Heart and home runs: Lawrence County's Hyche focused on postseason run

Mar. 28—Last year, Lawrence County High softball made it to regionals for the first time since 2018.

As Lady Devil McKenzie Hyche walked out onto the fields of Sand Mountain Park in Albertville last year, she realized it was far overdue.

"I remember getting there and just walking onto the field and I was like, 'I'm almost 18 years old and I've never been to regionals,'" she said. "The atmosphere and the fans were so excited for us."

The Lady Devils were only two games shy of the state tournament in Oxford when Jasper ended their season last year. The Monday after, Hyche walked into her coach, Will Inman's, classroom and sat down with a new goal.

"She goes, 'Hey coach, can we talk?'" Inman said, "I'm like 'yeah' and she looked at me and said, 'What do I have to do to get us to the state tournament?'"

Now that she's a senior, she wants to make the most of her final year and make it to the state tournament, something the group hasn't done since 2015.

"It's my senior year and I've never been to the state tournament," she said. "I just got out of area for the first time last year, and I had so much fun at regionals, so why not take it to the next level?"

After hitting .457, with 43 RBIs and seven home runs last year, Hyche knew she would have to take another step if she wanted her dreams to come true, something she was prepared to do.

In 26 games this year, she's the Lady Devils' top hitter, batting .475 with 37 base hits, 35 RBIs and four home runs, two of which were against top area opponent Russellville earlier in the month.

"I don't care about the homers with her. Her bat's heating up, but it's been hot all year," Inman said. "It's not like she's a surprise for the opposing team. Everybody knows who she is. It doesn't matter where we go, and she's still hitting."

However, her performance at the plate isn't what stands out to Inman.

"I think what she's done a really good job with over the past 19 months I've been around her is that mentally, she's grown up," he said.

"Even at my first tryout here I remember saying, 'She's a headcase.' But we worked on that," Inman said. "Her mental state is something else. When it's game day, it's game day and nothing bothers her. I couldn't say that in the first month of the year last year. Now you can't tell if she's struck out or hit a walk-off."

Hyche said the beginning of last year was filled with anxiety from which she had to separate.

"Having a new coach and a different team was kind of a different feeling," Hyche said. "When we started playing, he was giving everybody chances, and I was like, 'I've got to go out here and perform or I'm not going to get to play.'"

She's learned to enjoy the game and said her coaches have helped change her mindset.

"I used to step out on the field and think that I had to perform or I was going to get pulled or someone was going to get mad at me. They changed my mindset to where I just step out on the field and play because I know how to play," Hyche said. "You can't worry about not performing. There's going to be those times where you don't perform.

"I just feel so much better embracing it and having fun. I feel like I play better, too."

When Inman was hired in 2022, he had seen Hyche and thought she was a senior.

"When I found out she was a sophomore, I was like 'holy smokes,'" Inman said.

"I knew from day one that having her for two years was going to be a huge deal for our program," Inman said. "This year she's been awesome, that's who I want to lead our program. I want them to be a good player, but I want them to be an even better person, and McKenzie is that. And that's what I hope these other girls see and strive to be."

Hyche said she decided to step into a leadership role for the Lady Devils last year, although her coach said he had to force her into it.

"I like the younger ones looking up to me. I want to be a good person and not just a good player," Hyche said. "As I've gotten older, I've noticed my little sisters doing everything that I do, so I want them to grow up and be good."

Either way, the Lady Devils are better off for it.

"We've had some internal issues, but we're past that. For the past two weeks, our dugout has had tension and that's cleared itself up, and Mack's (McKenzie Hyche's) leadership has helped that," Inman said. "We're at a turning point right now, and I can see that it's a positive turning point. I saw more of a fun atmosphere last night, girls having fun, bouncing and high-fiving, than I have in the past few weeks. I saw different body language that makes me think we're on the right track."

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