A New Home
Published: April 18, 2013
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Lackawanna Trail head softball coach John Brander remembers the last athlete he coached that had moved into the school district from West Scranton.
Fans of Lackawanna Trail athletics recall with pride wrestler Keith Gavin, a place winner in the state high school championships before he moved onto a career at the University of Pittsburgh, where he won an NCAA national championship.
That's not to say that shortstop Mackenzie Duffy will have the same impact on her new school, but the freshman softball player has gotten off to a strong start for the Lady Lions.
"Her strengths are her coachability; and she has a strong arm, can make the throw from the hole and get it to first in plenty of time," Brander said. "She's only five-foot-two and 100 pounds dripping wet, but she plays a lot bigger."
Considering all she's had to adjust to, Duffy is doing just fine for the Lady Lions.
"The girls have been really nice to me," Duffy said. "I'm the only freshman on the team, but I think I'm doing pretty good for being the only freshman."
Naturally, the whole school year has been filled with changes and new experiences, getting to know a bunch of new classmates and have a different environment with a small school atmosphere in the countryside as opposed to going to a neighborhood school in the city.
"It's been going pretty good," Duffy said. "It's been great. A lot of people have been nice to me."
Duffy's adjustments also come on the softball field, where a position change has shown her versatility.
"I play just softball, all year round. It's my passion," Duffy said. "I've been playing with the Impact Panthers for four or five years. I love it. I'm a catcher on that team, but I play shortstop for the varsity."
Duffy has played in Florida, Virginia and New Jersey with the Panthers, and is eagerly anticipating a trip to Maryland this summer.
"It seems I'm gone every weekend," she said.
It has all helped prepare her for a move to shortstop. That position can be difficult for a freshman to man in the first place, but because Brander had senior Courtney Dichey as a returning starter, he had to find a spot for Duffy to play.
"I didn't think I would. But during practice, coach saw me fielding grounders in the gym and asked if I had played shortstop before," Duffy said. "Coach told me to go there, so I guess he likes me there."
That's putting it mildly.
"We were in the gym taking grounders, and in the back of my mind I wanted to see who could play shortstop," Brander said. "I could see she had a slick fielding motion, and I knew she'd be able to handle it."
She has been savvy enough to recall her days as a catcher, using what she saw from behind the plate to make her transition to shortstop go smoother.
"She's seen the whole game in front of her; now she has to put that into her play," Brander said.
"I like both. I love being in the middle of the action," Duffy said. "There's more action at catcher, but I like shortstop."
Her willingness to switch positions and ability to absorb what she's being taught as made her a valuable member of the Lady Lions.
"She's very coachable," Brander said. "At our first scrimmage, she waited for the ball to come to her, and we told her to go at the ball and take an angle so she's moving toward first. We didn't have to tell her again.
"I turned to [assistant[ coach [John] Richter, and said 'we have somebody who listens'. I figure, with a new coach she probably pays more attention, wants to please the coaches. So far, she has."
Duffy feels she's been getting more comfortable at short as the season has progressed, applying the lessons she's learned at catcher.
"It makes me be more aggressive," Duffy said. "Being behind the plate, you have to be more aggressive to stop the ball. You have to be smart and know what's going on. There's a lot of quick thinking, all the time."
Her defense has been solid, but offensively, she hasn't reached her own high standards.
"Batting, I was in a slump," Duffy said. "It's tough when it's cold out; I'm not really in a hitting mode."
"She couldn't buy a hit. She's hitting the ball hard, but right at people," Brander said. "She's anxious, and we've batted her down in the order, hoping she'll be a little more relaxed. She's taking too many pitches, and coach Richter has told her to swing at the first strike she sees."
As time goes on, the hits will start coming and Duffy will get even more comfortable on the diamond.
"I'm hoping to be good, to make people proud of me," Duffy said. "I want to make myself a good player."
Brander has little doubt about that, looking forward to a future that will include three more years of Duffy on his team, perhaps even back at her old position.
"I can see her back behind the plate next year," Brander said.