**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Allen Sharpe**
Coming into her freshman season at South Carolina, Mackenzie Boesel's goal was to try and secure a starting spot. That's it. However, that's already a pretty lofty goal for a first-year player at an SEC program.
The freshman proceeded to not only secure a starting spot at second base, she won the triple crown of the 2017 season for South Carolina. Boesel's .341 batting average was 22 points better than the next best, and her 10 home runs and 41 RBI were tops on the team. She also led the Gamecocks in runs, hits, triples, total bases, slugging percentage and on-base percentage.
Just a starting spot, huh?
"I did," Boesel answered when asked if she blew her expectations out of the water. "I always have high expectations for myself, but I've never really been a home run hitter so I was surprised with how many I ended up having."
To compare, Boesel had 18 home runs in her four years at Orange Lutheran High in California. Rated a top-10 prospect coming out of high school, Boesel could've gone pretty much anywhere she wanted. However, when the Gamecocks started recruiting her during the middle of her freshman year, they quickly rose to the top of her list.
She committed to South Carolina during the summer prior to her sophomore season at Orange Lutheran, spurning offers from schools like Stanford, Northwestern and Florida.
"The coaches really provide a big family atmosphere, which was important to me because I was going so far away from home," Boesel said of South Carolina. "Also playing in the best conference, the SEC. There's always great competition and the school is beautiful. I was so amazed by the school touring it and stuff and they have great academics. It was just everything that I wanted in a school."
Boesel started right from the start and showed what was to come in the season opener against Ohio. She reached base 3-of-4 times (fourth at-bat was a sacrifice fly RBI), including two hits and a run. Boesel kept up the pace and didn't slow down when the SEC season rolled around. For a lot of freshmen, there is usually a bump in the road during the first year. It's a long season, and it's hard for such a young player to stay mentally engaged for so long. That wasn't the case for Boesel. She kept on plugging along.
Boesel credits her older teammates for helping her quickly adjust to the college game. Her own maturity helped as well.
"I think the leadership on the team really helped me because it kept me confident and calm in situations where normally I would feel like I'd get nervous," Boesel said. "They really helped me calm my nerves and (take) one pitch at a time and don't worry about anything else looking ahead."
By the end of the year, Boesel was unquestionably South Carolina's best offensive player. The Gamecocks clinched their fifth-straight NCAA Tournament bid and were sent out to Tucson, Arizona for the NCAA Regional. In the opening game against St. Francis, Boesel launched a grand slam and three-run homer and finished with eight RBI in the 12-2 victory. She finished 3-for-3, and the two homers and eight RBI both tied program records.
That historic performance was made even more special by the fact that Boesel had her entire family make the short trip over from California to watch her play.
"It's special just to be able to go to a regional and be able to perform in front of my family," Boesel said. "That was special in itself, and to be able to do as well as I did was a really great experience for me."
Boesel didn't become one of the best players in the SEC her freshman year by not working hard. She's also smart enough to know that she can't sit back this summer under the notion that she's already done enough to maintain the success.
Everyone in the SEC has seen her play for a full year, and she's not going to surprise anyone next season as a sophomore.
"Everyone in the SEC has your scouting report on what you hit best, what you hit home runs on, what your weaknesses are, what you strike out on, so really you have to figure out your weaknesses and work on them to turn them into strengths," Boesel said. "That will be my focus over the summer."
As Boesel mentioned, one of the biggest reasons she made the cross country trip to join South Carolina was the relationships she built with the coaching staff. Head coach Beverly Smith was instrumental in Boesel having the kind of impact she did right off the bat.
"She's a great coach," Boesel said. "She really teaches us not only to be a better softball player, but also to be a better person in life. She gives us real life application for when we're done with softball. How to approach being interviewed in a job or just being a great person outside of softball, which is really cool."
Gamecock fans everywhere are excited to see what Boesel can do for an encore next season. South Carolina will lose two stud pitchers in Jessica Elliott and Nickie Blue, but do return a lot on the offensive side of things.
Smith and the Gamecocks have made the NCAA Tournament for five consecutive seasons, but have yet to advance into the Super Regional round. Boesel hopes to help change that next year.