Madison softball coach Chris LeBlanc is also the school’s athletic director. Last weekend, while in his office to take care of some things, he noticed pitcher Emily McKenney throwing in the gym.

Not that he needed it, but for LeBlanc, it was another reminder that McKenney is always a hard worker. McKenney has worked at her game both physically and mentally, and it paid off again this season.

As a hitter, McKenney batted .451 with a .518 on-base percentage and drove in 28 runs in 21 games. In the circle, she was 19-1 with a 0.54 ERA. In 130 innings, she gave up 48 hits and struck out 199 batters — more than four strikeouts for every one hit she allowed. Along with all those incredible numbers for the Bulldogs came the Class C state championship.

That performance makes McKenney the choice for the Morning Sentinel Softball Player of the Year. Also considered were Messalonskee’s Kylee Knight, Skowhegan’s Taylor Johnson and Sara Packard of Nokomis.

McKenney was a standout pitcher even as a freshman. At that point, she was a little uneasy about leading veteran teammates two or three years older than she was, but that role suited her the last two seasons.

“Each year she became more and more mature,” LeBlanc said. “She became a leader.”

Becoming a standout mentally was also a process. McKenney admits that as a freshman, she would get upset and rattled if she felt the home plate umpire made a bad call.

“Early on, she was frustrated when there was an error made,” LeBlanc said. “There might have even been some body language.”

“I would come home after games and I’d be so frustrated,” McKenney said. “Even if we won, if I didn’t get that one call …

“But I can’t pitch good if I have a bad attitude, because my whole body’s going crazy. I learned along the way that there are things I can’t control, and I think I just learned to let them go and move on.”

By her junior year, McKenney had everything a pitcher needs to succeed. She led Madison to the Western C title and established a strong pitcher-catcher relationship with LeBlanc’s daughter Aly, a freshman last season.

“Aly and Emily have a very good softball relationship, and that’s key,” LeBlanc said. “If you see in a lot of our photos, the first ones to congratulate each other was those two.”

This season, McKenney’s presence alone made Madison the favorite in Western C. The Bulldogs had a powerful offense with great speed, and they could manufacture runs or string together a bunch of baserunners for a big inning. And once they put a crooked number up, they felt secure that was enough of a lead for their star pitcher.

“That obviously takes a lot of pressure off her teammates,” LeBlanc said. “When you know that after you score two or three runs, you’ve got Emily McKenney on the mound, that two or three runs is probably going to win you the game.”

Oddly enough, both McKenney and her teammates stopped ripping the ball in the playoffs. In Madison’s final three games, the Bulldogs scored a total of four runs, but won 1-0, 2-0 and 1-0.

“I definitely knew I just had to stay focused,” McKenney said. “My pitching coach, Kahler Dowling (Marsh), just kept telling me, ‘If we don’t score, don’t worry about it. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Everything else will fall into place.'”

Last year, Madison lost to Bucksport in the state final. This time, the Bulldogs were facing Calais, and McKenney noticed a different attitude around the team.

“I told my mom I just had this feeling all day — things are going good,” McKenney said. “Last year, we had never been before. We were more nervous. I think this year, we were more ready for it, and we were more excited. So I think that really helped us a lot.”

Madeline Wood hit an inside-the-park home run in the bottom of the fifth for Madison’s only run, and McKenney protected that lead with a three-hit shutout and nine strikeouts.

McKenney remembers nearly striking out the last batter of the game, and her teammates celebrating, only for the umpire to rule it a foul ball. She composed herself as best she could, and got the final out on a called third strike.

“That last out was definitely a tough one,” McKenney said. “My whole body was shaking. It was nerve-wracking.”

Next season, McKenney will play softball at Division III Roger Williams. She had been planning to go to Endicott — a school in the same conference.

“I talked about (Endicott) all the time,” McKenney said. “That was my dream school. I went there for an overnight, and I just didn’t feel comfortable.

“My friends told me, ‘Check out Roger Williams.’ I went there, and I just felt so comfortable. That’s really what put me there. It was kind of a last-minute decision. There’s no great story behind it. It just kind of happened.”

“I think she certainly has the ability to be successful at Roger Williams,” LeBlanc said, adding that at the college level, it’s also a matter of putting in the work.

As LeBlanc has realized over the years and been reminded many times, that part of the equation is never a question.

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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