January 2, 2013 10:21:40 PM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Mary Austin Barber is used to controlling a game.
She expected to do just that at shortstop in her senior season with the Starkville Academy fast-pitch softball season.
But Barber has played enough softball to know that things can change very quickly. So even though Barber started her season at shortstop, the senior right-hander finished it in the circle as a pitcher for a young and inexperienced squad.
Barber relied on her experience to make the best out of the situation. And while she readily admits shortstop is her true position, Barber provided poise and leadership in the circle and showed she had a knack for controlling the game in another position.
For her accomplishments this season, Barber is The Dispatch's All-Area Fast-Pitch Player of the Year.
"I kind of knew I would have to pitch some," Barber said. "(Starkville Academy coach Kayla Mosley) kind of hinted at it, but I never really knew I was going to have to pitch the whole time."
Mosley said Barber's past experience as a pitcher made it easier for her to make the move early in the season. She said Barber's years of playing the sport helped her understand the move would help the team even if it wasn't something she had it in her heart to do.
"I thought she was very successful at it. The transition went well," Mosley said. "She hates to lose and has a will to win. Anytime you have somebody like that on your team and any player has that drive in them they are hard to stop. Whatever they want accomplish, they're going to get it done. I think that is what makes her a great player, and her work ethic. She works so much on her own outside practice. That's what it takes."
That work ethic paid dividends last month when Barber realized a dream when she signed a scholarship to play softball at Belhaven University. Barber credited her coaches with the Mississippi Blast, a travel ball team out of Ridgeland, for helping her team her game to the next level. Barber also thanked her father, Mark, for setting goals and encouraging her to work as much as possible on her game.
Barber thought she would have a chance to hone her skills at shortstop in her final season of high school ball. It didn't take long, though, for Barber to return to the circle. Initially, she said she had to adjust because she hadn't picked up a ball as a pitcher for about three years. She said she threw some at practice but it wasn't until after the first game she had to get serious and remember the finer points of working in the circle.
"Some games it felt like it was easier and some games I couldn't do anything," Barber said.
Barber has played shortstop at the high school level since seventh grade. She feels she developed a strong working relationship with second baseman Alexia Harmon on the Mississippi Blast travel team. Before that, Barber said she also played shortstop in the city youth leagues.
The position, like the sport, just seemed to click. Barber said she played basketball in prior years, but she admitted softball has been "her life." She said she has made so many bonds with friends and teammates that have added to her experience. She hopes to develop similar relationships at the next level. She believes summers packed with travel ball tournaments have helped prepare her for the next step. She also thinks her drive to get better as a player will carry her.
"Hard work pays off, especially in the long run," Barber said. "I feel most proud of my hitting. In the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades I couldn't hit the side of a barn. I couldn't do anything. Coach Burney (King, of the Mississippi Blast) helped me a lot. He showed me specific steps where I was messing up. I took that and worked on that and expanded on that and definitely got better at that."
Fielding is the true strength of her game, though. This season, she had to dig back in her memories of city league softball when she pitched to remember how to control the game in the circle. The results were better than she expected, even though she admits she "didn't know what she was doing" as a pitcher and preferred to have all of the responsibility she was accustomed to as a shortstop.
"If I have the ball, I know what I can do with it," Barber said. "I like it that way."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.