Sometimes when Mackenzie Pepper crouched down and got into her shortstop position, she wouldn’t think it’d be worth it.

That’s because she played behind fellow senior Peyton Richter, who struck out batters on a regular basis.

Nonetheless, Pepper was always ready.

In her senior year, she put up some eye-popping numbers at the plate: .553 batting average, two home runs, 22 RBIs and 47 hits. And on the defensive side, she had 36 putouts, 28 assists, seven errors and a .901 fielding percentage.

Perhaps Pine Creek coach Janelle Krohn put it best: “Mackenzie stopped everything that came her way.”

Pepper “was an all-out stud,” the coach wrote in her all-stars ballot.

In other words, Pepper’s numbers, her play and her persistence earned The Gazette Preps 2018 Softball Peak Performer of the Year honor. And she did it all while playing with Richter (16-6 record with 196 strikeouts), who produced all-star numbers of her own.

“Definitely during some of those games, I’d say, ‘I want a ground ball,’” Pepper said about playing with Richter. “At the same time, I wanted her to succeed and get those strikeouts because it looks great for her. But I obviously want the ball also.”

They both still managed to shine and dominate throughout the season.

Their time together reached some historical significance last year, when the Pirates reached the postseason for the first time in more than a decade under longtime coach Dave Hyland. They used that momentum for this season despite some injuries and position changes.

And the duo led the Pirates to an 18-8 record, a second-place finish in the Class 3A District 2 League and the Pikes Peak region’s lone appearance in the state playoffs. No. 12 St. Mary’s lost 10-0 to No. 5 Faith Christian in the first round of the 3A tournament.

At one point in the season, the Pirates had a 14-game winning streak to go along with seven shutouts.

Pepper was glad to be part of the journey.

“All four years,” she said, “I wanted to limit my strikeouts and get on base as much as I can.”

And now, she’s looking forward to making a big life decision.

She’s deciding where she wants to play softball at the college level. Wherever she chooses, she’ll be ready for it.

Chhun Sun is a sports reporter with an emphasis in preps. He joined The Gazette in April 2015 and covered public safety for three years before joining @gazettepreps staff. The Thailand-born Cambodian-American has been in journalism for nearly two decades.

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