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All-Metro softball: Monterey’s Bryan, Shirley selected player/coach of the year

Monterey High School softball player Paige Bryan and coach Kayla Shirley pose for a photograph together on the team's field behind the school on Saturday afternoon. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)
Monterey High School softball player Paige Bryan and coach Kayla Shirley pose for a photograph together on the team’s field behind the school on Saturday afternoon. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — With the graduation of Ellen Bairnsfather in 2012, Paige Bryan was the go-to girl for the Monterey High School pitching staff this past season.

Or perhaps a better way to describe her would be “one-girl pitching staff.”

But Bryan took the spotlight in stride, pitching to the tune of a 2.53 ERA with 120 strikeouts and 32 walks. All of this was in the span of her starting 27 out of the Lady Wolves’ 28 games this season.

The Lady Wolves — under the helm of head coach, Kayla Shirley — finished the season 18-11 and made it to the Louisiana High School Activities Association Class B state quarterfinals. Because of their leadership roles, Bryan was selected as The Natchez Democrat’s 2013 All-Metro player of the year, and Shirley the All-Metro coach of the year.

“It’s a privilege, really,” Bryan said of the honors. “I never really thought I was that good to be picked, so it kind of took me by surprise.”

Shirley, meanwhile, pointed to her players as the reason for her team’s strong season.

“It’s a little overwhelming,” Shirley said. “It was unexpected, but I’m very grateful and blessed. We worked hard, and I think from the beginning the girls knew the potential and talent that was there. They just had to work hard and challenge themselves.

“We did a good job finishing in big games. I have to give credit back to the girls — they’re the ones who did the work.”

Bryan said it was hard not being able to pitch alongside Bairnsfather — she called Bairnsfather her best friend — but Bryan also said she realized just how much more her team needed her to pitch.

“I felt like everything fell on my shoulders,” Bryan said. “Karlee (Woodruff) helped a little bit, but she didn’t really want to pitch. It was kind of nerve-wracking. I hyper-ventilated on the mound a couple of times in big games.”

Despite the pressure, Bryan said the realization that her team needed her allowed her to push through.

“We didn’t really have any experienced pitchers, and I felt like I’d rather pitch every game than putting it in someone else’s hands that didn’t want to,” Bryan said.

Shirley said she was happy to have someone like Bryan help lead her team.

“Paige is the kind of pitcher you want to have,” Shirley said. “She works all the time. Even though we lost Ellen, I don’t really think there was much of a drop off. Last year she had more rest, but even when I’d ask her (if she needed rest), she’d say, ‘No, I’m good.’”

Bryan said that level of dedication is just who she is as a person.

“As soon as high school ball was over (last year), me and Karlee started summer ball in Vidalia,” Bryan said. “I pitch and practice year round, other than one month. I guess it’s how I am — I want to win and do my best for my team.”

It also helps that Bryan had a veteran presence about her when she was on the mound, Shirley said.

“She has a lot of experience, and she knows the game,” Shirley said. “That’s more valuable than anything else. She knows what to do in certain situations.”

Shirley was only an assistant last season, and she said she was nervous when she decided to take over the team. But she also said she was hopeful because of the talent that was on hand. Bryan gave Shirley a lot of credit for Monterey’s successful season.

“She did a great job,” Bryan said. “She stepped in when we needed her, and she’s dedicated to all of us and loves all of us like we’re her own kids. She’s a good person and a good coach.”

Though the Lady Wolves will be losing three senior starters, Shirley said she has high hopes for next spring.

“We’re losing three starters, but there are a lot of kids who want to step up,” Shirley said. “Some of them are already working for next year.”