Mineral Ridge's McKenzie Garland remembers the first time she hit a home run, which came during the travel ball season.
"Just watching it, my heart started pounding," Garland said. "Running around the bases, seeing my teammates at home plate waiting for me, it was like the most amazing feeling."
It was a feeling that the senior will get the opportunity to repeat following this spring, as Garland will move onto the collegiate level to play softball at Slippery Rock University. Garland said the reason she chose to sign with The Rock was because she loved the atmosphere of the university and the team when she went on a college visit.
For Mineral Ridge softball coach Bill Croft, Garland is the seventh girl he's coached during two stints at Mineral Ridge who will play at the next level. One of them includes McKenzie's older sister, Meghan.
"That's one of our goals - to try to get as many of the kids that we can to go on and play college ball," Croft said. "I've always tried to tell the girls that high school is fun, but if they're able to go and play at college, it's the best time they'll have playing softball."
McKenzie Garland's bat is one of the many reasons why she will be playing at Slippery Rock, as evidenced by her statistics for the Valley Extreme, her travel team. In 2013, She recorded a .466 batting average and a .506 on-base percentage as the cleanup hitter, while belting two home runs and driving in 21 RBIs.
"She's one of the best hitters that I've ever had the opportunity to coach, and she rarely strikes out," Croft said. "She's just in the game all the time. She knows what's going on all the time."
For the Rams, Croft uses Garland as a leadoff batter, and her versatility in batting styles shows whenever she steps up to the plate. Both Croft and Garland said the senior catcher can hit for power or contact and isn't afraid to lay down a bunt, based on the situation.
"If I'm just leadoff and there's nobody on base, I hit for power, just to get around," Garland said. "So, the next person up, they don't have to hit as far to get me in. But if someone's on, I start to hit for contact to move the runners instead of getting me on (base)."
On the defensive side, Garland has plied her trade mostly at catcher since she started the sport. When she first entered high school, Garland had to wait her turn behind the plate.
She started her career at shortstop for a couple of years, and while she enjoyed some success at that position, she admitted her favorite is at catcher.
"Going in high school from shortstop to catcher is a lot different because I had more action at being shortstop than catcher, but I really love catching most," Garland said. "It was the best feeling, being able to be the first-string catcher for (my) high school."
Before Garland moves on to college, the senior catcher will play one more season in a Mineral Ridge uniform. The Rams are coming off a district final appearance, which they lost to Jackson-Milton, 17-14, and Garland said the loss is motivating the team going into the 2014 season.
"Our goal is to win districts because we lost last year - we were runners-up," Garland said. "So, we're really looking forward to (this season)."