Pitching in front of the some of the largest crowds to witness softball games in Centre County history doesn’t worry Bald Eagle Area’s Makennah Dyke.
Neither does the pressure of facing a potent Central Columbia lineup in Friday’s PIAA Class AA Championship, slated for 5:30 p.m. at Penn State’s Nittany Lion Softball Park.
No, Dyke’s anxiety comes every morning when the alarm clock rings.
“I have good days and bad days, but mostly bad days,” Dyke said. “I wake up in the morning and I’m always worried about how I am going to feel.”
You wouldn’t know it from watching her on game days, but Dyke struggles with an illness that has remained a mystery to doctors for several years. It affects her every day.
“This has all been going on since my seventh-grade year,” Dyke said. “The fact that we still don’t know what’s going on with me is hard to work with. We’re still working to find an answer.”
Dyke has been hospitalized prior to and during this season. In fact, she was in the hospital the day before she helped the Lady Eagles clinch the Mountain League title.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” she said of the illness. “It’s something different every day. Like, one day my stomach will hurt. The next day my whole body hurts.”
“Softball has been
That she’s even on the field is a remarkable accomplishment.
When Curt Heverly was named the team’s new coach this season, he immediately sought out Dyke. Heverly had taught both her parents, Greg and Sue, at BEA and Greg had played football for him.
“As soon as I got the job, I went to Makennah and said, ‘Makennah, there’s two seniors on this team. You have to be the go-to girl. You don’t have to win all of the games and pitching all of the games, but we need a senior leader who is going to play a pivotal role,’ ” Heverly said. “Two days later, she’s in the hospital.”
Heverly said Dyke still gave him what he had asked for, despite how she was feeling.
“I don’t remember the timeline anymore, but we had a very tough period in March right before the season,” he said. “We didn’t know, we didn’t know and then we did. Through the whole thing, she was our leader.”
Dyke thought the prospects of playing this season were dim, but she was determined to try.
Softball was more than just a game to the striking blonde.
“Softball has been my life since the first day I picked up a ball,” Dyke said. “I was, like, five years old and I always knew. My dad was a big baseball player when he was younger. We would always be in the yard playing catch. It’s something I always wanted to do.
“At the beginning of the season when everything was going on, this is the only thing that kept me trying to get better and wanting to work to get playing.”
So she persevered and she admits to becoming a pretty good liar. When Heverly asked if she was OK, she’d tell him yes, no matter how she was feeling. Missing practice or watching the rest of the team go through workouts was not an option.
“There are days where I don’t feel the greatest, but I never actually let myself sit out,” Dyke said. “I push through it. I may not do everything 100 percent, but I never let myself sit out. I don’t like that.”
“She’s got a heart”
Heverly, who gets reports on Makennah’s health from her mother, said his senior right-hander has not complained.
“I gave her the plate and the circle and she’s never whimpered. I don’t know where she gets it, but it’s unbelievable.
“It’s bigger than anything she’s got,” he added pointing to his chest. “She’s got a heart.”
And talent, too.
Heverly said assistant coach Keith Bennett had worked with Dyke, and Bennett said that she could keep the team in games, especially if the Lady Eagles could develop their defense, which now is among the best in all of the classifications in the PIAA Tournament.
But in an early season matchup against four-time defending District 6 champion Philipsburg-Osceola, Heverly found he had maybe a little more in the circle than he anticipated.
“They called them the crushers,” Heverly said of the Lady Mounties. “They did, they crushed teams. We lost 3-2 on a bad play. I knew then I had something on the mound.”
And Dyke has not disappointed. She sports a 17-3 record heading into the state title game.
She bounced back to beat P-O three consecutive times, including 5-4 in the District 6 championship and 7-3 in the PIAA semifinals. She was the only pitcher to hold the Lady Mounties to less than eight runs in any postseason game.
In her other two PIAA starts, Dyke has allowed just seven hits and two runs (one earned) as BEA topped Seton LaSalle 2-1 in eight innings and Wilmington 4-1.
