At the beginning of her high school career at Central-Phenix City, outfielder McKinnon Howard wasted little time in standing out thanks to her speed and her prowess at the plate. Those skills along with the potential she has to get even better has her now set to play softball at the next level.
Howard, who is a rising junior at Central, committed to Wallace State Community College in Hanceville last Wednesday. Howard’s decision comes after a sophomore season in which her combination of strong hitting and incredible speed put her at the forefront among players in the AHSAA’s Class 7A and had the Lady Red Devils poised to make a run at a championship.
Now, Howard is set to join a Wallace State team that has won two NJCAA Division I national championships and 12 Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC)/Region 22 tournament titles.
“It just really felt like home, honestly. I’ve gone to a few other places, and I just liked Wallace the most and coach (A.J. Daugherty) and coach (Cadi Oliver). I really like them a lot. I just feel like it’s the best fit for me,” Howard said. “It was actually pouring down rain (when I committed). We weren’t supposed to be talking to anybody because we were leaving from camp. I went in there, and I told (Daugherty, the head coach). He did this big fist pump, and everybody was all happy. He had some of his older players there, and they were all excited.
“It’s been a lot (to reach this point). In seventh grade, I was just a base runner. It was really stressful in eighth and ninth grade, but I kept working and never gave up. It finally paid off.”
Howard might have only been a sophomore during Central’s 2020 season, but she played well beyond her years on a loaded Lady Red Devils team. She split time between center field and left field and ended the shortened campaign with a .444 batting average with 36 at-bats and a perfect 15-of-15 stolen-base mark in 16 games.
Central coach Mitchell Holt has seen Howard make tremendous strides from the point she was only a pinch runner looking to prove herself as a seventh grader to where he is now as the team’s fastest player and one of the most consistent hitters.
“They’re just getting a great kid who’s got elite talent. She’s an extremely hard worker. She’s extremely dedicated to what she does. She’s a great teammate,” Holt said. “There’s so many things I could say positively about her. She’s a super good person who happens to be a super good softball player. She has elite speed, an elite arm and elite defensive skills. Of course, her hitting speaks for itself, and that’s still a work-in-progress. That’s what’s exciting about her: she’s not even close to what she can be at the plate yet.
“She didn’t come in as the number one. She didn’t come in as the best athlete or the best player in her class, but she’s always had that chip on her shoulder that’s been a good thing. She’s always competed. Now, she’s one of the very best in the program — not just her class.”
Howard thanked Holt for the ways he has helped all of Central’s players get better over the years, and the team is already back working toward 2021. With offseason workouts having started last week, Howard said she was so excited to be reunited with her teammates and explained she’s motivated to get up every morning and make herself better.
Holt is looking for Howard to do just that this summer, especially when it comes to her play at the plate. As good of a hitter as Howard already is, Holt said she can make tremendous strides in the next few years as she learns to get comfortable swinging away.
Holt said Howard’s decision to go to a two-year community college before hopefully joining a Division I softball program for her last two years will likely pay off, as it’s only a matter of time before she reaches the next step as a hitter.
Howard has high hopes about her future at Wallace State and said she’s most excited about the winning culture at the school and how the softball program is like a family. While she’ll be there soon enough, her main focus now is what’s left of her high school career and helping the Lady Red Devils chase the coveted blue map.
“I really want to win state because that would be fun. I just want to keep getting better, and I know coach Holt will help us do that. I’ll just keep working hard. Everybody on this team works really hard,” Howard said. “I’m so ready (for next season). I’m so excited.”
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