First-year coach Amanda Estes Leatherwood knew just what to say to William Blount’s Lady Governors after last week’s big win over Maryville: Don’t let it go to your head.
There’s a long season ahead, Leatherwood said. There are a ton of big games yet to be played.
“Maryville’s a good team,” she said, “but we’ve got a long road ahead.”
Still, the 2-0 shutout of the rival Lady Rebels was impressive, and Leatherwood is not the least bit surprised so young a team was able to pull it off.
“I’m not surprised because I think this team has that kind of talent,” she said. “I just think they realize it now.”
Junior right-hander Erica Tuck blanked Maryville with a seven strikeout performance. The William Blount win lifted the Lady Governors (3-0, 3-0 District 4AAA) atop the early season standings.
William Blount didn’t waste any time in getting to Lady Rebel senior and Milligan signee Chancli Connatser for a pair of first inning runs. Junior Hannah Smith opened the William Blount half of the first with a walk, with freshman third baseman Natalie Payne singling to follow her aboard. With two out, Tuck singled to collect them both, the defense behind Tuck making the 2-0 lead stand up the rest of the way.
The Smith/Payne/Tuck opening burst was a telling snapshot of a team that will attempt to run the District 4AAA gauntlet this season without a single senior on the roster. There are, however, seven juniors and six sophomores, and, with Payne playing like anything but a freshman early, they’ve got game. Leatherwood really likes the way the fiery Payne goes about her work.
“She’s like me,” Leatherwood said. “That’s why I like her.”
That “like me” would be an aggressive approach to the game, for which Leatherwood makes no apologies.
“We definitely want to be aggressive,” she said. “I always tell them in the huddle, ‘We want to be the ones to jump first.’”
The hard-throwing Tuck and strong-armed Smith at shortstop are the headliners on a William Blount team hungry for a return to the state tournament after several seasons. That’s one of the reasons many in the Lady Governor camp left the William Blount field amped after last Wednesday’s game.
There are few better benchmarks locally than the Lady Rebels, who were third at state a year ago behind the All-State Connatser. For 2010, Maryville also welcomes back super sophomore shortstop Bry Blanco, an All-State selection as a freshman a year ago. Blanco missed much of the postseason in 2009 after suffering a broken hand in the district tournament.
Smith and Tuck are sure to garner their share of headlines this season, but it’s how players who’re just beginning to make a name for themselves are performing that could make the Lady Governors a long-range threat, Leatherwood said.
“On defense, Hannah is a great leader,” she said, “but so is (junior catcher) Cameron Campbell. She does a lot of work for Erica. She does a great job framing pitches. She hits well and she’s really become a leader.”
The same, in many respects, can be said for junior first baseman Chelsea Lyons, sophomore centerfielder Kinsley Vincent and sophomore second baseman LaRanda Cummings. From top to bottom in the batting order, Leatherwood said, someone is always stepping up to get the big hit.
“I think one through nine have all done an excellent job of hitting,” she said. “Offensively, Hannah is an excellent leadoff hitter. Erica is really smashing the ball. I think she’s only been out twice.”
In the pitching circle, the kid who arrived with a great arm two years ago now has the maturity and pitch variety to go with it. As long as the Lady Governors remain what Leatherwood likes to term “patiently aggressive,” William Blount has all the components for a deep, postseason run later this spring. Key to it all, the rookie Lady Governor skipper said, is remember the Maryville win counts as only one game.
For Leatherwood, a former catcher who played her high school softball at Knox Central before moving on to Maryville College, treating the clash with the Lady Rebels as just one of many tough foes William Blount will face this season isn’t that much of a problem.
“A win is a win to me,” Leatherwood said. “I want to beat everyone we play. I didn’t grow up around here, so Maryville is just Maryville to me, and (Knox) West is West. I told them, ‘We’ve got another game tomorrow.’
“I just want them to stay steady and peak at the right time. These girls have never beaten Farragut, so that’s a big game too.”
The Lady Governors will begin prepping for the April 8 visit from the Lady Admirals with a trip to the Soddy Daisy tournament this weekend. The Lady Governors will learn a lot about themselves there, Leatherwood said. Regardless of the outcome, the message she’ll give the Lady Governors on Monday will remain the same.
“I tell them, ‘Don’t forget,’” Leatherwood said. “‘It’s a long season.’”