High school softball: Hard work pays off for Penns Valley’s all-star shortstop

wmoody@centredaily.comJune 19, 2014 

Penns Valley’s Ashley Struble has plenty of statistics to be proud of from her final softball season.

The shortstop hit a school-record .553 and led all Centre County batters with six home runs.

But there’s another number that the three-sport athletes is proud of as well — 4.0.

That’s the grade point average she amassed on the way to being named one of her class’ 10 valedictorians.

“It was tough,” said Struble, who will play for the District 6 squad in Thurday’s annual Pennsylvania Softball Coaches Association All-Star Game, which which begins at 7 p.m. at Nittany Lion Softball Park. “It was a lot of late nights, a lot of studying. It was hard, but it was worth it in the end.”

“When you’re good athlete, that’s one thing,” said Penns Valley softball coach Don Lucas. “But when you’re a smart, good athlete, that puts you at a different level. She’s an absolute student of the game and I’m going to miss her dearly.”

“There’s a lot of classes that I was really close,” Struble said of keeping her 4.0 GPA. “I really challenged myself with harder classes. It was a close call for all of them. I ended up pulling it out and I was really proud of myself for that.”

Struble’s final softball season was a challenge, too.

First, it took a hit during another sports season. Late in her basketball season, Struble suffered a tear of the posterior cruciate ligament in her right knee. When practice opened, she was on the sidelines still trying to recover from the injury.

“It was hard for me because I was one of the ones injured at the beginning of the season,” said Struble, who also played volleyball for the Lady Rams. “I had to work extra hard so that I could be at the level a senior should be.”

“The trainer told me that she has not had anybody work any harder than Ashley to get back and ready to play,” Lucas said.

She wasn’t the only one with injuries and the team had to replace it’s entire outfield. The Lady Rams got off to an 0-6 start and were struggling until Struble’s bat helped start a turnaround.

Against rival Bellefonte, Struble blasted a solo homer to open the game and smacked a walk-off blast to lead off the eighth inning of a 4-3 triumph.

Lucas said the season definitely turned after the Bellefonte win. “Anytime you beat a County team that’s a feather in your hat because it’s tough to do,” he said. “They had spanked us the first time around.”

Within the week, Struble had hit two more homers during a wild 15-14 win over Central five days later.

“I was hoping for a few, but not six.,” Struble said of her power surge in the season.

She now ranks along with Amanda Gordon as two of the most prolific home run hitters in program history.

“I actually talked to her after my junior year and said, ‘Oh, I’ve hit four,’” Struble said of Gordon. “She said to me, ‘Come talk to me after you’ve hit 10.’ I guess I need to have a conversation with her because now I’ve got 10.”

“She has confidence,” Lucas said. “When she’s coming up to the plate, you just think she’s going to get a hit and very few times has she not come through.”

Struble also took her lumps during the season, too. She took a bad-hop grounder in the face against Bald Eagle Area that required medical treatment.

“I played the next day,” Struble said. “It didn’t faze me that much. I went to the emergency room and they gave me stitches for it. I knew I had to play the next day so I played with a face mask for about a week and a half.”

“They always tell you to take a week off,” Lucas said. “She said, ‘You know what, that’s not going to happen.’ The next day we went to Clearfield and she goes 4-for-4 and hits a home run while wearing a mask.”

Struble, who still has a tiny scar above her lip from that grounder, said Centre County softball is always a battle.

“There’s a lot of good hitters that hit really hard,” she said. “Everyone has bumps, bruises and scars that they can tell a story about.”

Struble remained fearless at shortstop and was never afraid to sacrifice her body to make a play.

“You have to want to dive,” she said. “You can’t be a clean player and play shortstop. ... I had been playing baseball since I was four years old. I was always a diver and a slider.”

“She’s really one of those pig-pen type gals,” Lucas said. “When we came out of the games, she was always the filthiest.”

The Lady Rams closed the season by winning seven of their final 11 games.

“I think that our team did very well,” Struble said. “We were struck with adversity from the beginning of the season with injuries, girls leaving and moving and stuff like that. ... It was really hard, but the way we ended are season I’m really proud of the girls. They worked really hard and we overcame the adversity.”

“I was really happy with the way I played,” Struble added. “I knew it was my last year. I wanted to have the season of my life and I did. I was really proud of how hard I worked to come back from my injury and play as well as I did.”

Now, the question is if Struble will play at the next level.

She’s been accepted onto the main campus at Penn State where she plans to major in kinesiology, working toward a career as a physical therapist. She could try to walk on there.

Penn State Altoona coach Fred Caldwell, who has turned around the program with the help of several Centre County standouts, also has contacted Struble about playing for him.

Struble expects to make her decision soon, but can’t imagine not playing the game.

“It’s been so much fun,” she said. “I absolutely have so much passion for the sport. I would play all year round if I could.”

She gets an opportunity to help District 6 take on District 4 at Penn State on Thursday, which is a special treat.

“I’m really excited for this game because I’ve never played at Beard Field,” Struble said. “When I made District 6 All-Stars, I knew that I was going to be able to play in this game. I was really excited.

“It’s going to be so much fun,” she added. “A lot of these girls I’ve played against for years. It’s going to be really cool to play together instead of against each other.”

Lucas said Struble, who will be joined by four teammates in Thursday’s game, will be missed.

“You’d like to have nine of her,” he said. “From the time she stepped into the practice room as a ninth grader, you just knew she was going to play,” he said.

Notes: The contest will be a 10-inning game. ... The District 6 team has 27 players on its roster. ... District 6 will induct Southern Huntingdon’s Renee Schmidt, Central Mountain Taylor Lesser, Central Cambria’s Samantha Kemock and Mifflin County’s Kimbra Eckley into its Hall of Fame in ceremonies that are slated for 6 p.m.

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