December 15, 2012 10:29:11 PM
STARKVILLE -- The dream has been realized.
When you play as many softball games as Mary Austin Barber has the past few years, sometimes you can lose the passion that initially drew you to the sport you love.
That hasn't been the case with Barber. A summer spent with the Mississippi Blast, a travel team out of Ridgeland, saw Barber play more than 70 games, including one weekend where she played seven games in one day. After playing shortstop for the Blast, Barber transitioned back to pitcher for Starkville Academy's fast-pitch team. At the time, Barber gave a verbal commitment to play softball at Belhaven University. On Friday, Barber made it official in a signing ceremony at Meadowview Baptist Church Fellowship Hall.
"It is incredible," Barber said. "It is just what I want to do. I have always wanted to do it since I was little."
Barber watched as several of her travel ball teammates committed to colleges. She felt confident that she had put in the time to play in college, but she admitted it was exhilarating to get accepted to Belhaven and then to find out Belhaven softball coach Kevin Griffin was interested in getting her to join the program.
"Softball is going to be 24/7, but I won't have anything else to do," Barber said. "I want to be the best."
Barber has won a plethora of awards in her prep and travel ball career, including Best Defensive Player (2010-2011, 2011-2012), All Conference Honorable Mention (2010-2011), All Conference (2011-2012), and the Oklahoma City Triple Crown Stand Out Athlete Award- OKC Tournament (2011, 2012).
Starkville Academy coach Kayla Mosley said Barber's work ethic has helped her become so successful in multiple facets of the game. She said Barber's ability to transition from shortstop to pitcher early in the season helped solidify things on a young team.
"She knew what she had to do to help her team," Mosley said. "She just got back into it after not pitching a year. I thought she was very successful at it for us, and the transition went well. She just did whatever she had to do to help the team."
Barber credits her father, Mark, for motivating her and working with her to realize her goal. She said she most likely will move back to shortstop next season. She said she is eager for the chance to take the next step in her softball career, and that summers filled with travel ball have given her the experience she will need to adjust.
"Belhaven is the winningest softball program in Mississippi and has finished No. 3 and No. 5 in the nation two of the past three years," Griffin said. "I think Mary Austin will have a chance to come into our program and compete for playing time immediately. She has played at a high level with her travel team during the summer, and there is no doubt she has the ability to excel at the collegiate level. I look forward to having her on campus next fall, and I hope (Friday's) ceremony is very memorable for her."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.