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High School sports

By rising to the moment, Patterson Mill softball star Madison Knight has earned ‘once-in-a-generation player’ status

On the softball field, Madison Knight has never backed away from challenges. Instead, the Patterson Mill senior embraces them, making sure to use each one as fuel for her fire.

During her senior season, Patterson Mill’s star pitcher is cherishing her biggest of all. It’s one she created with help from teammates after the Huskies went 22-0 and claimed the program’s first Class 1A state championship last year.

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So after going 14-0 on the mound, and batting .597 with 50 RBIs and 12 home runs — highlighted by a 14-strikeout performance in the state final and capped by being named the Gatorade Maryland Player of the Year — how does Knight try to top all that in her final high school season?

Much like her dominating work on the mound, she delivers a strike with a poised reply.

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“Last year was awesome. I’m never going to forget my junior year in softball,” she said. “It’s a very tough act to follow — going undefeated, state champs — a very, very tough act to follow. For me, coming into this season, I didn’t put as much pressure as I did last year. This year, I just feel like we’re taking it game by game because you can’t win a state championship if you don’t win the games that come first. So, that’s what we’re doing right now.”

So far, so perfect.

Following Tuesday’s 11-1 win over Bo Manor, the Huskies are 10-0 — entering Wednesday, their winning streak stands at 33 games — and Knight, a Syracuse commit, has yet to allow an earned run in winning all ten games. At the plate, she’s batting .536 with 19 RBIs, 10 runs scored and eight homers.

“I’ve been coaching softball for 20 years and Madison is a once-in-a-generation player because she checks off all the boxes,” Huskies coach Jeff Horton said. “I’ve coached Division I pitchers that were very good, and D-I infielders and D-I hitters in the past. All were elite and she’s equally good as all of them in every phase. Not only can she do all that, but she’s also our team leader, the inspirational leader. She completely energizes the team emotionally.”

Knight’s first obstacle came when she started playing in elementary school. At her first T-ball practice, she shied away from catching the ball. Her father, Jason, who was apitcher at Clarion University, worked with her every night afterward and by the next practice the following week, she had the basics down.

And then when she was 8 years old, she asked her dad what position he played in baseball.

“When I said pitcher, she said she wanted to pitch, too. That’s awesome thinking your kid wants to follow in your footsteps,” said Jason Knight, who has coached her throughout her youth and is an assistant at Patterson Mill.

The two have put in countless hours as Madison has honed her softball skills. Knight, who at 5 feet 11 also enjoyed a fine basketball career at Patterson Mill, brings a full arsenal of pitches, while always being a natural at the plate with enough bat speed to produce power numbers. Just as important, and something Jason has reiterated, is the poised demeanor she has developed in the big moments of a game.

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“We’ve talked many times that this game is not just played on the field, but a lot of times it’s played up here,” said Jason, pointing to his head. “Most of the time, the best players are the ones that can handle the tough situations and you have to be able to flip the page quickly. And so we worked on it a lot. ... I continue to want her to have that drive and day in and day out she has that fire where sometimes I’m like, ‘Man, that’s pretty good to have out there.’ She gives it everything she has on every pitch and every at-bat — it’s pretty remarkable.”

Staying in the moment has been vital to Knight’s success.

“When I was younger, I’d give up a hit and start crying — I was so hard on myself,” she said. “Just like going game by game, I go pitch by pitch. The last pitch doesn’t affect the pitch that’s coming next. Just because you walked somebody or gave up a home run doesn’t mean you can’t strike out the next girl. The end goal is to win the game and it doesn’t matter how many hits or runs you give up. If you win at the end of the game, that’s all that matters.”

Last year’s title game — a 4-1 win over Allegany — proved the biggest case in point. In a pitchers’ duel against then-senior Kyra Pittman, who is now in her freshman year playing at Maryland, Knight gave up an early run and eight hits, but got all the big outs in closing out the win while driving in the Huskies’ first run with a double and later scoring an insurance run.

“Coming into the playoffs undefeated, we knew we couldn’t lose because we would be done,” Knight said. “So we had to fight the whole way through and when we won in the semifinals, everyone was like, ‘We’re winning a state championship, we’re going 22-0 — no questions asked.’ And everybody showed up on the state championship day and it was fantastic.

“How much fight this team has, how much compassion we had — we all wanted to win so bad and nobody showed up nervous.”

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After the breakthrough junior season, father and daughter sat down for a talk. He commended her on the fine work and then asked: “What do we have to get better at to help the team next year?”

They concluded it was fine-tuning her changeup and went to work. She now confidently throws the new pitch at any point in the count to go with her fastball, curve, screwball and rise. Bel Air coach Nicole Cosgrove has been impressed with Knight’s fine all-around game and how she has incorporated it into the Huskies’ overall success.

“[Knight] throws pitches that have speed and movement, which, combined with whoever is doing the pitch-calling at Patterson Mill, is working very well to keep batters on their toes,” she said.

The icing on Knight’s senior-year cake is the chance to play alongside her younger sister, Kenzie, a speedy freshman who earned a starting job in center field while leading off for the Huskies as a left-handed slap hitter. Every time Madison strikes out a batter — 129 times and counting this season — she gestures to her sister behind her in the outfield and takes a look at her dad in the dugout. With a three-year age difference, it’s the first time the two sisters have been on the same team. Mackenzie is making the most of the special time.

“It’s been so exciting to get the chance to play with her before she goes off to college — I never thought I would get the chance,” said Kenzie, who is batting .429 and has scored 10 runs. “Madison is just a very motivated player and she always wants to get better, everything she does is amazing to me. For me, it’s like, ‘Wow.’”

While Knight continues to produce wins and strikeouts and the clutch work at the plate — her walk-off two-run homer in the eighth inning to beat rival Rising Sun, 2-0, has been the highlight this season — Horton says she makes it all happen with a team-first approach. His favorite Knight story isn’t about one of her special pitching performances or any of her big hits. Instead, he goes back to a tightly contested region playoff game last season when Knight provided a teammate with timely and encouraging words.

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“Her teammate was struggling at the plate and she just looked in her eyes and said, ‘You got this!’ And then she went up to bat and hit a big double for us,” Horton said. “Madison’s character is second to none. It’s a character I haven’t seen from a player of that magnitude. She’s the first one that’s willing to help people, the first one getting out equipment and putting equipment away. It’s those kinds of things that I think are a greater testament to what she’s all about. To be able to do it offensively, defensively, on the mound and be a leader who brings all the energy and help with whatever you need. She just doesn’t miss a beat. Never, ever.”


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