McDonald earns OVC top freshman award

Thursday, May 12, 2005

When Megan McDonald began her freshman softball season at Southeast Missouri State, she didn't even know if she would see the field very much.

She saw the field, all right -- and then some. On Wednesday, the Central High School product was named the Ohio Valley Conference's Freshman of the Year in voting by the league's coaches.

"I guess I'm really surprised I even got a chance to play, and to win this is pretty amazing," McDonald said. "I wasn't real sure what to expect this year. I thought I'd just work out with the team and get my chance next year."

Southeast coach Lana Richmond, however, envisioned big things from McDonald from the start after she earned all-state honors last year for Central's Tigers and was one of the area's top all-around athletes.

"I thought she would come in and do well," said Richmond, whose squad begins play today in the OVC Tournament in Jacksonville, Ala. "She's played a lot of summer ball, she works hard, is a great student and is so coachable."

McDonald, a shortstop and pitcher in high school, played second base for Southeast most of this year, but was moved to shortstop during the late stages of the season. She has excelled defensively at both positions, committing just six errors and compiling a .973 fielding percentage.

McDonald has also thrived offensively, leading the Redhawks with a .350 batting average. She is second on the team in home runs with eight -- the third-highest single-season total in school history -- doubles with 12, hits with 50, runs batted in with 26 and runs scored with 24. She is tied for seventh in the OVC in hitting, tied for fourth in doubles and tied for seventh in homers.

"I was very surprised to begin the season as a starter," said McDonald, who has started all 51 games this year. "Coach showed a lot of confidence in me."

While it appears that McDonald made a seamless transition from high school to college softball, that isn't quite true.

"She didn't have very good stats in the fall, because she tried to pull everything," Richmond said. "We changed some things at the plate with her stance. The rest of it is her strength, her eye at the plate and her athleticism.

"And her defense has been great. We had her at second base, but I think she's flourished at shortstop. She's had a great season and is very deserving of this honor."

Although McDonald is happy with being named the OVC's premier freshman, she believes the award could have just as easily gone to another member of Southeast's impressive rookie class.

McDonald and fellow freshman Michelle Summers, an outfielder from California, were both voted to the all-OVC first team on Wednesday, the only freshman so honored.

Summers is second on the team in hitting (.343), while leading in homers (9), doubles (16), runs scored (42) and hits (58). Her home-run total is the second-most for a single season in school history. She ranks 10th in the OVC in batting average, second in doubles, third in hits, third in runs scored and is tied for fifth in homers.

McDonald even believes that Southeast freshman pitcher Elaine Fisher, from St. Peters, Mo., could have been in the running. Fisher (7-5) leads the OVC with a 1.32 earned run average, and in conference play only her ERA is 0.38. But Fisher did not join the regular rotation until midway through the season, so she was not voted to the first or second all-OVC squads.

"I'm proud to win the award, but some other freshmen on this team could have won it," McDonald said. "I think we have the best freshmen in the league."

Said Richmond: "It's really good that both Megan and Michelle got first-team all-OVC. They've both had great years. I think Elaine would have been considered, but she probably didn't have enough innings. I said from the beginning we have a great group of freshman."

Led by McDonald, who said playing college softball in her hometown has been everything she could have imagined -- and probably more.

"My mom, my dad, my grandma, my high school coach [Amy Blattel], friends from high school, they all come to the games," McDonald said. "It's really fun to play here, and I think the future is really bright for the softball program, with all the great freshman we have."

Birk on second team

Southeast has a third all-OVC selection in senior Kelly Birk, who made the second team as a utility player.

Birk, a first-team pick last year, is batting .289. She leads the Redhawks with 27 RBIs and is third with five homers.

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