Ashley Alward would have been hard-pressed to cap her impressive junior year, a season in which she led the Skowhegan softball team to a second straight regional title with a sub-1.00 ERA after allowing fewer than 20 hits all spring.

Yet, somehow, Alward found another gear as a senior.

A truly dominant pitcher in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference, Alward cut virtually every one of her meaningful pitching statistics in half and threw the Indians all the way to another Class A North championship game appearance. For her efforts, Alward has been named the Morning Sentinel Softball Player of the Year for the second year in a row.

“I put a little bit of pressure on myself, just because I had such a good year (as a junior),” said Alward, who will play softball at the University of Southern Maine next season. “I didn’t really change anything, but I had a lot more confidence because (head coach Lee Johnson) had confidence in me and I had confidence in my team around me. That was the biggest thing.”

Alward posted mind-boggling numbers. Her ERA dropped to 0.42 (0.73 in 2017) after she allowed just six runs in total in the regular season. Her strikeout to walk ratio was 10.3-to-1. Only 18 batters collected hits off her (36 in ’17).

The numbers look even better when you consider she started only nine of Skowhegan’s 16 games. She fanned 134 would-be hitters, averaging better than 14 strikeouts per start.

“No question, she was very, very dominant,” Johnson said of his playoff starter for three straight season. “And she did all that on a team that relied on pitching and defense. Her ability to command the strike zone with different pitches made it so she could dictate at-bats. She didn’t fall behind, and when she needed to, she could throw something hard that would challenge batters.”

Alward, simply put, challenged batters better than any other pitcher in the league. She had nearly 60 more strikeouts than any other pitcher in the conference.

“You got to the point where we felt that if we scored three or four runs, we were going to win,” Johnson said.

To get that small handful of runs, the Indians turned to Alward, too. She hit .420 out of the No. 3 spot in the order, collecting 16 RBIs and hitting two home runs.

“Last offseason, I spent a lot more time on hitting,” Alward said. “I knew that to get to the next level — I knew my pitching was there — but I knew where I wanted to be hitting-wise, too. I definitely had to work on that part of it. When I came in as a freshman, I was on the smaller side, but I went through a big growth spurt and I had to learn how to get everything out of my body. I worked on developing those muscles and my strength and my swing.”

In each of the last two winters, the time Alward put in to improve paid dividends.

Johnson hopes younger players can learn from what Alward did.

“I’m hoping people can learn from her about putting in the work,” Johnson said. “That’s what it takes.”

Alward said that Bowdoin College assistant softball coach Jen Burton played a big role in getting her to develop her pitching game. She works with Burton throughout the offseason in a private pitching program.

“She has been a big supporter of me through softball and on a personal level, too,” Alward said. “She’s someone I confide in a lot with my insecurities about softball. She’s helped me grow as a person, as a player and as a pitcher. A lot of my success goes to her, even though she would never say that.”

Skowhegan’s season might have come to a disappointing end with its first loss of the year in the regional final against Oxford Hills, but Alward will remember a lot of the good things the Indians accomplished.

“Obviously, I’ll remember the Oxford Hills game from the beginning of the season (a 2-1 Skowhegan win), but I’ll remember the team mostly,” Alward said. “We played more together as a unit this year. That let me relax more than I did in the past, and when I’m relaxed I play better than when I’m stressed out.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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