You can quantify athletes in myriad ways — in physical measurements, in statistics, in wins and losses. Sometimes, though, there’s simply no measuring for motivation.

Ashley Alward transformed herself during the offseason, turning herself into the pitcher she knew she could be and into the hitter she’d always imagined. She went unbeaten with a sub-1.00 earned run average in the regular season for the Skowhegan Area High School softball team, while batting nearly .400 and leading the team in RBIs at the heart of the order at the plate.

For her efforts, Alward has been named the Morning Sentinel Softball Player of the Year. Lawrence senior Lilly Herrin and Madison junior Ashley Emery were also considered.

“Most of it for her this year was just being mentally stronger,” Skowhegan coach Lee Johnson said. “I don’t know if that comes with maturity or if it’s something else. She always had good stufff, but her mental toughness really took a big step. That was the biggest difference for her.”

Alward, a junior, was a perfect 8-0 in the regular season, compiling 100 strikeouts and allowing a total of just six earned runs across her eight starts in a wide open Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference. She only got stronger in the postseason, going 3-0 in the Class A North regional tournament, leading the Indians to their second straight regional title by surrendering only a single run on three hits in 19 innings of work. She racked up 26 strikeouts and a 0.32 ERA over that stretch.

She was named the KVAC Player of the Year.

“I never would have guessed that the work I put in would have gotten these results,” Alward said. “Player of the Year, that’s a huge accomplishment, but the best part was how great it was to see the team make steps forward and keep getting better and better.”

Alward had a fine sophomore season, but she knew there was more in her. After splitting time in the circle in 2016 with teammate Sydney Ames, Alward never pitched in the playoffs that spring. She accepted her role in right field as the No. 7 hitter in the Indians’ lineup and was thrilled to be part of Skowhegan’s improbable run to the Class A state championship game.

But her competitive fire burns brightly, and she wanted to be the go-to arm for the Indians when they returned to the postseason this year.

“At the end of last year, I was happy with where we got as a team, but as a person, I wanted to be in that spot,” Alward said. “I wanted to be the one person we could go to and count on to pitch in the big games and at big times.”

She worked all winter in Portland on all aspects of her game, particularly at pitching. She entered into an off-season weight training program. She focused on becoming the best softball player she could be, both physically and mentally.

Johnson said it was soon obvious that she had taken the next step.

“I think the end of her sophomore year inspired her to work a little bit harder,” Johnson said. “I think sometimes being around other good (players), you have tendency to emulate what they’re doing. A lot of it was just being in that environment, and she was much stronger mentally this year. That led to her confidence.”

That confidence, the opposition soon found out, translated into on-field performance. She finished with a .382 average at the plate with one home run, 16 runs scored and 19 more driven in. From the circle, her efforts only seemed to get stronger as the year went on. In the regional semifinals against Bangor, Alward tossed a five-inning perfect game — an effort so strong, the only thing that thwarted it was an offensive explosion from Skowhegan that ended the game via the mercy rule after the fifth.

“I think she would have gone all seven innings and still been perfect that day, I really do,” Johnson said. “She dominated those playoff games.”

Even in the state championship loss to unbeaten Scarborough, Alward didn’t yield an earned run and struck out nine.

“I knew that I wanted a bigger role,” Alward said. “Not that I didn’t have a big role (as a sophomore), but we had people graduate, we had people move, and we all talked about somebody would have to fill those spots. I wanted to be that player. Sydney (Ames) and Sydney (Reed) have always been those girls. I wanted to work as hard as I could to get as good as I could to be one of those girls, too.”

For Alward, it was mission accomplished, and there was more than one way to measure that success.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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