The Section 7A title game June 10 didn’t start how Proctor pitcher Maddy Walsh envisioned it.
Greenway catcher Abby Gustason hit a two-run double in the bottom of the first inning to spark a 4-run rally for the Raiders.
Greenway looked to run away with the game, but instead Maddy gathered herself and held her opponents in check for much of the remainder of the game. Proctor fell to the Raiders 7-4, but the sophomore’s resilience in the pitcher’s circle was impressive.
“Maddy’s tough as nails, she doesn’t have a part of her that’s going to give in — she’ll fight to the last inning like what happened today,” Rails’ coach Bud Joyce said after the game. “I didn’t doubt that she’d find it. Sometimes that happens to a pitcher...there’s times you go through a tough inning and you just have to figure it out. Eventually she did and we got back in the game.”
When she labors in the circle, Maddy tries to take a moment to gather herself before making another pitch.
“When I’m struggling, I stop myself and I think what am I doing wrong and what can I do to fix it,” Maddy said. “Whether it’s making little corrections with the way I’m pitching or where I need to place my pitches, I just need to take a breath and just think, ‘Alright, you’ve got this. Just correct yourself and go from there.’”
Maddy pitched all but one inning for Proctor this season, compiling a 24-3 record, a 1.01 ERA and she struck out 257 batters. She also batted .326 with 26 RBIs, 12 doubles, three triples and seven home runs.
Some of her biggest hits came at just the right time. Maddy hit game-tying home runs with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning against Greenway and Cloquet this season.
She and junior outfielder Preslie Annala led the Rails to their first Lake Superior Conference title since 2002 and Maddy was named first team All-State, first team All-Lake Superior Conference and to the All-Section 7AA team.
And now she has been named the Duluth News Tribune’s All-Area Player of the Year.
Maddy started pitching in youth softball as a third-grader and kept at it, working with her dad, Pat Walsh, to get stronger and improve.
“I didn’t really expect it to go anywhere, but as I started getting older, I realized I have a shot with pitching and I was pretty good at it,” Maddy said. “So I started pitching in the offseason with my dad — he caught for me all winter long.”
By the time she was an eighth grader she was part of Proctor’s varsity pitching staff, winning seven games that season, according to Joyce.
Maddy was slated to be the Rails’ main starter as a freshman before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 spring season.
Maddy played summer and fall softball last year and spent several days a week throughout the fall and winter working with her dad, throwing between 100 and 200 pitches three times a week. During the summer, they practice in the Walshes’ back yard where Pat converted an old trampoline into a backstop. During the winter, Pat said they practiced anywhere they could find, open gyms, churches and even a racquetball court.
The work Maddy put in was apparent when practice started in the spring.
“In her eighth-grade year when she pitched varsity, she primarily just threw the ball hard,” Joyce said in an interview July 16. “Now she’s developed three or four pretty good pitches that move a lot — that’s a big difference in her growth the last year or two.”
Pat believes his daughter’s motivation comes from a commitment to break through and win the Section 7AA title and, more importantly, a distaste for losing.
“I don’t care if it’s playing bags in the backyard or what it is, she does not play to lose,” Pat said. “I think that attitude drives her to get better and strive to up her game so she doesn’t lose.”
Maddy gets a little sheepish when talking about her dislike of losing, but her dad has a point and maybe an influence.
“I’ve always been a competitive person and I probably get that from my dad,” she said. “But when I do lose, I take it to heart and I look back and I say, ‘Ok, what happened that we can go back and correct so that never happens again.”
Maddy’s teammates know about her will to win, but they also know her focus is on the game, making her teammates better and putting the Rails in a position to win, according to longtime catcher Baylie Peterson.
“She is very competitive, but there’s never been a day that I haven’t enjoyed playing with her,” Peterson said. “She helps everybody a lot, if anybody’s ever down, she’s always there to lift people up...Even if she does have a bad inning, she comes into the dugout and takes a couple deep breaths and gets herself back together. She always figures it out and she knows that everyone behind her has her back.”
Not only Maddy and her dad share a natural competitiveness, they have other common interests too.
Pat was a good baseball player at Duluth East in high school and played fastpitch softball for many years. He is also an avid bowhunter, another passion and skill he instilled in his daughter.
Maddy started using a bow to hunt when she was 7 years old, and she shot a 9-point buck when she was in fifth grade. She’s hunted turkey and other animals, too, and Maddy sees a connection with her skills as a hunter and a pitcher.
“When you’re bow hunting, you have to be relaxed and concentrate,” she said. “When I’m pitching out there it’s like the same thing. My dad always tells me when I’m bowhunting when I shoot to squeeze and freeze and when I’m pitching he tells me to follow through and aim with my glove. I’ve always thought of that as being the same.”
Maddy isn’t out just looking for the first animal she sees, she wants to get a “good one” and is willing to wait for the right one.
“Her goal is to make sure she shoots a good one and she’s ok with letting them walk by and not get one for the whole year,” Pat said.
When Maddy sets a goal for herself, she’s singularly focused on that goal, Pat said. When she was a seventh grader she told her dad she wanted to get her pitch speeds up to 65 mph, an elite level, before she graduates.
Currently, her pitches average approximately 60-62 mph, but Maddy is continuing to lift weights and practice to get stronger and get to that next level over the next two years in the hope of one day playing at the NCAA Division I level.
“It was the same thing with hunting as it was with softball,” Pat said. “One day she flipped me a glove and said, ‘Can we play catch,’ and that was it. The next time, I said, ‘Hey, do you want to learn how to shoot a bow,’ and that was it. She’s always been a kid where there’s nothing she can’t do ... Once she gets it in her head that she’s going to do it, she goes hard at it.”
This story was edited at 1:26 p.m. July 23 to correct the spelling of Walsh's first name in the headline. It was also updated at 8:54 a.m. July 30 to correct the last time Proctor won the Lake Superior Conference championship in softball. The story was originally posted at 10 a.m. July 23. The News Tribune regrets the errors.