When it comes to setting the tone, McKenzie Steiner is a natural.
As one of the top pitcher-hitter combo players in the state, the Lincoln Southwest senior can throw some early strikes, helping the defense settle in.
Steiner is also the Silver Hawks' lead-off hitter. It's her job to get on base, which she has done at a .500 clip this season, for Southwest's heart of the order.
But it's not only on the softball field where Steiner has a knack for finding a rhythm.
She's also a talented musician.
When Steiner is not spinning pitches, or in school, she likely can be found playing music with the McKenzie JaLynn Band. It's a country-based band with a little rock influence, Steiner says. Among her favorite bands is Fleetwood Mac.
"I saw her play (sing) in Lincoln in eighth grade, and she has developed tremendously," Southwest coach Mark Watt said. "I’m certainly no expert in the music field, but I feel like she has a lot of potential."
The start of Steiner's music career is fittingly linked to softball. When Steiner was little, her older sister played travel ball.
"We’d go on trips out of state for softball tournaments and nationals and I would always just sing along to the radio in the car," Steiner said. "My parents, it always shocked them, I guess, to hear my voice and they said it amazed them how well I could remember lyrics."
By age 8, Steiner was taking part in karaoke competitions. By 11, she started the McKenzie JaLynn Band. By 15, her band — which currently includes Eric Toombs on drums, Evert Claesson on bass and Ben Curran on lead guitar — recorded its first album in Nashville.
It was a big breakthrough for the group (Not many 15-year-olds get an opportunity of this magnitude). The band got to produce the album with Grammy Award-nominated producer Kent Wells, who had done work with artists like Dolly Parton.
"We learned a lot of stuff, but I think it was cool just to be accepted," Steiner said. "It was just the little things. I remember being in studio and laying my vocals down and (Wells) would just tell me the slightest things that would help tremendously. All the little things added to up to make our album."
Steiner's had a couple opportunities to audition for 'The Voice,' the hit NBC show (which she had to turn down because of softball and school obligations), and she has lend her vocals to the National Anthem before some softball games.
Steiner's band also tours a lot. They've played in eight states, including Colorado and Utah. They've opened for such acts as John Michael Montgomery, Little Texas, Rodney Atkins and the Kentucky Headhunters.
Last August, the McKenzie JaLynn Band played at a VIP party before the Sugarland show at the Nebraska State Fair. It meant missing a Silver Hawk softball game, but it's the only game she has missed in four years at Southwest.
"They’ve (Steiner's family) done a great job over four years of making sure that she’s at almost practice and every game," Watt said. "It (State Fair show) was too much of an opportunity for her not to miss. She sacrifices with her career to make sure she is a good teammate."
Steiner's focus this week is softball. The Silver Hawks (33-4) are preparing for the Class A state tournament, which begins Wednesday in Hastings.
Because of Steiner's music commitments, she does not play club softball. But the multi-sport athlete made sure to carve out time for one or two sessions per week at the school, working with Watt to keep her softball skills sharp during the summer
"My main focus was to make sure she can pitch because that’s a huge role for us," Watt said. "But almost every time that she’d pitch, she’d stay an extra half hour or 45 minutes to hit, too."
Steiner, along with junior Brin Swanson, has provided the Silver Hawks with a steady hand in the circle. She's 17-2 with a 1.60 earned-run average this season. Watt said his pitchers have benefited from former Omaha Skutt and Husker standout Kaylan Jablonski, who is a volunteer coach this fall.
As for her two passions, Steiner said they help each other.
"I think there’s definitely some skills that can be applied to both," she said. "One of those is just being able to work well as a team member. I’ve always liked being part of a team, and even though some people look past it, being in a band is being part of a team because everyone has a role and they all have to find a way to come together to make things sound good."