Softball: Catching on

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TWU courtesy photo
TWU catcher Ashley Maddox awaits a pitch during a recent game. TWU will face Humboldt State in the NCAA Division II tournament at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Salem, Va.

Freshman Maddox takes charge behind plate for Pioneers

Coming into any situation as the low player on the totem pole can be a difficult task. It takes time to develop trust and comfort as the newest component of a well-oiled machine.

TWU freshman Ashley Maddox has not only fit in, but solidified the recently vacated catcher’s position for the NCAA Division II tournament-bound Pioneers.

With last season’s starting catcher, Tiffany Weise, transitioning to assistant coach, a void existed on a team that had made the regional tournament for the second time in three years.

With the position up for grabs early this season, it was Maddox who jumped on the opportunity. Since then, TWU coach Richie Bruister said, “She never looked back.”

“She said, ‘I want it.’ She continued to get better,” Bruister said. “She wasn’t the starter at the beginning of the year. She got into the lineup with her hitting. She was on fire, and her catching continued to get better.”

Weise, now Maddox’s catching coach, has watched her mature as a backstop while propelling the team with positivity.

“She plays the part back there,” Weise said. “She’s made me proud as her catching coach and as the former catcher of this team. I’m proud of how hard she’s worked. She does well listening to the advice I give her between innings, and she’s fit in just fine.”

Maddox had some apprehension about the transition from high school to an established college team.

“It’s a little difficult because these girls are already such a tight-knit group,” Maddox said. “They are already a family, so coming into this family I had to really try to make sure I filled those shoes well and that I got along with the girls.”

The Pflugerville native credited Weise and the rest of team for her smooth transition into the family atmosphere.

“Tiffany helped me so much,” Maddox said. “I think it’s kind of like an older sister-little sister type of thing. She stepped right in to show me the ropes and told me how to do everything the correct way. The girls just accepted me with welcome arms.”

Maddox did make the inevitable rookie mistakes, but Weise was there to remind her that she wasn’t alone.

“When I made a defensive mistake, she would pat me on the back and say, ‘I made the same one last year; I know how that feels,’” Maddox said. “It was great having her here, and it was still fresh in her mind with catching these girls.”

One of those pitchers, Katie Hines, is well aware of the challenge Maddox faced while coming in as a freshman.

“She’s done a great job learning that it’s OK to be a leader and it’s OK to step up,” Hines said. “It’s hard to come in as a freshman. It can be a little intimidating, especially as the only freshman on the team. We all had other freshmen to go through it with together, and she’s by herself.”

Bruister shared a broader perspective of Maddox’s ascension as vocal and emotional leader.

“There’s no hazing or anything like that, but when the team is picking on you or playing practical jokes, they like you and you’re part of them,” Bruister said. “As a player, you wonder, ‘Are they good enough?’ Then as time goes on, you see that she’s fine and it raises their game.”

With her bat getting her into the lineup, her defensive presence still needed fine-tuning. After 63 games and the Pioneers set to play at nationals, Maddox is second on the team in putouts with 260, behind first baseman Kendra Sancet’s 452.

Weise, who also was an emotional leader as TWU’s catcher, said she took an aggressive approach when it came to getting Maddox into an appropriate mindset during a grueling schedule that takes a unique toll on the shoulders and knees of a catcher.

“I just tried to keep her state of mind, not as a freshman, but as a senior. She is our main catcher right now. I tell her all the time, ‘As a catcher, you just have to suck it up, because we need you.’ She knows she has a tough job and she’s got a lot of games to catch. I’m trying to keep her healthy and up, not down, because we need her.”

With only two other underclassmen on this year’s veteran-laden squad, Maddox is aware of what type of opportunity she has to go to the national tournament as a freshman and gain experience.

“It would be nice to sit there and think we will go to nationals every year, but I don’t know if that will really happen,” Maddox said. “Nobody knows what it’s like to go to nationals on this team, so we are all going through it together. It’s a huge step for all of us, and I think it will help a lot with me when I’m in the seniors’ shoes later.”

Maddox, who hits eighth in the Pioneer lineup, leads the team in sacrifice hits and flies. Bruister said that speaks volumes of her leadership and team-first attitude — an attitude the catcher said the entire team shares.

“It’s a different mindset,” Maddox said. “These girls want to win, be here every day and they are happy to be here every day. It’s a job and it’s what we do. We come here and are expected to get our job done. You don’t see that at the lower levels. It’s fun, but it’s not as committed as this level here.”

 


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