As the valedictorian at Walla Walla High School, Elli Rassbach has spent most of the past week working on her graduation day speech.
If she’s worried about making a good impression, she need not be concerned.
The Blue Devils’ senior first baseman and pitcher has spent her high school softball career doing just that, and she started doing it from her very first varsity at bat.
“As a freshman, she swung back and forth from JV, but she wasn’t afraid of anything. So we brought her up to varsity for regionals,” former Walla Walla coach Jerry Humphrey said. “We were trailing Richland 4-2 and nobody was hitting. They were all intimidated by the Bombers.
“So we sent her up there to pinch hit, thinking what could possibly go wrong?”
Rassbach took a pitch from Richland ace Paige Goulet, then sent the next one sailing over the fence to start a five-run comeback that resulted in a 7-4 win and the regional title.
“When you start thinking too much about what’s going on, you put too much pressure on yourself,” Rassbach said. “It’s not having the expectation of hitting, and just going up there and hitting that helps.”
Rassbach has kept up her fearless approach at the plate and become one of the Mid-Columbia Conference’s most feared hitters. The Pacific Lutheran-bound right-hander is also one of the most dependable pitchers in the Mid-Columbia basin.
“She’s not an overpowering pitcher, but she and her catcher (Jacie McDaniels) work really well together. They’re very smart, and they learn their opponents,” Blue Devils coach Kate Keyes said.
Using a drop ball, a change-up and a rise ball, Rassbach isn’t as likely to whip a fastball by you as much as use her softball IQ to get you out.
Keyes said Rassbach’s leadership ability is one of her strongest assets.
“She’s an all-around good leader and probably one of the hardest working kids on our team,” Keyes said. “She shows incredible dedication in the offseason and concern for her teammates and the program. She’s always helping others get better.”
A part of the Blue Devils’ state championship team in 2011, Rassbach has kept in mind the example her older teammates set for her.
“The biggest lesson is to set high expectations for yourself and other people. The only way to achieve big things is to set the bar high,” she said.
After winning state in 2011 and finishing second in 2012, Walla Walla missed out on state last season. Rassbach was roughed up in the circle on the last day of regionals in losses to Richland and Central Valley but has used the memory to her advantage.
“I don’t want to dwell on that day or think about everything that went wrong. I think abouut that day in terms of what can I do so it doesn’t happen again,” she said. “I think we are underdogs going into the state tournament, but I don’t think that’s a bad position to be in. Nobody is going to really expect anything from us, but nobody is going to know what to expect from us.”