Two months ago when we released the 2021 Extra Elite 100, one of those who made the list was outfielder Darien McDonough, a speedy left-handed slapper on the Rhode Island Thunder 18U coached by Dave Lotti.
Darien is from La Salle Academy High in Lincoln, Rhode Island and a year ago helped her high school team to its first state title in a decade as she hit .530 and had 26 RBIs in 23 games. In September of last year, the junior committed to Boston College.
The day we published Darien’s bio, we ran a photo of her sliding into second base:
A few weeks ago, we got an email from the standout athlete expressing her gratitude for making the Extra Elite 100 and we were impressed with her passion and love for the game:
"I wanted to say thank you again for including me in the list of 2021 top players and #23 top outfielder. It is such an honor and I am so excited as is my family. I love that you posted my photo and am having it framed. I have worked very hard for the last 6 years, multiple hours a week, to continue to improve in my sport and in my knowledge of the game. I also give lessons in my spare time. Just love the sport! I am looking forward to my high school season and my summer season with RI Thunder Lotti. Thank you so much again I really love Extra Inning Softball!"
We wrote back to Darien asking her to share her thoughts on what softball means to her, where it has taken her in her life and why exactly she loves it… here are her responses…
On how she got into softball…
I started playing baseball when I was five years old as part of my town’s Little League program.
Everything changed for me when I tried out for a new travel ball club that was very successful in our area called the Northeast Nightmare (which later merged with RI Thunder).
I ended up making their 10U club as an 8-year-old. I was more of a role player but that was my first exposure to high-level softball. I have played for some truly amazing coaches over the years, I can’t believe I just have two summers left for club softball.
On highlights of her playing career…
The postseason run we had my sophomore year playing for La Salle Academy was one of the best experiences of my life. We won the state championship, bringing the trophy back to the “A” (Academy) for the first time in 11 years.
We came from behind in every game that we won in the postseason, including the state championship game. I still get the chills thinking about it and watching the videos. I ended up hitting three home runs in the five postseason games.
Those memories will last a lifetime!
This past summer for RI Thunder Gold - Lotti was a highlight in its own, but our run in Boulder, Colorado was one of the best runs we’ve had since I’ve been on the team. On Saturday night, we played three games one after the other to avoid elimination.
I was fortunate to hit well highlighted by a three-run home run under the lights—there is no better feeling than rounding the bases, heading home with your entire team waiting for you. We ended up losing the third game, which ended at 12:30 am. I remember being so upset and so mad that even though it was 12:30 in the morning, I was ready to play three more games.
On what she’s learned about the sport…
I have learned that softball is not just about how far you can hit the ball and how fast you pitch… it is so much more than that. My coaches have preached two things to my teammates and I over and over again during my three years playing on this team.
I learned that if you are not mentally tough, it is impossible for you to be successful at the highest level. The five-hour practices twice a weekend and playing games-on-games in the summer is a grind. Physically, it is exhausting. But if you are not mentally tough, or at least in a good mental state, the game that’s hard becomes extremely hard.
The biggest things I try to remember when I am not feeling my best mentally, or I’m in my own head, is to only put my energy into the things I can control. More importantly, not to worry about those things I cannot control; things like the weather or the ump’s strike zone are just examples of things that we cannot change no matter what we do. But our attitude and how we treat our teammates are very much in our control.
The biggest thing I learned is that no matter how many hours of blood, sweat and tears you put into the sport, it owes you nothing. I am forever indebted to this sport and how much it has given me. Yes, I have sacrificed a lot for this game, but what I have put in is nowhere near what I have gotten out.
On the challenges she’s faced…
It is hard going through adversity. Everybody goes through it. Softball is a game of failure; failing six times out of 10 at the plate is really good. Spending so much time on a sport to then have things not go your way can be heartbreaking. It can sometimes be easy to self-pity, but that is the worst way to respond.
My freshman year I had earned a starting spot in right field and played there consistently in the fall, but when summer rolled around, it was a whole new ball game and someone ended up beating me out for it halfway through.
It was definitely a tough experience because I obviously wanted to play, but it showed me that someone is always out to take my spot, just as I spent the rest of the summer trying to take it back. I tried to make the most of the little things, like being the most competitive even during warmups. Whether it was going all out for fly balls, or hitting it the hardest off the tee, and most importantly being the loudest one in the dugout.
At the end of July, I was sitting in a hotel room having my exit meeting with my coaches. They told me I had to do two things in order to get on the field come my sophomore season: learn how to play first base and learn how to hit away for power as opposed to mainly relying on slapping. In the moment that sounded like a lot of changes to be made in two short months, but I was so ready to do whatever it took to get a starting spot.
The fall of my sophomore year was very challenging because basically every part of my game was being changed drastically in just a couple months.
Playing the infield is not something I ever saw myself doing, especially at the highest level of travel ball. It was definitely a crazy change of pace - I just love being on the field... I don’t care where I play.
The changes ended up paying off; it forced me to move outside my comfort zone, training harder than ever, finding ways to get stronger. That summer of my sophomore year, I finished second on the team in RBIs. I am thankful that I had the experience because it has pushed me into becoming a better player and it will be what pushes me to get on the field in college.
On when she realized she was good at softball…
I realized I had the chance to do something special with this sport at the same time I realized I liked it so much.
I had realized I had a shot at being good at softball when I played two years above my age starting in 10U and I was not overmatched. This year as a junior is the first season I have played and been on the older side of the players.
As a kid it was not hard for me to put in the extra hours or go early and stay late at practice to get extra reps. Of course, there were/are days where I didn’t feel like going to the cages or going to the gym. I can thank my Dad for always being there to give me that extra push I occasionally needed. He has been my best bud throughout my softball career and I can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done for me.
I was always watching softball. I’d look up old games on YouTube or watch highlights from games. I watched so much softball on YouTube I’d run out of games and started to watch the same ones again. I realized I had a passion for the game starting at a young age.
Then, in 12U, I broke two of my fingers on my right hand in a middle school game. I was in a bright yellow cast keeping the book for one of my Thunder games. We only had nine players to start the day and then one inning later we were down to eight.
Rather than give up an out, I asked the coaches to put me in. I ended up going 5-for-8 on the day hitting with one hand. That day was when it became very clear that softball was going to be a big part of my life.
On her recruiting process…
Being from the Northeast, specifically Rhode Island, I knew I was already at a disadvantage over the kids down in the South and out in the West just because of where I live. Being in a part of the country that can only play outside six months of the year, I knew I had to work harder than everyone else if I wanted looks from the big-time schools.
If I am being completely honest, I was pretty clueless about where I wanted to go. I went into the process keeping a very open mind because of this. The fact that I didn't really have any specific school I was targeting made me a little worried that I would never find the one school for me.
Ironically, I only went to a couple camps before I verballed. I had not put a lot of focus on attending many camps because of two things: Coach Dave (Lotti) makes sure we play in the top tournaments with tons of exposure and because I knew they were changing the recruiting rule during the spring of my freshman year.
*** Scroll down to read more of Darien’s insights on softball and her career…