Leo High School’s Ashley Miller named 2018 News-Sentinel Softball Player of Year
This story could start with a recitation of Ashley Miller’s statistics, which are as gaudy as any high school softball player in the area. We’ll get to those.
But the best players are most often team-first players, so that’s where we’ll start.
Miller, who just completed her sophomore year at Leo High School, loves winning. She loves it enough to see beyond herself, which isn’t easy at any age.
“When we needed her to put the ball in play, she did it,” Leo coach Ben Shappell said. “In the semi-state game, she put down a great bunt for us. She’s been able to separate that, especially the second half of the season, focusing on helping the team any way she can.”
Miller’s team-first approach was evident off the field, too. She emerged as the team’s No. 1 pitcher, but Leo had another talented thrower, too, in Mackenzie Rust.
“Ashley, even when we took her out as pitcher, always cheered the loudest from the dugout for Mackenzie,” Shappell said. “When you see someone super-competitive like Ashley is, and she’s in the dugout and you hear her cheering the loudest, that’s a good thing to hear.”
For the breadth of her performance in all aspects, Miller has been selected as the 2018 News-Sentinel Softball Player of the Year.
“This year, I really improved by staying focused and learning more about the game,” Miller said.
Part of Miller’s heightened focus included an intentional emphasis on the team as a whole. Leo won the Northeast 8 Conference and Class 4A sectional and regional titles in compiling a 25-4 record.
“I think mostly what led to it is that we’ve played together for a really long time and we’re just like a family,” Miller said. “Everybody gets along and I think that just improved as the season went longer. Every practice we got closer and that really helped.”
Miller’s contributions to that mix, even as a sophomore, were undeniable.
Here are those incredible statistics: Miller hit .484 with a school-record nine home runs. She hit a team-best 11 doubles with a team-high 41 runs batted in. As a pitcher, Miller finished 18-2 with a 0.75 earned run average, striking out 102 batters and walking nine. Leo opponents hit .116 against her.
“Last year, she was our backup pitcher and came in and closed a lot of games for us,” Shappell said. “Because Mackenzie couldn’t play at the beginning of the year, Ashley stepped up. We knew she’d get stronger as far as a starting pitcher, and go longer into games for us.”
Miller loves to play softball, no matter what position, but she relishes pitching.
She’s also a basketball player and she played hockey when she was younger, so a dose of competitiveness has been part of her makeup most of her life.
“She’s always been a good hitter, but she wasn’t satisfied with the year she had last year, hitting-wise,” Shappell said. “She worked on both those things (pitching and hitting) in the offseason and I was very impressed what she did on the mound for us. She doesn’t throw as hard as Mackenzie throws, but she does a good job keeping hitters off balance with the different pitches she throws.”
Miller hit third in the Leo batting order and was one of five everyday sophomores who hit .420 or better at the plate. Fellow sophomore Aaliyah Andrews (.522, 55 runs scored) battled with Miller for the home run lead. Both broke the previous Leo record of six. Andrews finished with eight.
“We lost five seniors last year and I didn’t know how well we would do as far as being a team as opposed to a bunch of individuals,” Shappell said. “I knew we had the talent.”
Miller and sophomores Andrews, Kennedy Shade and Morgan Stuckey became a productive core, along with juniors Rust and Ellenor Schelm, seniors Corey Uetrecht and Madison Dunning and freshmen Simia Spahiev and Ali Davis.
Miller plays for the Finesse Fastpitch of Michigan during the summer months. She plans to eventually play college softball but hasn’t reached the point where a decision is imminent.
For now, she’s looking forward to two more years of winning at Leo.
“I just want to improve in the game itself and be more of a leader next year, since I’m going to be an upperclassman,” Miller said. “It’s taken a lot of hard work to get where I am and my teammates and coaches have really pushed me. I’m really excited. We should have some great seasons over the next two years.”
2018 News-Sentinel All-Area
Aaliya Andrews, Leo
Rylee Cripe, East Noble
Abigail Erwin, Churubusco
Katie Felger, Homestead
Victoria Fisher, Bishop Dwenger
Savana Harless, Homestead
Ciarra Ivy, Columbia City
Ashley Miller, Leo
Tori Miller, Bellmont
Macy Montgomery, Bellmont
Regan Peppler, Angola
Mariah Perez, Concordia Lutheran
Grace Renbarger, Bishop Dwenger
Mackenzie Rust, Leo
Ashley Smith, Northrop
Kennedy Steele, Concordia Lutheran
Alyson Weisehan, Woodlan