Softball is a mental game, defined by the silent chess matches that pitchers and hitters play, by the split-second decisions to steal a base or turn a double play.
There is tranquility to the way these things can appear so slow, yet happen so rapidly on a softball field. CSU junior infielder Ashlie Ortega finds herself at peace in the center of this symphony, in the gap between second and third base.
Ortega, who transferred from Missouri and is originally from Brighton, Colo., has excelled on the diamond this year. The shortstop has a batting average of .364, and has tallied 19 RBIs, 17 runs and 5 home runs through 20 games this season.
At the CSU Classic last weekend, Ortega showcased her skills for the home fans, including two solo-shot home runs.
She is an exceptional athlete and hitter, so her idea of the best aspect of her game came as a surprise.
“For me I would say my mental game, it keeps me calm,” Ortega said.
The fundamentals of Ortega’s success begin before the first pitch of a game is even thrown.
“It starts in practice. When I am walking around the field, the key is visualization. I try to put myself in situations that I know are going to be similar to what I will see in the games,” she said.
Ortega’s future in softball wasn’t always certain. She began her college career at Missouri, but was redshirted just four games into her sophomore year after tearing her ACL and meniscus.
“It was a test mentally more than anything, whether or not I could recover,” Ortega said. “There were so many times during rehab when the pain was unbearable and I began to question whether I could keep going, or if this was a sign to give up.”
After returning to Colorado for rehab and realizing she needed a change, CSU seemed like the right place for her to be.
Ortega and CSU coach Jen Fisher had a connection dating back to Ashlie’s high school days.
When Ortega was a senior at Erie High School in Brighton, Fisher was coaching at Metro State. Fisher would have loved to have Ashlie as a Roadrunner, but Missouri and other Division-I schools were soon recruiting her.
Two years later, Fisher wasn’t going to let Ortega get away again.
“When I heard that she was considering moving back home, the fact that we already knew each other made it pretty easy for things to fall in place for her at CSU,” Fisher said.
The odds were stacked against Ashlie. Many great athletes have been sidelined by ACL injuries and have never returned to the field; however, Ortega is no stranger to adversity.
Although she has been playing softball since she was a little girl, she hasn’t always been the superstar.
“Growing up, I was not a very good softball player, so my coach never gave me the opportunity to hit,” Ortega said. “I really came from the bottom up, and to go through that took so much mental toughness.”
When her ACL tear tested that toughness once again, her love for the game kept her going.
“The hardest part of the injury was not being able to be out on the field,” Ortega said. “I pushed through it and so much success has come out of it and I have learned so much more about myself.”
For Ortega, her mentality is vital to her success.
“I think of it as my edge.” she said. “You can have the physical ability. You can run fast and you can jump or hit. My mental game is something else that I bring to the table.”
For Fisher and the Rams, Ortega’s intellect is just as helpful as her athleticism.
“She has so much game knowledge and game instincts, and its wonderful to have somebody who thinks and cares about the game and the details of the game so much,” Fisher said.
Having Ortega means not only having a great player, but having another coach as well.
“We use her ideas.” Fisher said. “She has such good game instincts that she will come to the coaches with an idea, and we will go with it.”
Ortega has found her place at CSU. Now, she can settle in on the field and put her mind to winning with the Rams.
Softball Beat Reporter Tyrus Coder can be reached at email@example.com.