Coming into this season, Katy ace Alyssa LeBlanc was a mercurial talent.
Others—coaches, teammates, opposing teams—knew she was good. Very good, even. But did she? Coaches said if LeBlanc just committed herself a little more, worked a little bit harder … who knew what would happen?
The little circle in the middle of the softball infield could be hers to dominate whenever she wished.
So, while, yes, the Tigers’ offensive numbers this season are astronomical, unbelievable, unimaginable, preposterous, or whatever other adjective you choose to use, it’s been the substantial maturity of LeBlanc, now a senior and four-year varsity letterman, that has arguably been the biggest boon in pushing Katy over the hump and to the Class 6A state softball tournament this weekend in Austin.
LeBlanc’s growth did not have anything to do with her delivery, mechanics or pitches. There were never really issues there. There were hardly any doubts about her “stuff.”
It was all mental.
“It’s a huge difference between this year and any other year she’s been here,” coach Kalum Haack said. “She’s matured. She’s lost, probably, 20 pounds. She’s in great shape.
“You used to have to count her laps, because if you didn’t she’d cheat. Now she’ll run extra. She’s made her mind up to have a great senior year for her and her teammates, and that’s exactly what’s happening.”
LeBlanc has been absolutely terrific this year. The Texas A&M-Commerce signee is 20-1 with an 0.81 ERA, with 128 strikeouts to 38 walks in 130 innings. She allows an opponents’ batting average of .146.
“In a good way, she knows she’s good and she knows she can attack the zone,” said Cait Calland, LeBlanc’s catcher all four years at Katy. “She’s going in there, head to head, knowing she can beat that batter. As a team, that’s a huge deal to us.”
The Tigers, overall, have a solid, complete staff. Senior Chloe Cobb, the No. 2 pitcher, has a 1.96 ERA with 41 strikeouts to 16 walks and a .188 opponents’ batting average.
LeBlanc throws harder. Cobb has a bit more movement and drop on her pitches. It’s an ideal complement.
And it’s all mixed and matched by Calland, arguably the glue of the Tigers. Calland is so respected and trusted by coaches that she calls her own pitches during games. Calland and assistant coach Meghan Burrell, a former collegiate catcher who works closely with pitchers, have a significant bond, and all four—LeBlanc, Cobb, Calland and Burrell—are well-engrained with each other, having worked together the last four years.
“Cait brings out the best in pitchers,” Haack said. “She doesn’t let them be sloppy when they’re in the bullpen throwing. She holds them accountable. She knows if she lets them take a batter off or mess around in the bullpen, then it’s going to affect everybody.”
There were times prior to this year that everyone but LeBlanc understood how good she was. LeBlanc would get frustrated at the slightest hint of adversity and wore down late during games because of what Haack considered subpar conditioning.
But it all turned around this season. What the Tigers are getting from LeBlanc is the culmination of experience and a sense of urgency in not allowing an opportunity at a state championship to pass.
Now LeBlanc runs a mile before practices and 2-3 miles after them. It’s hard-pressed to find a Tiger who works harder. LeBlanc has put in the time to develop her rise ball. Otherwise, Calland said, LeBlanc’s best pitch “depends on the day.”
LeBlanc credits it all to everything simply coming together. She said her and Calland are a lot closer this season than they have been. She knows she has support with Calland and a defense that has erred just 39 times in 37 games and has a .954 fielding percentage.
All of that means the world to LeBlanc. She loves the notion of working hard for her teammates, because she knows they will work hard for her.
“My mentality is different,” LeBlanc said. “I know I have to carry my team on my back, because I know they’ve got my back when I’m out there. When I’m out there, I’m just throwing my all.”
LeBlanc is free to just pitch. Calland tells her the pitch, and LeBlanc delivers. That comes from trust built over the years between the Tigers’ battery.
Calland, an LSU signee, is good at reading the energy of the team, and when it is and isn’t playing to its potential. She knows she’s an encouraging reminder away from boosting team morale when need be.
“The responsibility is the reason I became a catcher,” Calland said. “I love being the one to put my team in front of me. I love looking out at them when something we’ve worked so hard on pays off. I love the leadership aspect. It’s everything to me.”
For LeBlanc and company, it's been a perfect storm of everything, indeed.