College Softball: Blake winding up stellar career at UNC
By Mike London
CHAPEL HILL — Little brothers are tough critics.
UNC softball star Ally Blake made an awesome diving grab of a foul popup in a regional game against Nebraska two years ago that earned her the No. 7 spot on ESPN’s plays of the day.
Little brother’s reaction: “Come on! No. 7? Is that the best you can do?”
Blake’s little brother is West Rowan Middle School student Cole Myers, and if anyone ever tells Cole he throws like a girl, he can answer, “Hey, if you’re talking about my sister, thanks a lot.”
Blake, who has walloped 24 homers as a Tar Heel, grew up in Cleveland near the Freightliner plant, so she also attended West Rowan Middle.
She played high school ball at Central Cabarrus, making All-State as the catcher on powerhouse teams coached by Monte Sherrill and her Carolina Cobras travel-ball coach Charlie Blackwelder. Wearing the green and gold of the Vikings, she caught a pair of great pitchers — first Gina Allen, then East Rowan transfer Morgan Peeler, who is now a senior at N.C. State.
“I was fortunate to have some athletic ability, and Central was important as far as preparing me mentally for college softball,” Blake said. “I’m glad I played there. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t.”
While Blake’s choice of high schools had to be a stressful decision at the time, she’s such a friendly person that there are no grudges or hard feelings.
Her ties to Rowan County are deep, and her closest friends remain the girls she grew up playing softball with.
Blake recently traveled to UNC Greensboro to watch former West Rowan outfielder Erin Foster, who is tearing the cover off softballs this spring for Western Carolina.
Foster, Peeler and former West slugger Stacie Raney are among Blake’s bridesmaids for the outdoor wedding she’s planning Sept. 28, 2013, at the Arbors tree farm in Cleveland. Blake became engaged to former West athlete Dustin Davis in December.
Once softball is over, Blake wants to work with kids or enter nursing school, but she still has some athletic goals. She and two senior teammates will begin their final ACC tournament today.
Time has marched quickly.
It was in the fall of 2008 that Blake announced she wouldn’t be playing her senior season at Central because she and the Tar Heels had mutually agreed on her graduating after the first semester to enter college early
“UNC only had one catcher, and the UNC coaches were just kind of joking around with my step-dad (Donnie Myers) about me leaving early to help them out,” Blake said. “But then he said, ‘That could happen,’ and it got serious.”
Blake was the first in program history to jump from her junior prep season to competing in the ACC, but she contributed immediately, starting 24 games at catcher or designated player and driving in 13 runs.
She was the starting catcher in 2010, batting .282 with 23 RBIs. Blake lists meeting Pete Rose as her biggest thrill, but in one game that season against the Charlotte 49ers, she smacked three homers.
Blake continued to improve as a junior in 2011, batting .311 and knocking in 38 runs, while splitting her time between catcher, third base and designated player.
Her senior season brought unexpected adversity. Blake hurt her knee during a practice in early March when the Tar Heels were in California for the Long Beach Classic.
“I was playing third base and dove for a ball, and I twisted the knee and dislocated the kneecap when I got up,” Blake said. “The MRI showed a good bit of damage to the MCL and meniscus, and that kind of set me back some.”
She missed a few games with the injury, but on March 19, she put aside her crutches and won a game with Virginia Tech with a pinch-hit double in the ninth inning.
Catching wasn’t an option— there would be no more YouTube dives after popups — but there are positions less physically demanding on knees.
UNC coach Donna Papa looked at Blake at second base — then shortstop.
“When they tried me at shortstop, everything seemed to fall into place,” Blake said.
As a shortstop, she’s provided more thrills, notably in UNC’s game on April 16. That game against N.C. State was designated “Ally Blake Day.”
Each of UNC’s seniors had a day in their honor, and in the best tradition of Hollywood, Blake began her special day batting against her buddy Peeler. She ended it with a walkoff homer in the 10th inning off a Wolfpack reliever.
No kidding — a walkoff on “Ally Blake Day.” That should’ve been good for at least No. 6 on ESPN’s list.
Despite the injury, Blake is having her best season. She’s fifth in the league in batting (.350) and sixth in runs (39) entering the ACC tourney.
UNC (39-13) is the top seed.
“It’s been a great year, and this is the best team I’ve played on,” Blake said.