Dayton’s Cole back in circle again after injury |

Dayton’s Cole back in circle again after injury

Justin Lawson
Dayton High School pitcher Mackenzie Cole, 17, injured her back last year but healed and is ready to lead the team this season. Cole poses in the dugout during a practice Thursday, March 25, 2010.
Lisa J. Tolda/Lisajphotos@gmail. | Lisa J Photography

DAYTON – During her freshman season, things were almost easy for Mackenzie Cole. Dayton’s star softball pitcher had just thrown the season of her life and led the Dust Devils all the way to the state title game, where they ultimately came up short.

She played on the biggest stage right off the bat and had a summer full of travel ball ahead of her to showcase her abilities to colleges.

But in an instant, what was easy became one of the toughest moments of her young life. While pitching for her travel team she felt a sharp pain that hurt her so bad she could barely walk.

The back strain seemed like it would last forever and in a high school athlete’s career, it almost was. She spent nearly a year outside of the circle, but now that she has found her way back there isn’t much slowing her down.

“I didn’t want to strain it too much in high school, so I pretty much sat the season out pitching wise,” said Cole, now a junior. “It was pretty rough because I love this game and love pitching and I love being on the mound, that’s my spot. To not be able to do it last year was pretty tough, but the team was completely behind me last year…”

The philosophy for softball pitchers is that throwing doesn’t wear on their bodies like in baseball where starting pitchers often don’t pitch in multiple games in the same week. That notion tested Cole’s limits. She pitched nearly every inning of the Dust Devils’ run through the regional playoffs and three games of the state tournament.

“We rode her shoulders all the way,” said Dayton coach Daven Passalacqua, who was an assistant that season under former coach Dusti Houk. “And in state she did a very nice job.”

Then without much time off in between, Cole went right back to pitching for her travel team. That’s when her body let her know enough was enough.

“It was definitely playing tournament ball and high school combined,” Cole said. “I was playing out of California, which I still am, and I was pitching a lot of games with that team and I think it was just too much on my back. Because landing, when you land on your right foot, puts a lot of pressure on your back especially when we’re straight-legged. It puts a ton of strain on that side of your back.”

Cole didn’t pitch again until late April and even then, it wasn’t nearly as much as she did during her freshman season. She pitched just 36 innings, the third highest amount for the Dust Devils, and while she was as electric as ever (1.36 ERA) there was always a fear of re-injury.

The experience was not only a learning lesson for her – she changed her delivery because of it – but for her teammates, who for the first time had to find ways to win without her pitching.

“It changed big time,” infielder Mariah Collins said. “The year before, we counted on her 24/7 because they (opposing teams) had lots of harder hits off of the slower pitchers … But the speed changed it from where the ball goes.

“It helped us bond (though), we got a lot closer as a team.”

Cole returned with a vengeance this season. She struck out 17 batters in her 2010 debut against Lone Pine and has 49 through four appearances. Additionally, she has yet to give up a run this season and has allowed just four hits.

“It is a pleasure just to watch her,” Passalacqua said. “She has five really good pitches.”

Softball, though, is hardly the end of Cole’s story. Her interests extend well beyond the field as she is narrowing down her collegiate choices between Nevada, Boise State, Stanford and Princeton. The later two are possibilities for her thanks to her hard work in the classroom where she is dueling amongst two of her best friends for the class of 2013 valedictorian honors.

But no matter what happens beyond her high school and college career she doesn’t want to stray too far from sports. She is considering either a career in medicine or sports psychology.

“I’ve never had a B in my whole life,” Cole said. “I mean, I’m a complete nerd, a complete nerd to be honest.”