McKi Needham hits a grounder in the Mariner's last home game against South Anchorage on Saturday, May 21. Needham signed with McCook College in McCook, Nebraska, to play softball in the fall.

Mariner softball pitcher, shortstop McKi Needham signs with junior college

After being named as a player on the All Conference Team for Northern Lights Softball and recognized by the National Fast Pitch Coaches Association for her academic achievements, Mariner softball player McKi Needham is going to college to play ball.

The 2016 Homer High School graduate signed a scholarship offer to play on the McCook College softball team in McCook, Neb., for the next two years. The scholarship covers all tuition fees, except room and board, Needham said. She heads down to Nebraska with her family to settle into school in mid-August.

Needham had other offers to play college ball, both at junior colleges and at a couple D3 schools, but she wanted to avoid the expense of a D3 school and liked the feel of the team at McCook, she said.

“One of my teammates from travel ball last year played for them and she really liked it and she had the coach contact me,” Needham said. “She said all the girls are really nice and really sweet. It’s a good community there. Everyone takes care of each other. The whole school is pretty much athletes so that will be really fun too.”

Needham’s strong work ethic stood out to Josh Barnes, McCook College’s head softball coach. He watched her play a game in which she made an error while playing shortstop, but Needham did not let the mistake rattle her, Barnes said. Later when they spoke, he was struck by her caring personality as well.

“I had gone on a fishing trip and I had forgotten I had told her and the first thing she asked was, ‘How was your fishing trip,’” Barnes said. “That she remembered something about me as a person stood out.”

Barnes said he plans to use Needham’s athleticism to the team’s advantage, playing her at shortstop and as a pitcher, as well as at other positions around the field.

“She’s one of those players that can play multiple positions,” Barnes said.

Needham is considering studying elementary education at McCook, and she plans to go on to a four-year college after her two years at McCook to play softball as well.

“This is a two-year, a stepping stone for her that will take her on to another two year playing time, too, so I’m excited to see where that goes also,” said Mariner softball head coach Bill Bell. “It’s really exciting for me to see her going on and doing more with softball. She’s reached the maximum of my coaching abilities for her, so it’s great to see that she’s going to be seeing other coaches and I think her growth is going to be phenomenal.”

Bell has been a key part of Needham’s softball career in Homer, said her mom, Sharon Needham. Needham started playing softball at age five. When she was in sixth grade, Bell started working with Needham, along with other girls her age, on Sundays at his own softball practice facility.

“Dr. Bell’s been really good. He either brings other coaches up or we’ve sent her down (to the Lower 48). He’s been a fabulous coach, worked with her, encouraged her and pushed her. Just made this all happen for her,” Sharon said. “She wouldn’t have been anywhere without Bill.”

In addition to the support of Bell, Needham has worked with Florida coaches Linda Derk and Brittney Joseph, and Seattle coach Eve Gaw, Sharon said. Playing college ball is a goal Needham has worked on for most of her life. Even before high school, she was committed to working hard to improve her game.

“This is something that she has been working on and wanting for a long time,” Sharon said. “At a junior college, she’s going to be able to have a lot of playing time, a lot more coaching and playing time rather than being at a four-year school. Then they help with that process of bumping up to a larger school.”

Despite Needham’s softball success throughout her life, she is a team player who never puts herself above anyone else, Bell said.

“There are times when she’s off by herself pitching with nobody else. She is such a genuine person that she’s never been like, ‘Hey I’m a superstar,’” Bell said. “When I put her on the varsity team as a freshman, she came up to me and wanted to make sure I wasn’t making a mistake.”

Anna Frost can be reached at anna.frost@homernews.com.

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