You can’t hit what you can’t see. That’s been the recipe for success for pitcher Makayla Miller of the West Region champions out of South Snohomish, Wash., this all-star season. When the 12-year-old pulls out her fastball, hitters come up empty swinging at a yellow blur.
Miller has left opposing teams hopeless at this year’s Little League Softball World Series, taking place now in Portland. She gave up only three hits during back-to-back shutouts to begin pool-play action. She has 26 strikeouts, while walking only two batters.
Like the song says: “It’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out at the old ballgame.” And World Series foes can blame Miller’s older sister Hailey for their frustrations.
“I grew up watching my sister pitch, and I always wanted to do it as well as she did, even though she was older,” Makayla said. “I saw how cool it is to be out in the circle with all of the pressure on you.”
Miller throws four days a week almost year-around, working with pitching coach Mike McLaughlin of the Select Snohomish Shock softball club. Last summer, she expanded her array of weaponry, perfecting four pitches to keep hitters off-balance.
“If I get behind in the count it limits my pitches, but when I get up on a batter I can go with a drop-curve, a change, a rise ball or I can just fire one in there,” Makayla said. “When I’m in the circle, I try to zone out the batter and focus only on the glove.”
Miller’s animated wind-up hints at the power behind her throws.
She stands behind the rubber and whips the ball into her glove before stepping to the center of the circle, spinning the ball in fast-forward mode as her fingers search for the stitches. Her arms rise above her head and quickly drop. Her elbow jabs behind her as if she is trying to create space on a crowded subway train. Her arm flashes through in a circle and the ball is off.
She keeps a count in her head for each style of pitch to ensure its accuracy.
Despite battling a kidney infection, Miller is the only pitcher at the Series who carried her team’s entire load through Regionals. She did not surrender a run over her final 15 innings and averaged 7.2 strikeouts per game.
“We weren’t sure if she would play in the championship right up to the minute of the game, but she went out and got the job done even while not throwing at her best,” said Fred Miller, South Snohomish’s manager and Makayla’s father. “She’s pitched all but three innings for us going back to district — she’s our ace. She’s what we need.”
The World Series crowd got a first look at her fastball during the Easton Skills Challenge this past Wednesday, which had pitchers take aim at a stacked tire at home plate.
“I had never done that before, but I got to watch all the others go first and realized if I could put it right down the middle it would go through,” Makayla said.
She ended up winning the event by rattling a ball through the tire during the tiebreaker round.
Miller isn’t the only one posting impressive numbers at this year’s Series.
Marissa Bradley of the Southwest champs out of Seguin, Texas, has struck out 20 batters and allowed only one hit through her first two games.
Mikayla Houge of the Central champs out of Slater, Iowa, tossed a no-hitter with 10 strikeouts in her opener against Asia-Pacific.
The Series continues with semifinals on ESPN2 on Tuesday.