Mackenzie Bender had the performance of a lifetime on July 2.
At the bantam A softball provincials last weekend in Leduc, playing for the St. Albert Angels, the 16-year-old pitcher not only threw a perfect game, which is an amazing feat in itself, but she also came in to pinch-hit in the seventh inning and hit a grand slam against the Calgary Diamond Devils.
“The feeling was indescribable,” said Bender, who is entering Grade 11 at Paul Kane High School.
A perfect game, even better than a no-hitter, means no batters reached base at all, including reaching on an error, being hit by a pitch or a walk. To put things in perspective, there have been 267 no-hitters in Major League Baseball in the last 110 years. As for perfect games, there have been a total of 20.
Her coach, Chuck McNutt, gave credit to his pitcher for the amazing performance and said he’d never seen anything like it before, but also knew Bender would be quick to deflect a lot of the kudos to her teammates.
“My catcher called the perfect game,” Bender said. “I couldn’t have done it without her. Her name is Annie Gogich. With the help of my fielders also, I was able to achieve this because they got a couple of outs that I couldn’t make, so that helped a lot too. It just all seemed to fall into place.”
Adding to the impressive nature of her feat, the Calgary squad only managed to make contact on three balls. One came on a bunt that Bender came in to field herself. Two others came on putouts from the team’s shortstop and another from the second baseman.
Kaitlyn Spracklin put the Angels up 3-0 in the third inning with a home run that brought in Gogich and Amanda Dunnigan. Later in the seventh inning, after Bender’s grand slam, Janelle Collins and Shelbi Roy, both of St. Paul, came in to score to put the Angels up 7-0.
St. Albert went 2-1 in the round robin and won the 1 vs. 2 game to earn a bye to the provincial championship game. The Angels lost the game to the Calgary Rockies 6-5 but will still advance to nationals for finishing second in Alberta. The national championship tournament is in Victoria, B.C., July 31 to Aug. 4.
In the final, the Angels were leading 4-2 heading into the seventh inning when a thunderstorm rolled in. The umpires didn’t call for a rain delay right away and in the meantime the Angels’ defence had a hard time with the wind. The Rockies loaded the bases and hit a two-RBI double to tie things up. Once things got going after a delay, Calgary scored another two runs to go up 6-4.
“I was a little bit responsible, because I hit a batter and walked a batter in the rain, and then I threw a couple of passed balls in the last inning, where they got their two runs,” Bender said.
St. Albert managed to score one run in the seventh inning, but it wasn’t enough as they fell 6-5.
Bantam is the youngest level where there is a national tournament held for girls’ softball and it will be the first time for the second-year Bender to show her stuff on a national stage.
Last year, her team earned a trip to the western Canadian championship tournament where they finished fifth, but Bender is expecting big things this time around.
“I think our team this year is just amazing and that we will do really well if we just focus, concentrate and play our game,” she said. “We’ve had an amazing strong year. We’re actually in the women’s league [in Edmonton] and I’ve heard that we’re tied for second place there. We’re playing women who could ultimately be, like, our moms.”