Prior to the season, first-year Maryville coach David Allen said he told the Lady Rebels if they could hold opponents to two or three runs per game they’d win a lot of those games.
Wonder how the 0.5 earned runs per seven innings junior Allison Barbee is surrendering in district play this season is working out?
Or the 10 shutouts she’s helped the Lady Rebels collect?
“I felt like she would have a great year,” Allen said. “I didn’t know she’d have as many shutouts.”
Barbee’s 0.81 earned run average in 104 innings pitched overall is a big reason the Lady Rebels (21-4, 11-0 District 4AAA) are one of Blount County’s hottest teams in any sport as next month’s district tournament at William Blount draws close. Two other reasons are the aptly-dubbed “Sister Sledge” combo of junior All-American shortstop Bry Blanco and sophomore catcher Haley Hilliard.
“I knew Allison had that ability because she’s played travel ball with me since she was 8 years old,” Blanco said. “I knew when she got the chance to pitch, she could carry this team.”
For most of the travel ball games, though, Blanco was in the other dugout.
“We’ve played against each other since we were 8,” Barbee said. “It’s nice to have her on my side.”
Taken together, the Barbee/Blanco/Hilliard trio has led a decidedly young Maryville team in Allen’s first season to within a pair of wins of the regular-season district crown.
You’ll likely find little argument against Blanco being the most gifted athlete to ever play softball at a Blount County high school, certainly none with her already stunning resume.
The rifle-armed middle infielder verbally committed to Georgia last October, with Southeastern Conference rivals Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky also putting forth offers. The commitment to the Lady Bulldogs came after Blanco had taken part in the Under Armour All-America Softball Game at ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla., over the summer. Only 30 players nationally received an invitation.
In each of her first two seasons at Maryville, the heart of the Lady Rebel order was an All-State selection.
“You watch her throw and you watch her catch and she’s so smooth and so fluid in what she does,” Allen said. “She’s fun to watch.”
Blanco’s feelings on such early acclaim say much about both her and the team Allen has assembled around her.
“I haven’t gone to Georgia yet,” she said. “I haven’t played at Georgia yet.”
She’s doing quite well for the Lady Rebels at present, pacing Maryville with 31 runs batted in to go with a .492 batting average. As a consequence, Blanco, who hits third in the Maryville order, often sees few good pitches to hit.
“A lot of people don’t want to pitch to her,” Allen said, “but she’s sandwiched between Allison and Haley, so I’m good with it.”
That’s where Barbee, hitting just before Blanco, and Hilliard, right after, come in.
Barbee and Blanco have compiled identical batting averages, equally close with .543 and .549 on-base percentages, respectively. Get a load of Hilliard, though.
Batting a crisp .413, the young receiver has a team-best .762 slugging percentage, purchased largely by way of seven doubles and six triples, both team bests. Her 20 RBI trail only Blanco for the team lead, with Barbee just back with 17 runs driven home, freshman Taylor Hodge 16. It’s what Hilliard does as Barbee’s battery mate that really impresses, though.
“Haley doesn’t get enough credit,” Allen said. “She calls all the pitches. She calls all the games. She and Allison have a great working relationship.”
They go way back. Teammates since they were 8, Hilliard said she began catching for Barbee on their travel team two years later.
“We bonded and have been best friends ever since,” Hilliard said. “I know she trusts me. That’s the cool thing.”
It’s a trust well-earned, Barbee said.
“She knows what she’d doing. It’s like having a coach behind the plate. You can’t play ball with someone you don’t trust. It’s two people playing as one.”
Two Maryville losses came at the hands of two of the state’s very best: Class AAA defending champion Soddy-Daisy, 5-3, at the Gibbs tournament and 2009 state champion Riverdale, 2-1, at season-opening Commando Classic in Hendersonville. Soddy-Daisy’s Lady Trojans opened the season as the nation’s No. 4-ranked team.