Richelle Ashburn is ending her prep softball career on her terms.
The Post Falls High standout had her first three seasons cut short by wrist and shoulder injuries. They limited her pitching, but she was still able to contribute as a position player.
Ashburn has enjoyed a healthy senior season and it’s not a coincidence the Trojans are making their first trip to state since 2006. She allowed one unearned run in 14 innings, pitching Post Falls past Coeur d’Alene and Lake City to win the 5A Region I title last week.
“I feel 100 percent again,” said Ashburn, who is 12-4 with a 0.89 ERA. “It’s so nice not to have to worry about it all the time.”
The worrying is left to others who must deal with Ashburn’s six-pitch arsenal. She’ll be in the circle against Mountain View today in the State 5A tournament opener at Twin Falls High School. Post Falls’ best state finish was fourth at the 2004 4A tournament.
“Usually in the winter I train five days a week, but I cut it down to four, and I go to River City Physical Therapy and do a weekly strengthening routine,” she said. “It’s helped me a lot.”
Head coach Jack Foster also resisted the urge to overtax Ashburn’s arm during the regular season.
“It kind of bothered her a few times, wanting to go in that second game (of doubleheaders),” Foster said. “But we talked after the (regional championship) and it was frustrating at times, but it all paid off in the end.”
The result? A dominating season with over 200 strikeouts.
Post Falls enters state with soaring confidence. Standout Bri Joseph, bothered by a shoulder injury the last few weeks, has been cleared to return to her customary position at second base. Dara Kolar, one of five freshmen contributors, is expected to play after missing regionals with a broken nose.
The Trojans were sharp on defense and scored four runs while winning two regional games.
“We know we’re going to be in every game and if we score three or four runs we’re probably going to win,” Foster said of Ashburn’s pitching.
“She hits her spots and she has good movement on her pitches. She’s really good about moving the ball up and down and changing the eye level (of the batter). She works the outside corner really well. And she throws hard and that doesn’t hurt.”
Ashburn hasn’t had to make much of an adjustment to the new pitching distance of 43 feet, back 3 feet from previous seasons. She’s been pitching from the 43-foot collegiate distance since eighth grade in training sessions with Spokane pitching guru Steve Fountain.
Ashburn’s pitching on the summer circuit caught the eye of numerous recruiters. She has signed with Seattle University, whose coach noticed Ashburn while recruiting Lewiston’s Jessica Ulrich. Ulrich just concluded her freshman season with the Redhawks.
Ashburn is excited about playing next season for Seattle University, but she has more pressing business this week.
“This has probably been the best year just because the team gets along great and we finally made it to state, which has always been a goal,” Ashburn said. “This team has grown up so much throughout the season. We’re making a minimal number of errors in games. We’re going to play to our full potential. I’m very confident.”
Lakeland (12-10) tangles with Wood River in today’s opener at Pocatello High. The Hawks upended Moscow twice to capture the regional crown. Senior pitcher Jamie Klopatek picked up both wins.
Kellogg upset Intermountain League champion Timberlake in the district championship to earn its first trip to state. The Wildcats (9-6) open against Teton today at Ramsey Park in Coeur d’Alene. Timberlake (13-9), which earned the district’s second berth to state, will face Fruitland.
Kellogg and Timberlake would meet in the second round Friday if both win or both lose.