Mission Valley softballers experience NAIA World Series

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CORBAN WARRIOR teammates (5) Ashleigh Lynch (left field) and (22) Alyssa Doty (catcher) pose with the 2017 NAIA Softball World Series team runner-up trophy after battling the Oklahoma City Stars for the national title in Florida. The Warriors finished second in their quest for an NAIA National Title. (Photo courtesy of Jamie Lynch)

Former Corban University and Ronan Maiden softball player Ashleigh Lynch readily admits she never knew how far softball could and would take her.

Lynch’s four-year college career was topsy turvy from the standpoint she played under three head coaches in the combined four years at Wenatchee Valley Community College and Corban University. According to Lynch, she took all three transitions in stride.

“Getting used to the different coaching styles was fairly easy because all of the coaches were very similar,” Lynch said. “Not every coach is going to be the same. I just adapted to various coaching styles and made it work. I really liked all three of my coaches and I liked every one of their different coaching philosophies.”

During Lynch’s senior season, she adapted to another new coach Abigail Farler, who she said really challenged the team to obtain high goals and set high standards for themselves. The result for Lynch and her Mission Valley teammate and former rival Alyssa Doty was belonging to a team that ended up placing second at the NAIA National Softball Tournament.

For Lynch, a small town softball player from Ronan, getting to experience a national tournament in a competitive league at the NAIA was a “dream come true.”

“I guess it’s always been a dream of mine to see how far I could go in my softball career,” Lynch said. “I guess the door flew completely open for a little, small town girl from Ronan. When I transferred from WVCC to Corban, I would have never expected such an amazing, amazing experience.”

In the opening round of the regional, her team played in Columbia, Kent. at Lindsey Wilson College, and according to Lynch, seeing teams from various parts of the south and Midwest was an “eye-opening” experience.

“When we went to Kentucky, we played against teams like Illinois, Louisiana, Florida, Oklahoma and all of these amazing teams that I had never been exposed to,” Lynch said. “They all had athletic ability.”

Lynch also said the climate in Kentucky and Florida, where various portions of the NAIA National Softball Tournament were played, took a little getting used to.

“The further we made it in the post season, the more amazing talent and great competition we faced,” Lynch said. “It was great competition no matter who we faced.”

Lynch and Doty’s team lost to the eventual NAIA National Champions from Oklahoma City University 2-0, and ended up climbing their way out of the loser’s bracket.

“When we ended up playing OKC, a team that hadn’t lost a game all season to a team in their division,” Lynch explained. “Since they hadn’t lost, we had to beat them twice.”

Lynch said it was “tough” to play a team like OKC, a team that finished with a record of 67-1.

“You always have jitters when you are playing against a team that has a team record like they do,” Lynch admitted. “They make it to the World Series all of the time and this was our first time ever making it to the World Series. We were very nervous at the same time we made it here and we were just as good as any other team in the World Series. We had to play at a high standard.”

Lynch said her and the team always focused on improving.

“We always had to focus on ourselves, play our game and not try to do too much,” Lynch said. “We played some really close games and it was very, very close for a long time.”

The Montana Connection

Ashleigh Lynch and Alyssa Doty, two key components of their team’s NAIA National Championship run and both from the Mission Valley, forged a friendship where a rivalry once existed between the two teams.

Doty, who played for Mission-Arlee-Charlo, and Lynch, a Ronan Maiden, were initially separated by virtue of the fact they competed as rivals in high school but were now playing together to accomplish one goal: an NAIA National Championship title.

“We were on different teams in high school and I competed against her but we had never played on the same team,” Lynch said. “Once I got to know her and hung out more, I loved her dearly. Now we had the opportunity to make it to the tournament like that and experience it as teammates. It was comforting to be able to relate to us both being from really small towns and being able to experience all that we did together. It was really nice to have a person like that.”

Doty said connecting with Lynch made the transition from high school to college baseball “easier.”

“I just felt like coming from a much smaller town in Montana, it doesn’t seem like many girls from Montana went on to to play college softball,” Doty, whose brother Jared Doty was a key member of the Charlo Vikings’ team that finished second place, said. “We felt like together we could be role models for all of those little girls who dream of going to school and playing softball. We pushed each in other in hopes of being role models and our love for the state of Montana brought us closer together in a lot of ways.”

Hard work pays off

Both Lynch and Doty worked extremely hard to get to the level of softball they were able to make it to.

Lynch called on the expertise of a local softball trainer, Brad Benson, who is also the maintenance engineer at Ronan High School.

“I could see right off the bat she learned a great work ethic from her mom and dad,” Benson said. “Her parents are very hard workers and they have a good work ethic. Another thing I taught her was to be prepared for college by practicing a minimum of three hours. There are so many kids that aren’t properly prepped to go into college. My oldest daughter played in California and I knew this is how practice was going to be.”

Doty agreed with Benson’s stance of the more intense level of training.

“My freshman year was pretty crazy,” Doty said. “I should say practice and structure was two to four to six hours a day in college.”

Doty recalls the rigorous college schedule transitioning from coaches with different philosophical approaches.

“I remember at the end of the fall season going for a run and feeling like I was able to run forever,” Doty said. “It seemed like everything we were doing was paying off. I could practice softball for days in a row without getting tired, especially this year because our new coach pushed us even more than the previous coach. It felt like we had to run forever. Our coach asked after the season if we would do it again. Without hesitation, everyone said ‘yes.’”

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