Softball: Ash carrying Basalt back to higher ground | AspenTimes.com

Softball: Ash carrying Basalt back to higher ground

Basalt High School junior pitcher Morgan Ash, standing in the center surrounded by the rest of the BHS softball team, has been the catalyst to the Longhorns' strong start this fall.

If the Basalt High School softball team struggles, it's often Morgan Ash's fault. Likewise, when the team does well, Ash deserves much of the credit.

That is life in the circle for the junior, the "only true pitcher" the Longhorns have this season. Even with everything riding on her shoulders, Ash wouldn't want it any other way.

"When you talk to most pitchers, they normally talk about the pressure and how much they hate it. But honestly, the pressure is what I live for," Ash said. "That's what makes it worth it, being able to guide your team through a game and being that one person that can either bring everybody up or everybody down. It's a big role, and there is a lot on you."

Unlike a season ago, when the team didn't reach .500 and missed the Class 3A state tournament for the first time since 2011, Ash is more prepared to handle the pressure that comes with being the team's heart.

Now an upperclassman on a team with only two seniors, she has become the vocal leader on and off the field. Most importantly, it's Ash's emotional consistency that sets her apart from her sophomore self.

"Morgan is a totally different player this year. Last year, as a sophomore, she was real up and down," said second-year Basalt coach Marianne Gardner-Smith. "She let the mood of the team dictate her. This year, she is the mood of the team. She keeps them up."

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And so far in 2016, the Longhorns aren't simply "up" from last season but are soaring. Basalt is 7-1 this fall; it's only loss is a 12-2 defeat at home against Cedaredge, one of the few times Ash has truly struggled this season. That was the first game of a doubleheader, however, and Ash answered with a strong second game in an 8-7 win over the Bruins, which so far is the team's signature win.

The Longhorns most recently played in Denver over the weekend, going 3-0 to win the Silver division of the Thomas Jefferson Tournament.

"It is definitely a big shock and a big wake-up call to see what we can actually do," Ash said of Basalt's hot start. "And it really is exciting to see where we are going to go. Right now, our minds are at state. This team has been incredible."

Of the first eight games, Ash has only missed one, a 13-12 win against Meeker where she was recovering from an arm strain. Junior Meg Nieslanik and sophomore Afton Larsen are considered the team's emergency pitchers.

In seven appearances, Ash is 5-1 with a 5.30 earned run average and 18 strikeouts.

"She lets it ride on her shoulders and she does a good job with it," Gardner-Smith said. "Morgan is a real space cadet. When she gets on the softball field everything kind of comes together for her. I think that's her good spot in life."

Basalt, which entered the Colorado High School Activities Association poll this week at No. 6 in Class 3A, next plays a doubleheader Saturday at Montezuma-Cortez.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

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