In addition to her teammates’ excellent defense, Dyke credits part of her success to working with pitching gurus Dave and Ali Stodart, who also groomed recent Philipsburg-Osceola standouts Chelsea Rex and Kate Burge.
While she may not tickle the radar gun anywhere close to 60 mph, her assortment of five pitches does the trick.
“She’s almost like Greg Maddux,” Heverly said. “She just throws it in there. Every now and then, she’ll put a little heat on it and it surprises them.”
The other key is catcher Morgan Nyman. Though just a sophomore, Nyman calls all of Dyke’s pitches.
The senior has confidence in Nyman, an excellent defensive catcher.
“I usually don’t have to shake her off,” Dyke said. “It’s almost like we think the same. She knows what I want to call and what my favorite pitch is.”
“I love it,” Nyman said. “It gives me complete control of what is going to happen. If something goes wrong, it’s my fault, not Makennah’s. The majority of times she hits her spots. She’s a fantastic pitcher. It’s been great catching her this year.”
“I never expected
to be here”
Dyke also is fearless.
A playoff game against Bellwood Antis defines that attitude.
Bellwood standout Emily Nagle belted a long home run in the top of the seventh to give the Lady Blue Devils the lead against BEA. After the Lady Eagles rallied to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh, Nagle came up again in the eighth with two outs.
Heverly headed out to talk about pitching around Nagle.
“I was gun-shy,” Heverly said. “That girl crushed that ball.”
Dyke wasn’t about to give in.
“She said, ‘I got this coach,’ and then she struck her out,” said Heverly, whose team won with a run in the bottom of the eighth.
“Most people think that when a girl hits a home run, they don’t want to throw to her again,” Dyke explained. “To me, I know not to throw that pitch again and to work a different zone. I never want to let a girl hit a home run and then have the good feeling of walking her. I like to work at them again and make them work for it.”
And the strikeout made it sweeter.
“That was definitely the best feeling,” Dyke said. “I didn’t expect to strike her out. I was hoping for a ground out, but that was great.”
Dyke also said she couldn’t have made it through the season without her family.
“My family supports me through everything. I have family that lives in Harrisburg and Penns Valley, and they’ve been coming to all of the games and call me every night. My sister and parents are always there to support me.”
She hopes to support them and others in the future. Dyke plans to attend YTI Career Institute to become a respiratory therapist.
“A lot of people in my family have respiratory problems,” Dyke said. “Watching everything that has happened with them made me want to try to help people.”
Her health battle has served as an inspiration to her teammates.
“She’s the most important part of our team,” rightfielder Logan Fischer said. “We’re very proud of her. She’s been going through a lot with her body. She’s been handling it very well.”
“She truly cares about her team and truly wants to win,” shortstop Haley Giedroc said. “She always puts that physical pain to the side and she does it for us. It’s really inspiring and we look up to her. Her attitude is just awesome.”
“I remember in preseason, when we were in open gyms and Makennah wasn’t there for a week,” teammate Makenzie Proctor said. “It just felt weird, it felt wrong that she wasn’t there. I remember a bunch of girls went up to see her. ... We were so happy when she got back because she’s been through a lot this year.””
“She’s been in the hospital, but she still comes back and plays games,” second baseman Mikala Smith added. “It’s crazy. I don’t know how she does it.”
Heverly said that respect transfers to the field.
“They play hard for her,” Heverly said. “They make plays for her. The tire is only as strong as the center bolt for the spokes. And she’s it.”
Dyke knows that Friday’s game could be one of her last. She’ll pitch in next week’s annual Pennsylvania Softball Coaches Association All-Star game and has no plans after that because YTI doesn’t have a softball team.
“I really don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said. “I haven’t thought about it too much because it kind of breaks my heart that I might never be able to play again.”
If her career is to end, this season has been the perfect way to finish.
“I’m speechless about the whole thing,” said Dyke, flashing her infectious smile. “I never expected to be here. I’m so grateful for the coaches being here and helping us all of this way and my teammates pulling through. It’s great.”
And she remains the optimist, even when the bad days outnumber the good.
“I always tell myself that it could be worse,” Dyke said. “I don’t have something that’s deadly. I’m still living.”