It’s better to be on Ashley Thompson’s team than against her.
If you look at Alex Shuster’s left hand, however, you might wonder whether there is a tradeoff.
Shuster spent three years playing softball at Kiona-Benton, where she faced Thompson, the 6-foot-1 right-hander from Connell.
Her success rate against Thompson, she said, was “unsuccessful.”
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“The only pitch I think I hit off her last year was a changeup, and it got caught,” Shuster said. “I was like, ‘That was useless. Let’s go.’ ”
After transferring from Ki-Be to Connell this year, Shuster still faces Thompson, but this time, it’s as her catcher.
Shuster has caught Thompson before, playing on the Washing-ton Explosion club team. She wears a mitt, but it doesn’t seem to matter: Her fingers are swollen from constantly absorbing the impact of Thompson’s pitches, which often exceed 60 mph.
Thompson brings the heat, whether it’s game time or a casual practice.
It’s a reason why the Eagles are the two-time defending Class 1A state champions and favorites to win again.
It’s a reason why Thompson, a two-time SCAC East MVP, is 7-0 with 96 strikeouts this season.
It’s also a reason why Division I schools clamored for years to make Thompson an offer.
Next season, she will play at BYU, where she will continue pursuing her passions for pitching and hitting.
“I went down there for a visit, and I just realized that’s exactly what I wanted,” Thompson said. “Everything about it is where I felt I belonged. The morals that they have there, the values that they pride themselves in — I definitely could relate to them. I felt like I fit in really well there.”
Thompson knows a lot about fitting in. She moved to Connell from Aberdeen during her freshman year — right before softball season.
The Eagles needed a dominant pitcher after three-time SCAC East MVP Debbie Molsbarger graduated in 2009.
Thompson fit the bill, having honed her skills in travel ball and rec leagues in Aberdeen.
She led Connell to third place in the Class 1A state tournament that season. The next two years, the Eagles won the title.
Thompson, who has a sub-1.00 ERA and the state single-season record for home runs (23), would say repeating is difficult, but there’s more pressure to win a third consecutive title.
“I don’t think anyone expects a team to win twice in a row,” she said. “But if they already have, then the third time in a row, I think they expect it more, which is the scary part about it.”
The expectations also are higher, perhaps, for an athlete who had a scholarship offer from the University of Alabama at Birmingham as a 10th-grader. She verbally committed to the Blazers, but a year later, she started having second thoughts.
“They had offered me a full ride, and I think what had happened is I kind of rushed my decision,” she said. “It was a great school. I was really happy with the decision that I had made, but at the same time, I eventually realized I couldn’t see myself there as much as I could other places.”
She decommitted and got in touch with several schools, and the University of Washington came through with an offer. Again, Thompson verbally committed, but again, she eventually soured on her choice.
This time, though, she felt she deserved better.
Thompson re-started her search, and BYU lugged out the welcome mat. She signed with the Cougars in November and is relieved to have survived life as a D-I recruit.
“It was so confusing, the whole process,” she said. “It’s honestly like a blur at this point. It’s so fast. Everything happens so fast. All you do is you’re just out there playing your game, and all these college coaches are watching you, and you have to hope that they’re interested in you. And then, once you get colleges interested in you, you have to narrow them down to what you’re interested in as far as the college, how big of a college you want to go to, how far away you want to be from home, whether you want to go to a D-I. It’s a lot to take into perspective.”
Thompson wasn’t just sought after for her athletic talent. She is set to graduate as valedictorian with a 4.0 grade-point average.
“From the very beginning, I was like, ‘I have to do it. It’s not even an option,’ ” she said.
Thompson doesn’t like to lose focus in school or on the field. She doesn’t get easily rattled, either. In last year’s state quarterfinal game against Okanogan, she stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded. After pushing Bulldogs reliever Kolby Marchand to a full count, she bashed the next pitch for a grand slam.“I keep it simple,” Thompson said. “I keep the game really simple. I ignore all baserunners. I ignore all outside sources and focus on the internal game, and that is my method of success.”
It’s a plan that seems to be working without a hitch.