The Brusly softball team won 33 games last season. Pitcher Carli Jo Leblanc’s racked up 26 of those wins, including one over Notre Dame for the Class 3A state championship.
Not only did the title-game win erase the pain of a semi-final loss in 2012 and a loss in the 2010 final, it also ended a 15-year state title drought for the Panthers.
“It felt like a big weight was lifted off of my shoulders,” Leblanc said. “I had been working toward that since I was about 10 years old. My dad was always telling me that I would win a state title, and I finally got it.”
But there is no rest for one of state’s top pitchers. Pitching in the first game of the America Softball Association under-18 National Championship on Monday, Leblanc fired six shutout innings leading the Maniacs, a travel team from Louisiana, to a 1-0 win.
“I did pretty good,” Leblanc said of her Monday pitching outing. “I don’t know how many strikeouts I had, but I kept the hitters off balance. It was a good first win for us to get started.”
After showing promise in her freshman and sophomore seasons at Brusly, Leblanc put it all together for her junior season, finishing with 234 strikeouts, a 0.95 ERA and a 26-1 record.
“It feels like a very big payoff because I have worked very hard to get to where I am,” said Leblanc who hit .348 and knocked in 37 runs. “Everything seemed to fall into place. Everybody on that team worked together, and we accomplished our goal to win a championship.”
Brusly coach Beau Bouvier said he knew that she had greatness in her all along.
“She is one of our leaders, and everybody on the team respects her,” said Bouvier, who was nominated for the 3A coach of the year. “She’s been our No. 1 pitcher for three years. Not being able to reach our goal of a state title the first two years, just motivated her to get better.”
While Leblanc’s present and future include softball, that was not always the case.
In 2011, just before the start of her sophomore season, Leblanc complained of swelling and numbness in her left hand when she pitched. After seeing multiple doctors, she was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome.
“My fingers would go numb and I wouldn’t be able to grip the ball,” Leblanc said of the syndrome that she later found out ran in her mother’s side of the family.
“My nerves underneath my collarbone that run from your heart to your hand were not working properly.”
All of a sudden, the sport Leblanc had fallen in love with when she was 10 was in jeopardy. The choices given to her by doctors were to quit softball and go through years of physical therapy or have surgery that would remove a rib to repair damaged nerves and have a 50-50 chance of pitching again.
She opted for the surgery and after missing only three weeks of the 2011 season, Leblanc surprised everyone when she returned to the circle.
“After the surgery I was fine,” she said. “Because my pectoral muscles were so much more developed than my shoulder muscles from pitching, I was kind of unbalanced. So instead of trying to reshape my muscles, which would take forever, I just got my rib removed to relieve the pressure for better blood flow, and it seemed to work.
“I did lose a little stamina while pitching that season.”
The experience was turbulent for Bouvier as well.
“Our mindset was that we had to get somebody else prepared to pitch for her,” he recalled. “We did that, but she didn’t miss much time. When she came back, that was just an added bonus. We made sure not to overwork her.”
Despite the trials she has gone through and the awards she has won, Leblanc said she still has more to accomplish before she graduates and goes to college. Not only does she want to win another state title, she also wants to have a perfect pitching season. Her only loss in 2012, against Airline, still irritates her.
“I don’t want to lose a game,” she said. “I had that one game that I loss, and I hate seeing it on my record. It’s pretty hard to do, but that doesn’t mean I can’t overcome it.”