By Evan Mohl
Killeen Daily Herald
GATESVILLE – Tom Leib recites his daughter's numbers by heart.
Four no-hitters. More than 200 strikeouts, also a Gatesville school record. ERA under 1.00. And 28 innings without a hit.
Emily doesn't remember the last time she allowed a run; although, to her defense, it could be several games ago. But she knows her dad can, and that's perfectly fine with the Lady Hornets ace. Without his help, Emily knows she never would have developed into a dominant pitcher.
"My dad really got me going and got me working," Emily said. "He caught for me when I had no one else. If I didn't have him, I'd probably lose thousands of hours of practice."
Tom sits on a bucket in the backyard three days a week, catching his daughter. He doesn't say much. Dad merely provides the backstop for Emily to get in the necessary work.
Fastball. Riser. Offspeed. Two curve balls. Screwball. Drop ball. Tom sees it all, often acting as the guinea pig while Emily sends new pitches three feet wide and four feet short.
When Emily works so does her dad. He sweats for her benefit. She gets rewarded with a college-bound arm. Tom receives bruises.
"It's fun," Tom said. "It's worth it to see her succeed."
Emily doesn't remember when the practice started. She estimates that the first time occurred shortly after she took up softball at age two.
She hopes Tom still has a few more innings left. Emily's just a junior so she's got one more year in Gatesville.
"He's probably caught thousands of innings for me," Emily said.
The result has been a dominant pitcher, who leads the Lady Hornets to the playoffs for the second season in a row. Leib also bats third in the Gatesville order and leads the team in sacrifice bunts.
"Emily's success is pure hard work," Gatesville softball coach Michell Bartch said. "The time she spends out there, throwing with her dad has all paid off. She does anything she can to help the team win."
Leib will open the postseason on the hill next Friday against 8-3A district champion Wimberley in Marble Falls. They'll play two games of the 3-game series at 6 and 8 p.m. Game three, if necessary, will be at two on Saturday at the saem location.
If it goes that far, Leib will almost certainly take the mound.
"The team just believes in Emily when she's on the mound," Bartch said. "The defense picks up and everyone just has confidence in her."
And there's little doubt Leib will show any nerves. The righty's poise is one of her key strengths.
When Leib surrendered her first hit after 28 innings without one, she allowed another. But then she went on another four-inning hitless streak.
"She's just so poised," Bartch said. "Emily never gets frazzled or rattled. Sometimes its hard to know when to pull her from the mound because she settles down so well. She'll allow a few hits, and I think she's finished, but then she'll retire the next eight hitters."
Leib says her calm style comes from years of travel and practice. Those afternoons and early evenings with dad also helped.
"You get put in those situations and you learn to deal with them," she said. "You get used to it and you know you have to come through for your team."
The postseason, though, is a different animal. Gatesville won its first playoff game in school history a year ago before bowing out in the regional round.
This year, the Lady Hornets were ranked as high as No. 11 in the state. But close district games got the best of the team as Gatesville dropped to third in 7-3A.
They were picked to win the league.
"I think we're getting used to those tense situations," Bartch said. "We didn't get those until district so we're tyring to work on in-game, tight situations."
So Leib's sucees and ability to stay poised will be paramount to Gatesville's success. The Lady Hornets need her arm for a deep run into the University Interscholastic League state playoffs.
Gatesville will ride Leib's coat tails whereever it takes the team.
"Having Emily on the mound helps." Bartch said. "We're going to need her and not hesitate to use her. When she gets in the zone, she's pretty unhittable."
Which is why all those afternoons with dad on the bucket all seem worth it.
Contact Evan Mohl at email@example.com or (254) 501-7564.