For the Katy Tigers, all it can take is one swing.
Take last Thursday’s Game 2 Class 6A Region III final, for instance. Katy, leading the best-of-three series 1-0, trailed Deer Park 2-1 going into the fifth inning. The Tigers’ bottom of the lineup was up.
Traditional thinking suggests Katy wouldn’t have the opportunity to make some real traction until the top of the lineup reared its head; by the way Deer Park had been pitching, that might not take place until the next inning.
The Tigers, however, are not a traditional team.
Amy Hitt, the No. 7 hitter, led off the fifth with a home run. Tied game, 2-2. Four innings of work demeaned by one Hitt hack.
Chloe Woodward flew out to center field. Sydney Blakeman, Tori Whillock and Kailey Wyckoff all singled. Chloe Cobb knocked in a two-run single before Cait Calland hit into a fielder’s choice.
Two outs, 4-2 game. Perhaps Deer Park could escape significant trouble and avoid a disastrous frame.
Up stepped Alyssa LeBlanc, who slammed a pitch to deep right center for a three-run homer that officially broke the game open.
By the time Katy rallied to wrap up a 12-3 win to book its trip to this weekend’s Class 6A state softball tournament in Austin, the Tigers had homered three times in Game 2, and six times in the series overall.
For the season, Katy has slugged a program-best 50 home runs in 37 games. In nine playoff games, the Tigers have homered 17 times.
“We’ve never even come close to that,” coach Kalum Haack said of the home run numbers. “Not even close.”
Cobb and Olivia McFadden lead the Tigers with 11 homers each. LeBlanc has nine. Jacquie Kissamis, a utility player who comes off the bench almost as often as she starts, has six. Hitt has five, Wyckoff, a freshman, has four, and Calland and Blakeman have two apiece.
In all, eight Tigers have hit a home run this season.
“Our whole lineup, we have power,” Cobb said. “It really does boost our confidence and we’re a lot more comfortable going into each and every game. We know anyone can get it done. Anybody can hit. Home runs are a huge momentum shift.”
Coach Kalum Haack said his players don’t go up to bat looking to hit a home run. But his Tigers boast physical strength, impressive bat speed and eat up mistake pitches.
During last week’s regional final sweep of Deer Park, almost half of Katy’s total runs in the series (11 of 23) came via the long ball.
“It’s tough pitching when you have a team that has that capability,” Haack said.
There are different ways to go about it.
LeBlanc looks for the outside pitch. “I’ve been mashing on those, and I look for that pitch and drive it,” she said.
Cobb prefers inside pitches. But it comes with a process.
“No. 1, don’t go up expecting to hit a home run,” she said. “But, especially when I’m doing bad, I just want to hit it so bad over the fence.
“Don’t press. We’ve had moments where we’ve pressed a little bit and it doesn’t work out in our favor. Just be comfortable and don’t overthink.”
McFadden tries not to swing at any balls and wants a first-pitch strike she knows she can hit well.
“See ball, hit ball,” the precocious underclassman said. “At that point, technique doesn’t matter. If you have good timing … you can have a one-dollar swing, but if your timing is great, you can still launch it over the fence.”
Haack credits a mature group of seniors that has bought into the team’s hitting culture. His team is also gifted with elite talent; six players signed on to continue their careers in college.
But Haack, too, is honest. He said his team has seen “good pitching, but not great pitching.” That has been a factor as well.
He said the Tigers will see great pitching at state. Still, even then, it’s nice to have the long ball in the back pocket.
“A lot of times, a great pitcher can neutralize a long-ball hitter, but there’s always that one swing that can mean the difference,” Haack said. “It can happen anytime, even against really good pitching. It’s just a weapon you have that can demoralize a pitcher.”
It just takes one homer. A couple at most. Then a pitcher begins to think too much. They can start to be too careful, which can often lead to them pitching behind the count to batters.
Then that means they throw a “fatty,” or an easy pitch to hit because it is so deliberately in the strike zone, because they’ve racked up more balls to strikes. And those “fatties” often end up over the fence.
“Sometimes I may be lucky enough to get one over, and it’s exciting,” LeBlanc said. “You see your teammates huddled around, cheering and waiting for you to cross home plate. It’s an awesome feeling. You just want to hit another one the next time up.”