Mckenzie Shay Halstead has never been too chatty on the fastpitch softball field, leading by example and letting her teammates handle the vocal part.
The Collins Hill senior still does her job, and does it well, but she tries her best to avoid the spotlight and to deflect the attention off herself. It’s obvious she doesn’t enjoy being the focal point, but sometimes her bat makes it difficult to hide.
Halstead had a monster junior season last fall, setting school records for batting average, home runs and RBIs, that established her as one of the state’s most feared hitters. She earned Class AAAAA state player of the year honors from the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association and even appeared in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” feature late last year. She even had to sign a few copies of the magazine for family and friends.
“It was exciting and definitely a surprise,” Halstead said of the SI fame. “It was just so unexpected. I’m not one of those people who put myself out there. I don’t try to show off, so I don’t like being in big things like that.”
The fame was a reward for the best offensive season in Collins Hill history.
Halstead hit .442 with seven home runs, 39 RBIs and 15 doubles, powering the Eagles to their second straight Class AAAAA championship. The third baseman’s monumental performance in the state semifinals is what earned her the SI acclaim.
With her teammates struggling to hit Brookwood pitcher Brandi Jones, Halstead hit three straight homers in the Eagles’ 4-1 win. She drove in all four runs and the three homers were the only Collins Hill hits off the Bronco ace.
“A lot of people were surprised they kept pitching to me,” said Halstead, who committed earlier in the summer to Missouri-St. Louis.
“I was, too. After the first one, I was expecting to walk. After the second one, definitely expecting to walk.”
The Eagles are hoping for more of the same this season as they attempt to win a third straight title. They return a lineup with some pop around Halstead, as well as two-time Daily Post pitcher of the year, Kayla Floor.
Halstead said she’s entering this season more relaxed because it’s the first year she hasn’t gone to ASA Gold Nationals, so she spent much of the past few months away from softball. She went on a three-week European trip, which included time in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, with her Collins Hill classmates and lived as an exchange student for two of the weeks in Germany.
It gave her a chance to work on her German — she was hoping to take a fourth year of the language this year at Collins Hill but not enough students signed up — and a nice vacation. It also left her rejuvenated for a big senior season.
“I’ve been working hard to get back to it,” Halstead said. “I think I’m doing OK. I’m actually happy I didn’t go to nationals this year because I really needed the practice. It’s the first time in high school I’ve been to tryouts since I’m normally at nationals.”
New Collins Hill head coach Paul Pierce, promoted from an assistant coaching role, isn’t concerned about his star hitter finding her offensive rhythm.
He’s seen her power the offense in the past, as well as her constant hustle that has resulted in a number of bumps, bruises and scratches.
“She’s always playing hard,” Pierce said. “She gets upset that she gets scrapes. Or, oh my thigh. Or, oh my hamstring. Or, oh I scraped my knee. But she fights through it and keeps on going. She gets banged up like that because she plays so hard.”