Harrison Central and Katelyn Gruich have a few things in common. Chief among them, they never sneak up on opponents -- they're too darn good.
Just like pitchers always knew when Gruich was coming up in St. Martin's lineup, rivals always anticipated looming showdowns with the powerhouse Red Rebelettes.
That's exactly how HCHS coach Jimmy Parker likes it.
In his words, it's the ultimate compliment and a big reason why Gruich and Parker were named the 2016 Sun Herald Softball Player and Coach of the Year.
"We feel like when people play us they circle us on the calendar. They circle us up," Parker said last weekend. "In the past we've had teams we've circled, where we knew sooner or later we were going to clash. St. Martin is usually a circled one. Same with Oak Grove and people like that.
"We just want people to know that when they come to play us we're going to play hard until the last out."
Parker earned the Sun Herald's annual honor after guiding his Red Rebelettes (28-4) to a third consecutive Class 6A title, tying Madison Central for the longest streak in the state's largest classification.
"This was just a fun team," Parker said. "They worked hard."
HCHS got it done in 2016 with a blend of upperclassmen and underclassmen, and in a number of ways. On the mound, Madison Burge, Kristen Cade and Juli Craig were as good as any trio in the state. At the plate, the Red Rebelettes terrorized opponents with the long ball and their speed. Collectively, HCHS hit seven homers, stole 56 bases and boasted a .377 on-base percentage.
"We don't ever want to be predictable," Parker said. "We want teams to be guessing what we're going to do on the field."
If HCHS was the most feared team on the Coast this season, Gruich had to be one of the scariest batters.
The only way to guarantee Gruich wasn't going to hurt you was to walk her -- which Parker ended up doing routinely throughout the Class 6A South State Series.
"A lot of people don't understand: I can't let Katelyn Gruich beat me," Parker told the Sun Herald following the series. "Katelyn Gruich can beat you with one swing of the bat. She did that last week to another team. I think the world of the kid."
Parker elaborated on his respect for Gruich last weekend.
"She's a good kid who works hard, appreciates the game and respects the game," he said. "There's no doubt she has talent, but you could have all the talent in the world and if you don't respect the game your talent is not going to rise to where it could be."
Gruich appreciated the compliment, describing herself as "being all about the grit" as a blue-collar infielder.
"Every pitch, every inning, every ball that's pitched, I'm always giving 110 percent," she said.
Menacing at the plate
Dating back to her eighth grade season, when she hit .377 for the varsity, Gruich has been a menace to opposing pitchers. She ended up hitting .583 as a senior with seven homers, 29 RBIs and a 1.083 slugging percentage.
It would have been easy for Gruich to list off any of her 21 homers in 134 games for St. Martin; but asked to highlight what will stand out most about her time as a Yellow Jacket, Gruich pointed to the community that saw her mature and grow up.
"Something that will stand out is all the hard work I put in and just playing for the fans instead of myself. I usually don't like playing for myself. I like playing for other people," she said.