It’s not a stretch to say that the best decision of Lexi King’s life occurred after her freshman year.
King played well for Johnston City, helping the Indians reach the final of their Class 2A regional before losing to a good Carmi-White County team. But she wanted to be closer to her mother, who was the principal at Goreville Grade School.
“We thought this would be a better fit for me,” King said on Tuesday.
King and her mom thought correctly, judging from the last three seasons. Transferring to Goreville, King helped the Blackcats win two Class 1A championships and come within a win of three straight state titles.
This year’s state crown came with an extra bonus – King’s second Southern Illinoisan Player of the Year honor. This one came in one of the best seasons for softball in the area in years.
At least seven Division I signees called the area home, and multiple underclass players have committed to or are expected to commit to Division I schools in years to come.
Just from this year’s senior class, King had to beat out the Harrisburg duo of Karsyn Davis and Madeline Rider, as well as Marion’s Keira Hance and Centralia pitcher Raegan Branon. All are headed for Division I programs.
King’s numbers made her the queen of this class. The SIUE-bound star batted .530 with eight homers and 52 RBIs, scoring a whopping 58 runs in 40 games and collecting 70 hits. Nearly half those hits went for extra bases, including 24 doubles and two triples.
Even for the best pitchers, it was nearly impossible to get King out. She can hit the ball over your head or beat out a 15-foot dribbler. King could lace an extra-base hit to the opposite field or turn on a pitch and rifle it over the right field fence.
“There’s an air about her,” Goreville coach Shanna Green said of King. “Players just step up and play at her level. She’s just a different type of athlete. They’re few and far between.”
“She’s a great player and a great competitor,” Elverado pitcher Allie Whittington said of King. “You can see that in everything she does.”
For good measure, she also went 8-6 in the circle with an earned run average of just over 2.00, whiffing 103 batters in 88 2/3 innings. King worked a complete game two-hitter June 1 in Goreville’s 4-2 state title victory over Illini Bluffs, fanning five and allowing only one earned run.
In King’s mind, the most meaningful thing about that win was how it happened. Down 2-0 after 5 ½ innings, the Blackcats suddenly lashed together a four-run outburst. Naturally, King played the role of igniter with a one-out single.
“Everything happens for a reason,” she said. “Getting down just gave us more motivation to work and grit down. We got some hits and strung them together. When you’re down and you come back as a team, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
The genesis for that victory may have been born a year earlier. Goreville lost in the state championship game against Windsor-Stewardson-Strasburg 8-5. King was touched for five runs, three unearned, over two innings and absorbed the loss.
For a fierce competitor like King, this was not easy to swallow.
“We expected to win and wanted to win,” she said. “Losing that game was tough for us. When we went back this year, we didn’t just want to go, we wanted to win. We knew what second place felt like.”
Getting dramatic redemption last month rounded out one of the best high school careers in Southern Illinois history. In addition to her accomplishments in softball, King scored more than 1,000 points in basketball and helped the Blackcats notch a pair of regional titles, as well as a 2017 sectional crown.
But her lasting legacy was left on softball diamonds from Goreville to Campbell Hill to East Peoria. As the fifth player to win multiple Player of the Year honors in the area, King did so while beating the best teams from multiple classes against the Blackcats’ traditionally hard schedule.
It’s that kind of preparation that she believes will serve her well when she heads for SIU Edwardsville in August.
“Almost every school we play, there’s athletes who are either going to Division I or to other colleges,” she said. “The competition in Southern Illinois is awesome. I think it’s really prepared me to play in college.”