Leblanc aims to match Olivia Joy in playoffs

  • Athol’s Lindsey Leblanc is pictured smiling after retiring the side and returning to the dugout with teammates during a playoff game against Palmer High School in Athol. FOR THE ATHOL DAILY NEWS/MIKE PHILLIPS

  • Athol’s Lindsey Leblanc throws a pitch during a playoff game against Palmer High School in Athol. FOR THE ATHOL DAILY NEWS/MIKE PHILLIPS

Sports Writer
Tuesday, June 12, 2018

ATHOL — At first, it may seem unusual to hear about a younger player looking up to and trying to mimic others on the athletic field at the high school level. Examining it, however, might persuade players to do it more often.

Athol varsity softball pitcher Lindsey Leblanc hasn’t even entered high school. She attends Athol-Royalston Middle School as an eighth grader. She seems much more major than that though, which, at first, made it seem weird to hear her talk about how she admires Greenfield pitcher Olivia Joy after facing off against her in the second round of the western Massachusetts Division II playoff tournament.

“It’s exciting because that’s somebody that I look up to a lot,” said Leblanc. “I feel like it’s a good competition, hitting and fielding, because (Greenfield) hits a lot.”

A junior at Greenfield High School, Joy has turned into one of the best pitchers in western Massachusetts and maybe even one of the best pitchers in the state. She has 455 strikeouts in averaged 10.6 strikeouts per seven innings during the regular season. She won 16 games in 2017 and 11 games in 2018. She is one of the most talked-about pitchers in western Massachusetts.

Leblanc was asked if she tries to mimic Joy, but then said that admires the success Joy has had as a high school pitcher.

“No, I just like — she’s somebody that — I, like, would want that much success in my future,” said Leblanc.

It’s difficult not to watch Leblanc pitch and speak about her potential and also what she has done on the varsity softball team as an eighth grader.

As a pitcher, Leblanc threw 95 innings and earned a 6-3 record during the regular season. She finished with a 3.74 ERA and 1.47 WHIP. Her performance basically forced Athol coach Sharon Chauvette to insert into the everyday lineup on the mound.

“Thirteen years old, eighth grader, like I’ve said all along, I can’t ask any more from her,” said Chauvette. “She’s become our No. 1 pitcher. I still have her for four more full years, which is absolutely great. The only other thing I wish is that I put her up for all-League and she wasn’t voted in, which I think was a mistake on their part, but, without her, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Leblanc possesses extreme potential on the mound, but can also become a good hitter. She had a slashline of .297/.451/.328 during the regular season and scored 17 runs with 11 RBIs in 64 at-bats, while walking 15 times. At her age, her bat should only get better.

After watching Joy and Leblanc go toe to toe on Monday in playoff action, matching zeroes for the first five innings, it’s easy to get caught up in Joy’s performance. She did win the battle and when reflecting on her career success in regards to Monday’s performance, It is easy to get caught up in the idea of the improbability of defeating Joy and her team.

But Leblanc is up-and-coming. She’s younger and frankly, possesses a better bat (Joy had a designated hitter hit for her on Monday as well as for the majority of the season). The two have different skill sets as well. Joy gets outs by over powering everyone she faces. Leblanc is tactical and mixes pitches. When watching closely, Joy grunted in disgust at missing locations or allowing hits. Leblanc doesn’t break emotion and maintains confidence no matter what happens on the mound.

“She’s good,” said Greenfield coach Rian Lovett about Leblanc. “She didn’t throw a lot of balls, she kept the ball over the plate and she mixes speeds enough that it was just a little challenging for us. She’s good. I’ll give her all the credit in the world. That’s why they are where they are.”

Leblanc already has had tons of success as an eighth grader and as she continues to progress — just maybe — she will find herself progressing to the likes Joy and company as one of the feared pitchers in western Massachusetts.

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