During the previous three years, a feeling of selfishness consumed Alyssa LeBlanc every time she glanced at the black and red 2015 state championship banner that draped the Katy High softball field’s outfield fence.
One of the greatest players in program history yearned so badly for a state title banner for her and her teammates—particularly, the four other seniors that had started alongside LeBlanc as freshmen on varsity in 2016: Tori Whillock, Chloe Cobb, Cait Calland and Amy Hitt.
The Tigers had been so close the last three years, teasingly close, with heartbreaking finishes in the regional finals each season.
But last weekend, a dream was introduced to reality, and as shortstop Chloe Woodward threw to first baseman Cobb for a prototypical 6-3 groundout in the top of the seventh inning on June 1 that codified an 8-2 Class 6A state championship win for Katy over Klein Collins, LeBlanc could only think back to that fence.
“It’s a great feeling,” said the senior ace/slugger, who was named the Most Valuable Player of the championship game after allowing two earned runs on six hits while striking out seven and going 2-for-3 with an RBI at the plate. “We’ve been looking at that banner the last few years and never made it that far. Now that we have, we’ll have our own banner to come back to and look at. That’s a pretty cool feeling to have that.”
Legacy induces feelings of all kinds and from all places, and the Tigers now own that sense of completion after earning their second state title in five years, winning 37 of 39 games this season, and outscoring opponents 268-48.
Those flameouts in the regional finals each of the last three years? Lessons learned.
“The last three years, especially for us seniors, have sucked so bad!” Cobb gushed. “I’m sorry, but they have. Losing in the fifth round three years straight is not easy. Finally getting here, making it here … I wouldn’t want to go out any other way.”
Although, Whillock said through a giddy mix of laughs and smiles …
“I feel like we should’ve done this the first three years, because it feels so good!” the senior outfielder/leadoff hitter remarked. “But to do this with this senior class, and these girls, it just makes it more memorable. It makes it more awesome. All our hard work, the bear crawls, the miles … it paid off.”
These 2019 Katy Tigers had it all.
Toughness? Check. The Tigers’ offseason and in-season practices and strength and conditioning regimen are no joke. There are few more accomplished and intense leaders than head coach Kalum Haack and assistants Meghan Burrell and Judy Whillock, and their expectations and standards are not for the weak of heart or mind.
Smarts? Check. On the game’s biggest stage, the Tigers won state with heady, quick-thinking baserunning and high softball IQ. They are not just physically talented, with seven of eight seniors signed on to continue their athletic careers in college, including Cobb and Whillock at Texas Tech and Calland at LSU. They can think the game. Ask Keller and Klein Collins, the No. 1 and No. 2 state-ranked teams, respectively, that Katy conquered with wit and grit at state in Austin.
Competitiveness? Check. The Tigers were resilient this season, able to win games in a variety of ways, and the seniors never allowed another player to disrespect the culture that had been established.
“Determination,” Haack said when asked what he thought about this senior class’ legacy. “They were determined to see this to the end. There are times this season they could’ve buckled down, said it wasn’t meant to be. But this senior class did a great job holding each other accountable and making sure everybody was working. This is the result.”
In the state tournament, the seniors rose to the occasion, hungry to take charge of their own destiny. They owned the moments.
Calland, LeBlanc, Whillock and Hitt were named to the UIL’s Class 6A all-tournament team, chosen by the Texas Girls Coaches Association. (Freshman Kailey Wyckoff was also named to the team, and with her, Sydney Blakeman and Olivia McFadden returning, Katy will have plenty left on deck next season).
Calland had two RBIs and scored two runs in the state tournament. LeBlanc went 4-for-5 with an RBI and a walk to go along with her dominance in the circle (14 strikeouts and 10 hits allowed in 14 innings, including a shutout in the state semifinal).
“She’s awesome,” Cobb said in praising LeBlanc. “She worked her butt off. Freshman year to senior year, she’s a totally different person. I’m so excited for her, so happy for her. No one deserves (success) more than her.”
Whillock, the engine of a rabid offensive attack, scored three runs and stole three bases. Hitt had eight putouts and three assists with no errors in playing a solid defensive second base.
Cobb had an RBI and two sacrifice hits in the final. Woodward, a senior, had an RBI, and senior utility specialist Jacquie Kissamis scored a run in the state final to go with a patient, clutch at-bat in the bottom of the sixth inning in the state semifinal against Keller, smartly taking a pitch that was a ball and set up just enough on the outside of the plate to allow a perfectly-executed double-steal as Calland took home for the game-winning run.
Then there were players like senior Shannon Flowers. On a team jacked with elite talent, Flowers did not play during the state tournament, but had solid moments during the regular season. Flowers’ influence on team chemistry was considerable, and it was unfailing team chemistry that ultimately drove the 2019 Tigers, players and coaches attested.
“These eight will go down in the Katy history books as an unbelievable group,” Haack said of his seniors. “They’re so fun to coach, so fun to be around. They love each other, they’re great leaders, they’re great women. They’ll all be successful at whatever they choose to do because they’re that type of person. It’s been fun to just be a little bit a part of it.”
Calland said this team will be remembered for its hard work. The extra hours outside of practice spent in the batting cages and running extra miles did not go unrewarded.
“We decided at the beginning of the year that we weren’t going to let anybody outwork us,” Calland said. “As a team, that paid off in the end. That’s our legacy.”
That work ethic birthed a fiery faith within the Tigers. And with that faith, no moment was ever too big for Katy.
As Hitt said when asked about her clutch home run that tilted momentum in Katy’s favor during the regional final-clinching win late last month: “In those moments, the ‘we’ becomes bigger than the ‘me.’”
“We couldn’t make the game bigger than what it is, and that really helped,” Cobb said. “It calmed us. Just playing the game and within ourselves was big, so big for us to do.”
Haack does not dispute his team’s commitment. He praised it time and time again this season. But the veteran coach of 23 years at Katy High said what he will remember most will be his team’s unselfishness.
That was never more evident than in the state championship game, when Katy put on a small ball clinic with precise bunting, smart squeezing and a genuine joy for watching teammates succeed.
When a team has talented players who don’t care what their stats look like, the result can be, well, its own state championship banner.
“This is, by far, the most talented team we had,” Haack said. “The 2015 championship team, we had talent, but we had a couple people that put everybody on their back and carried us. This group, everybody stepped up and did something. Whether it’s the No. 9 hitter getting a squeeze bunt in to score a run or your LSU-signee catcher putting a squeeze on. They’ve been unselfish of what’s asked of them, and when you play that way the dividends pay off.”
In meaningful ways. At Katy, that means another state title.
“Anytime Katy Nation wins something, it’s really, really big,” Haack said. “It doesn’t matter what sport it’s in. This is indescribable. I’m just really blessed we had a shot to do this again.”