Wooten learns to ‘shut the door’ for UVa softball team

Published 7:14 pm Tuesday, May 10, 2022

By Barbara Boxleitner

Contributing writer

Mackenzie Wooten has found her happy place as a University of Virginia pitcher.

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A standout starting pitcher at Isle of Wight Academy, the junior has been primarily a reliever for the Cavaliers, save for two starts her freshman season and one this year.

She has thrived this season as a reliever.

“Mackenzie has really grown her last couple of years,” Virginia head softball coach Joanna Hardin said. “She’s really, really matured.”

In 16 appearances as of late April, the 5-foot-8 right-hander had been dominant. A pitcher only, she had a 2-0 record, one save and 2.00 earned run average.

Her outings ranged from facing two batters in a February loss to four and two-thirds innings in an April defeat.

“The game is really close, maybe something big is happening that inning,” said Wooten, the daughter of Charlie and Michelle Wooten of Windsor. “I’ve been in those big moments for three years now.”

“Starting, you have the whole game ahead of you. Relieving, the game is in its rhythm. You’ve seen what they’ve (hitters) done before,” she said. “Stop the bleeding, hit your spots, don’t get behind in the count and shut the door.”

She stayed on campus last summer and practiced with a handful of teammates, trying to improve on her 1-2 record, one save and 5.35 ERA in a career-high 22 relief appearances during the 2021 season.

“It was very beneficial,” she said. “I could throw to a catcher. I could throw live to teammates.”

A new pitch also had made a difference. She developed a drop ball with the guidance of Mike Roberts, first-year associate head coach and pitching coach, and watched videos to master the delivery.

“He helped with the spin efficiency of it,” she said.

The drop and changeup have become go-to pitches for someone who said she threw mostly fastballs and changeups her first year.

Among the Cavaliers who threw at least 26 innings, she had the fewest strikeouts: 13 in 28 innings. But she has helped herself by locating her pitches and getting ahead in the count.

“Her changeup has gotten more consistent. We’re working on getting a little more consistent with the changeup,” Hardin said. “Mixing speeds is really helpful for her.”

“She throws strikes and attacks the zone,” the coach said. “She throws down in the zone. They induce a lot of ground balls.”

Wooten did not allow an earned run in 10 of her outings and allowed just one earned run in four appearances. She earned her first win by scattering three hits in a scoreless three and two-thirds innings, her second longest outing.

Her toughest outing actually came April 14, when she allowed three hits and two earned runs in one-third of an inning.

“We always watch film afterward and track our pitches,” she said. “It’s definitely when I get ahead in the count, that’s when I’m most successful.”

“I really get hit hard if my balls are up in the zone. Belt high would be too high,” she said. “If I’m missing and I’m having a really off day, they’ll be high.”

She has two years of playing eligibility remaining after this season.