Published 6:14 pm Saturday, July 9, 2011
Washington softball coach Doug Whitehead calls Justyce McKissick one of the smartest players he’s ever coached, and after the year she had for the Pam Pack, it’s clear her talent matches her savvy.
McKissick, a sophomore first baseman, was a huge presence in the middle of the Pack’s lineup and proved that she can bat for both power and average. This year her .442 batting average, four home runs and 38 runs scored where all team-highs, while her five doubles and two triples ranked second on the team. It was that kind of production that enabled McKissick to be named the Washington Daily News Position Player of the Year.
Whitehead said McKissick, who helped WHS finish tied for third in a tough Coastal Conference that featured this year’s NCHSAA 3-A state champs D.H. Conley, is capable of doing anything when steps into the batter’s box.
“I bat her in the third the position, she’s our power hitter and my philosophy on it is that I want her stick up at bat as much as possible,” Whitehead said. “She’s as smart a hitter as I have ever worked with. She adjusts well at the plate, she’s got power and she’s got what I call game speed. She’s surprising, people look at her and don’t think she’s fast but she has excellent game speed.”
The sophomore slugger said her approach at the plate is simple.
“I look for a strike, then I try and get a base hit,” McKissick said. “If there are runners on base then I’m trying to move the runner.”
Whether it be hitting for power or trying to smash a ground ball to the right side of the infield, Whitehead said McKissick is willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win.
“She can hit home runs, she can hit doubles and she can hit triples, but she can also drop a bunt down with the best of them,” Whitehead said. “I can see her adjust at the plate according to the situation: where are the runners? What is needed out of her? What’s the count? She just has a great awareness about her.”
McKissick began her freshman season on the JV team, but finished it on the varsity squad where she hit .400. Looking back, Whitehead said she should have never stepped foot on a JV field. While he may have second-guessed himself for that decision, he has no regrets about switching her from the outfield to first base, where her glove and softball acumen has been a big plus for the Pack.
“We had some misfortunes where we needed her to move to first base. We asked if she would be willing to do that and she said yes,” Whitehead said. “She was a little bit of an answer to a prayer for some of the defensive problems that we had. We had a girl that played last year, she was solid but she was shorter. She had trouble getting some of the throws that were up and wasn’t able to get some of the scoops. Justyce moved in and just played a fabulous first base, she made a lot of infielders look good.”
While she was making scoops at first base on defense, when it was the Pack’s turn at the plate, she could be found giving her teammates the scoop on what pitches where going to be thrown.
“When she was on second base she would read the other team’s signals. She had developed some signals where she would try to key the hitter on whether the pitch was coming inside or outside or would be a fastball or a changeup,” Whitehead said. “It’s just part of her total package as a softball player.”