July 26, 2013 12:23:47 AM
Maegen Ellis thought she has missed her chance.
Just about to begin her senior year at Oak Hill Academy in West Point, Ellis listened as her Mississippi Curve travel softball teammates talked about their chance to attend the 16-and-under Amateur Softball Association Nationals in Sunnyvale, Calif. The longer the Curve players talked the more Ellis realized the team faced too many conflicts and wasn't going to be able to travel to the event.
But opportunities often pop up when you least expect them. This one brought a big smile to Ellis' face.
A phone call from the coach of the Mississippi Elite travel ball team asking Ellis if she wanted to join that team at the Nationals was all she needed to set her travel plans.
"My goal is just go and have fun because it is basically a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Ellis said. "
Ellis and Mississippi Curve teammate Alexia Harmon, of Madison Central High School, will join the Mississippi Elite team for the 138-team event that features some of the nation's top squads. Mississippi Elite will play its first game Monday against Espirit 97.
For Ellis, the trip to California will offer another chance for her to showcase her skills to college coaches. A year ago, Ellis and former Starkville Academy standout Mary Austin Barber stayed busy in the summer playing travel softball with the Mississippi Blast, a program out of Jackson. Ellis admitted she attracted minimal attention from college coaches -- maybe one junior college, she said -- even though she had a good season.
This year has been different. A decision to move to the Mississippi Curve and play for coaches Kenny and Lindsey Perry, a former pitcher at the University of Mississippi, has helped increase Ellis' exposure. As she travels today to meet up with the team, Ellis has received plenty of attention from junior colleges and Division I and Division III programs.
Mississippi Curve coach Kenny Perry said that isn't surprising because Ellis is a "terrific" young lady, a lead-off hitter with speed and pop, and a versatile defensive players.
"She is a real, real hard-working young lady who has made major improvement throughout the season," Perry said. "One of her major attributes is her on-base percentage is really high and she has lots of power."
Perry said Ellis, who is 5-foot-3, hit four home runs in seven games at the ASA State tournament in late June. He said she also played an integral role in helping the team win a national qualifier in Baton Rouge, La., which is why he is excited so many schools have expressed an interest in Ellis.
"She is going to play somewhere," Perry said. "Maegen is one of those we really feel can play at the highest level as she continues to work and to improve."
Perry said Ellis, who has played second base and in the outfield, is a coachable player who has so many positives. He said she has tremendous speed and a heart and desire to play softball that is unmatched. He said Ellis has the instincts and the drive that tell her she hasn't work hard or long enough to master her skills.
Former Oak Hill Academy fast-pitch softball coach Marion Bratton can attest to those qualities. The veteran coach, who stepped down after last season, has coached Maegen's father, John, and her brothers, Nathan, the current Oak Hill Academy softball coach, and Cameron. He doesn't mince words when he says Maegen is the best athlete in the Ellis family.
"She is dynamite in a small package," Bratton said. "She is one of the best athletes I have ever coached."
Bratton didn't have exact statistics, but he guessed Ellis is better than a career .500 hitter and that she has three to six home runs in her high school career. He isn't surprised she received an invitation to go to California and play with some of the nation's top players. After all, he has seen her play second base and compete with members of his baseball team in practice, so he doesn't see any reason why Ellis wouldn't be able to make her mark on the West Coast.
"If I had a team full of Maegens all I would have to do is stand in the coaching box and give a few signs now and then because she is going to get it done," Bratton said.
Perry can attest to that. Even though Ellis has been with the team only for a year, he said she has proven a "small" player can hold her own and carry a big stick.
Perry said Ellis is an ideal example to show off the notion that you don't have to be have a lot of size to excel at softball.
It's a different story, though, when it comes to recruiting. Bratton believes Ellis' size has hindered her recruitment because he feels coaches would fall in love with Ellis if they watched her play. He believes the trip to California will help Ellis because she is still trying to take that "extra step" and get seen as much as possible so she can make up for her size.
Ellis feels the same way. She understands this might be her final chance to make a lasting impression on a college coach who has a scholarship left. She feels she has had a pretty good season and that she likes her chances to show off the things she has learned that have helped her power stroke.
"I have just been working on my hitting a lot," Ellis said. "This is one of the best teams I have played on, and coach Kenny and coach Lindsey have helped me so much. They have really wanted to help all of us and get seen. They have talked to the coaches and tried to do their best for us to get seen."
Ellis will make sure to do her best to do the same for herself starting Monday.
"I think we're definitely going to see different pitching, and that it's going to be a lot better pitching than we're used to seeing," Ellis said. "I am definitely going to have to adjust. I think if I just work hard at it that I can do it."
That attitude has carried Ellis this far, so why not continue it. After all, the right mind-set just might help Ellis realize her goal and receive a scholarship offer to play softball in college.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.