The senior center fielder runs from home plate to first base in 2.7 seconds
The 2016 spring sports season had just begun when Mallory Lebo heard the inevitable question from Susquehannock track and field coach Steve Stough.
"Why don't you run track?"
Most people who have seen Lebo run usually ask her the same thing. But while the Susquehannock senior is extremely fast, her main sport since middle school has been softball.
The daughter of Southern Middle School's cross country coach, Lebo is used to questions about why she doesn't focus on sports that center on running. Her response to everyone is the same.
"Softball is a really interesting game," Lebo said. "It’s not as easy as people think. There’s a lot of technical things that go into it, how you swing, how you throw, lots of little things you need to know. And I love my team. I’ve made some really good friends and lasting relationships with the people I’ve come in contact with.”
A four-year starter for the Warriors, Lebo was one of the most dangerous players in the YAIAA this season, hitting .500 with a .575 on-base percentage, 31 hits, 32 runs and 21 stolen bases in the regular season. She was arguably the most valuable player on team that reached the league title game and District 3 playoffs.
While Lebo is a very good hitter and center fielder, it's her speed that truly set her apart. Susquehannock head coach Jeff Deardorff said she runs from home plate to first base in 2.7 seconds, which made her a huge threat as a bunter and slap-hitter. Once she got on base, opposing teams rarely prevented her from stealing second and eventually scoring.
"She gets on base, the offense goes," Deardorff said. "And she gets on base a lot. Her speed is unbelievable, she's obviously the fastest player in York County. But I'm telling you, most college teams don't have anybody that fast. I'm not bragging or anything, though."
"Ms. Lebo is a threat every time she gets on," Central York head coach Shane Walker added. "You just assume if she gets on she's going to score."
The past two seasons, Lebo has been caught stealing only once, against Kennard-Dale in the first game of 2016. While most players would love to have a percentage that good, the speedster is still bummed about that one unsuccessful attempt.
"I was really annoyed, because that was my goal to not get thrown out this year," Lebo said. "Once I get on, I'm getting to second. There's no excuse and I need to earn it."
Lebo began playing softball at the age of 5 and was always one of the fastest players, but she didn't really develop into the player she is now until middle school when she began to practice switch-hitting.
Although Lebo is naturally right-handed, her travel team coach thought her speed would be better utilized if she hit lefty. It took a lot of practice, but by the time Lebo reached high school she was batting exclusively from the left side. The switch made her more dangerous by allowing her to slap the ball to the opposite side and get a quicker start to first base.
"I had never swung from the left side so it was really uncomfortable," Lebo said. "But I’m a pretty fast learner. I started out with drag-bunting and little pokes because I didn’t have much power on my left side. As the years went on, I learned to do more things, hitting away, hard slap or just a soft slap. It doesn’t even feel weird anymore, when I go on the right side it feels weird.”
While Lebo is good enough to play softball at the collegiate level, she has decided not to pursue it and will focus on academics at Lock Haven University in the fall. After playing year-round on travel and school teams for so long, Lebo said she needs a break.
And she's already found a new passion. Lebo has done some work as a model the past three years and wants to eventually pursue the career full-time. She plans to major in fashion merchandising at Lock Haven and hopes to transfer to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City after two years.
Just like some people are surprised she plays softball instead of running track, Lebo said she's gotten comments from teachers who are surprised she balances being an athlete and a model. But while the two activities are very different, Lebo takes pride in both.
“When I’m playing softball I know I’m going to get dirty, it’s a sport I’ve played for years and it’s what I do,” Lebo said. “When I’m off the field I’m pretty much a girly girl. The hair, the makeup, the clothes and all that stuff.
“I guess I don’t look like I play softball. At the end of the day I know I’m good so I don’t need a bunch of people knowing."
With Susquehannock losing to Manheim Central in the District 3 playoffs on Tuesday, Lebo's softball career has seemingly come to an end. While she'll miss playing, she's ready to move on to different things.
“It’s been really fun because our team is really close, we’re like sisters basically," she said. "It’s going to be bittersweet but at the end of the day I had my time, I don’t want to do it for four more years.”