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Jessyka MacDonald
Billings West pitcher Jessyka MacDonald earned the victory in 18 of the Golden Bears' 22 victories last season. MacDonald and the Bears begin defense of their State AA championship this weekend in Missoula.

Jessyka MacDonald is just continuing the family business.

Her mother, Christie, was a high school pitcher. Her grandfather, Ed Kriskovich, is a longtime softball player and Billings West coach who specializes in teaching pitching.

So MacDonald never really had a choice but to be a pitcher, did she?

"Umm, not really," the West senior said with a laugh, before getting to the facts. "I always wanted to be a pitcher, though.

"When I was little, I always did the pitching motion, going full circle. I would be anywhere, just walking into a store ... I was just having fun, being a little kid."

Fun for MacDonald then, but seeing her in the pitcher's circle now is serious business for opposing hitters.

Just look at her statistics from last season and let them sink in.

An 18-2 won-loss record. A 1.23 earned run average. Three no-hitters. If those numbers aren't impressive enough, how about 258 strikeouts to just 18 walks in 142 innings pitched? That's a 14-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

Those numbers -- as well as her .430 batting average -- were so good they earned MacDonald the state's Gatorade Player of the Year award last season as she helped the Golden Bears to their first Class AA softball title since 1989. And they're so good that MacDonald, who has also played shortstop and outfield, doesn't even want to think about trying to repeat them.

"I don't really know how it happened," she said when asked to explain last season's dominance. "I guess I just kind of got into a groove, and the season kind of worked out well for all of us.

"That was last year and I don't want to look back at that because that's a lot to live up to. But I do think I'm better this year. I think I've gotten stronger. I've been able to move my ball more, and as the season progresses, we'll all get better."

Kriskovich, who begins his 26th season at West, can pinpoint the main reasons for his granddaughter's success: Her ability to locate her pitches, and the movement she gets. And, it doesn't hurt that MacDonald can top out at nearly 60 miles per hour.

Kriskovich also said that because the pitching rubber has been moved back three feet from home plate -- from 40 feet to 43 feet -- MacDonald could be even more effective this season.

"That could be better for her, because her pitches move so much," Kriskovich said.

In just his third season as the coach at Billings Skyview, Michael Falcon joked that he's already tired of trying to gameplan against MacDonald.

"It seems like Jessyka's been here forever," Falcon deadpanned. "She does get a lot of spin and she gets a lot of movement on her curveball and her screwball. Her riseball is one of the best. Just her location and the spin she gets is what sets her apart from everybody else. Jessyka's by herself, I think."

In her way of thinking, though, MacDonald is a far from being by herself. When asked about her tremendous season, MacDonald, who has yet to settle on a college to continue her playing days, consistently brings up the contributions of her teammates, and in particular, catcher Kim Adelblue.

"I rely on my people behind me and my catcher more than they probably know," she said. "If I don't have them, then I can't pitch well. I wouldn't have the confidence I should have without them behind me. So it has a lot to do with them, and I give them a lot of credit, because without them, I'm really nothing."

That may be. But those numbers are really something.

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