s really a blessing to have more than just one way on defense.”
Both Smith and West agree the two freshmen have stepped up and performed well in the early part of the season.
“I don’t know if they can hear me (from center field) because I am not very loud but I am cheering them both on with every pitch and play,” West said. “And in the dugout I don’t really have to say too much (advice) because they are doing a great job. I just let them do their thing.”
Said Smith, “I think it’s exciting to see how easy they both have transitioned from the junior high to high school ball.”