Erica Tuck ended one of the most remarkable streaks you’ll ever come across Tuesday afternoon.
The William Blount High School junior retired Maryville’s Bry Blanco by strikeout the latter’s first time up in a District 4AAA tournament winner’s bracket final at Farragut. It was Blanco’s first strikeout in 125 plate appearances this season.
Guess what happened the next time she came up?
Three innings later, the Lady Rebel sophomore deposited an offering from Tuck over the fence in center for her 16th home run on the year, the two-run blast opening a decisive gap. Maryville ace Chancli Connatser revved to high gear from there, the Milligan College signee pitching the Lady Rebels into Wednesday’s championship game and a berth in next week’s region tournament with a 5-1 win.
The district championship game, with Maryville scheduled to face the William Blount/Farragut survivor, was played Wednesday after Blount Today had gone to press.
Tuesday’s win was the first for the Lady Rebels (30-6) over their rivals this season, the Lady Governors (27-9) completing what is believed a first-ever, regular-season sweep of Maryville during the run up to the tournament. Connatser struck out nine, surrendering four hits, in a performance reminiscent of last season’s state tournament run, where the Lady Rebels played to the third-place showing.
“I told her, ‘Get into that mindset again that you can pitch great against anybody,’” Maryville coach Ken Hawkins said. “She’s pitching with the confidence she had last year in postseason.”
She’s having fun again, Connatser said. Facing William Blount again after back-to-back losses did the rest, she said.
“I kept them off balance,” Connatser said. “I was throwing my pitches with a lot of confidence (Tuesday).”
A case of a team hitting stride at just the right time?
Hawkins likes to think so.
Maryville is solid at the corners defensively, with sophomore third baseman/pitching heir apparent Allison Barbee emerging as an All-State candidate. Freshman catcher Haley Hilliard is one to watch. A senior class of first baseman Chelsea Weaver, outfielders Taylor Dockery and Kylie Whaley and Connatser lacks nothing in terms of leadership, Hawkins said.
“It’s a postseason sport,” said Hawkins, who’s now taken the Lady Rebels to the region tournament eight times in his 11 seasons as coach. “I want to win every game we play, but it’s a postseason sport.”
In evaluating Maryville’s chances of returning to state later this month, and finishing better than third once there, Blanco is the starting point for any serious conversation.
The sensational sophomore missed most of the postseason a year ago because of broken finger suffered in the district tournament. She was hitting over .500 with a team-best six home runs at the time, earning All-State selection at season’s end.
She’s beat the pants off any talk of a sophomore slump this spring. Her numbers after Tuesday include a .641 batting average, a totally startling .725 on-base percentage, 57 runs batted in, 52 runs scored and the one strikeout in now 128 appearances. Blanco would finish Tuesday 2-for-3 with a pair of RBI.
“She earns it,” Connatser said. “She works so hard at her batting and every part of her game.”
Still, a .641 batting average and one strikeout all season!
“I think I’m doing what I’ve worked so hard to do, and I’ve got to keep working hard,” said Blanco, who credits her father, Eddie, for her swing.
The end of the streak was probably a relief for his sophomore standout, Hawkins said. Blanco and Farragut senior Stephanie Harris were delivering a duel for the ages this spring, the Virginia signee still yet to fan for the first time through Tuesday. Without the streak to worry about, Blanco could become even more of a threat to opposing pitching, Hawkins said.
“She’s getting key hits in every game,” he said, “and she’s just a sophomore. It’s good (the streak) can’t play on her mind anymore.”
She sure avenged its loss in style.