By Ray Hamill — After playing a pivotal role in a breakthrough season for College of the Redwoods softball, Ashley Ballew is taking her talents to a four-year program and will play for Division-III Pacific University in Oregon next year.
Ballew signed her letter of intent at CR over the weekend and head coach Megan Valente believes she is well equipped to succeed at the next level.
“I’m so proud of Ash,” Valente said. “She grew so much the two years at CR and it showed on and off the field.”
The 2021 McKinleyville graduate, who was a key member of the 2019 Panthers’ North Coast Section championship team as a sophomore, had originally planned on playing softball at College of the Siskiyous.
However, she ended up staying in the area for personal reasons and would become one of Valente’s first recruits when she took over the program.
“I’m glad I stayed,” Ballew said. “I really enjoyed it, and I’m really glad I got to play under coach V. I really learned a lot under her, and it’s cool to see she’s got a lot of local players interested in playing there.”
They also enjoyed plenty of success together.
Ballew was part of a talented sophomore class that lifted the Corsairs from seven wins a year ago to 21 this spring and described it as a “crazy turnaround.”
The catcher/outfielder proved to be particularly clutch at the plate, including hitting a massive two-out, game-tying single in the bottom of the seventh inning in a 5-4 win over Butte, the No. 9 team in the state.
“She helped us win 21 games this season behind the plate and in the outfield with her amazing arm,” Valente said. “She had some crucial plays on defense and offense to help us win some of our close games.
“She’s a player that will fight till the last out and always have her teammates backs.”
For Ballew, the choice of Pacific University came together for multiple reasons.
She also has a close friend and former teammate from McKinleyville High — Makayla Minton, who was recruited to play at Linfield University — in the area, while her girlfriend Emily also will attend Pacific and will be part of the cheer team there.
“I’ve heard a lot of good things about it,” Ballew said of the area.
Ballew will likely continue to play both catcher and in the outfield with her new team and says she’s happy to play either position as long as she can continue to play.
“It sounded like they want me to do both,” she said. “I’ll be excited to play either or both. I played a lot of center field this year and I liked the experience I got in the outfield.”
And she carried that intelligence onto the field of play, developing her game under the tutelage of the CR coaches, while growing as a player and as a person.
“I had a lot more confidence in myself (this year), and (Valente) contributed to that,” Ballew said. “And she contributed a lot to my softball IQ.”
Ballew added that the biggest difference in her game now is her mindset.
She also says the coaches at McKinleyville High and with the Lost Coast Chaos travel team — Shanna McCracken, Drew Riddle and Mike Minton — helped her tremendously when she made the switch to softball after only playing baseball before high school.
“The program was basically my introduction to a higher level of softball,” Ballew said. “I knew baseball, but I really didn’t know softball, and they taught me a ton, and I had a lot of fun with them. They kind of cemented my love for softball.”
Ballew will move to Forest Grove in August and is looking forward to the challenge and continuing her softball career.
“I always want to do as well as I can,” she said. “I hope I enjoy my classes and my teammates, and play my last two years of softball and do as well as I can.”
Valente believes she will do exactly that
“I know she’s going to succeed at the next level and I cannot wait to watch her keep playing,” the CR coach said. “We will miss her at CR, but Pacific is picking up a great human and a great player.”