Philipsburg-Osceola’s McKenzie Burge isn’t one to waste time.
When you earn 10 letters in three different varsity sports and earn high honor roll status, you don’t have much time to waste.
So when volleyball season ended this fall, she was ready to move on to her best sport — softball.
“The day after the volleyball season ends is the day I step into the cage and the weight room,” said Burge. “I don’t waste a single day. That one day somebody out there might be getting better than me. I don’t want that to happen.”
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It’s that kind of attitude and a sweet left-handed batting stroke that landed Burge a Division I scholarship.
The Lady Mountie senior signed a letter-of-intent earlier this month to play at St. Francis.
Burge was one of seven players that Red Flash coach Jennifer Patrick-Swift landed for her Class of 2015.
“McKenzie comes from a local high school with a rich softball winning tradition, and she comes to St. Francis with a great understanding and appreciation for the game,” Swift-Patrick said in a university release. “She will bring a lot to our team in the batter's box from Day 1.”
Burge spent the past weekend in Loretto, getting to know the rest of the incoming freshman class and the current members of the Red Flash.
“It was a lot of fun,” Burge said of the weekend. “It was really nice meeting all of my teammates and coaches and being in the atmosphere I’m going to be in next year.”
Burge had other offers from Division II schools for softball and even a Division I offer for volleyball, but knew quickly that she wanted to attend St. Francis.
“From the beginning when I visited there, it just felt right,” she said. “I felt right at home. The team is great and the coaches are great. It’s a great overall place to be.”
She knew quite a bit about the program. Former P-O standout Chelsea Rex is a starting pitcher there.
“She helped me a lot in the recruiting process in general,” Burge said of Rex. “She definitely helped me get my foot in the door in a few places.
“I was just really looking forward to playing college softball,” she added. “It’s been a dream of mine ever since I was a little kid. Division I was obviously my highest goal, but I would have been happy playing anywhere else. I just wanted to play at the upper level.”
Playing at St. Francis, also with former Bald Eagle Area standout Taylor Parsons, was the easy choice both athletically and academically.
“St. Francis has high standards in the classroom and on the softball field and that was something I really needed to find,” Burge said. “No matter where I go or would have played, academics came first. I had to look for a place that challenged me in the classroom just as much as the field. St. Francis definitely fulfilled that.”
Burge will take on a challenging major — biochemistry. She plans to move on to medical school and hopes to one day be a trauma surgeon.
“I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was six years old,” Burge said. “I’ve always been interested in science and medicine.”
Judging from the way she has handled her athletic and academic career at Philipsburg-Osceola, she has a leg up on managing sports and the classroom.
Burge has lettered four seasons in volleyball and will do that in softball this spring. She was a two-year letterman in basketball before giving up that sport that past two seasons to concentrate on preparing for softball.
She’s been a natural at all of the sports. This past season, an injury to a teammate forced her to switch positions in volleyball and she earned All-Mountain League honors as a setter.
“It’s been a lot of work,” Burge said. “I’ve loved every second of it. I’ve played many sports and I’ve loved every one of them, but softball definitely has been my one that has stood out above all of the others. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it because you meet a lot of great people and have a lot of great memories to go back on.”
She made an immediate impact with a softball program that has been among the state’s elite, starting since she was a freshman for Jim Gonder, who has led the Lady Mounties to a pair of PIAA Class AA titles in 2007 and 2011.
“There were a lot of kids out there that were older than me and a lot that had just as much talent as me,” Burge said. “I guess the cards fall where they do. When I was given the chance to play, I worked as hard as I could.
“I’ve never had to deal with politics at my school,” she added. “That’s really nice because they don’t care what the last name is on your shirt at Philipsburg. They care if your going to work hard. If you give it your all, you’re going to play.”
Burge has been a fixture at first base and in the middle of the P-O lineup. Last season, she batted a team-high .573 (the second highest average in P-O history) and led the Lady Mounties to the semifinals in the PIAA Tournament. Burge was on base a school-record 63 percent of the time and missed the school mark for doubles by one with 15.
She also joined the exclusive 100-hit club before the season ended.
“I didn’t even know I was close when I got it,” said Burge, who had 47 hits last season. “It was in the middle of the Bald Eagle game at Districts and I’m standing on first and they’re like, ‘100, 100, 100.’ I’m like, ‘What are you guys talking about?’ When I came back in, they said, ‘You just got your 100th hit.’ I was really flabbergasted because I didn’t know I was close.”
She’s on pace to break Mackenzie Gonder’s career record of 132 hits.
Her sweet stroke has been perfected over long hours in the cage with her father Doug, a former baseball player.
“I definitely put a lot of time into my hitting,” Burge said. “Me and my dad have been working on my swing since I was six. We’ve always been working. I have to give a lot of credit to my dad and my coaches because they have worked hours with me.
“I’m definitely blessed to say I played for a coach like Jim Gonder,” she added. “People I’ve met from other schools, they wish they had a program like I’ve had. I’m very fortunate to be able to come from a program like Philipsburg because if it wasn’t for Coach Gonder and the rest of the coaching staff I probably wouldn’t be the athlete I am.”
Burge is a little different than most players in that she maintains close friendships with some of the Lady Mounties’ fiercest opponents.
“We’re rivals on the field, but we’re great friends off the field,” she said. “We’re athletes and athletes are a big family, especially softball players. We all work just as hard as each other and love the same sport. We all share something in common.”
She lists her biggest career highlights so far as winning a pair of District 6 titles.
“Every district title we won was special to me,” she said. “I know we sometimes take for granted districts or Mountain League. But, every time that we got those medals around our necks, that was special to me.”
She also said playing with and being on the field for her cousin Kate Burge’s last game was special, too. Kate pitched the Lady Mounties to the PIAA semifinals in 2013.
“Even though we weren’t officially biological sisters, she was like a big sister to me,” said McKenzie, who is an only child. “I grew up watching her. She always took care of me and was there to help me. She was a big part of my softball career.”
It’s a high-school career that she hopes will end with big things. The Lady Mounties finished second in the Mountain League and the District 6 playoffs and fell in the PIAA Tournament to rival Bald Eagle Area.
“This is a year we’ve got to come back,” Burge said. “This is definitely our redemption year. We’re looking to take back the Mountain League and looking forward to districts and states. We’re not holding anything back.”
That’s the way she’ll attack her collegiate career, too. She’s hitting the weights and learning new positions — even catcher —to be prepared at St. Francis.
“No spot is guaranteed,” Burge said. “I don’t where they are going to throw me at college. I’m going to be prepare myself to play anywhere, so wherever they need me I will be ready.”