When Erin Ashby arrived upon the Crescenta Valley High softball diamond as a freshman, she was a complement to an already star-studded and established cast of Falcons that included the likes of Baillie Kirker, Lainey DePompa, Ashleigh Viers-Gordillo, Stephanie Ziemann and Alyssa Sovereign.
But after a senior season in which she stood out just as she did during her sophomore and junior campaigns, it's quite clear that Ashby has left a mark on the program and the area all her own.
"She showed what you can do by working hard and she started out with a good work ethic and kept it," says Falcons Coach Dan Berry. "She built a legacy at CV with that work ethic."
It was a legacy concluded with the lasting impression of a phenomenal senior season that has culminated with Ashby being voted the 2011 All-Area Softball Player of the Year by the sportswriters and editors of the Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader and La Cañada Valley Sun — an honor bestowed upon her for a second straight year.
Ashby's swan song was a senior season in which she proved herself to be the complete package.
She was a leader for a Falcons team that reestablished itself atop the Pacific League, exemplifying the definition of a team player and a versatile talent, as, with a scholarship to Stanford already in hand, she once again took to the pitching circle, forgoing her natural position as an infielder to further her team's chances at success. And then, of course, there were the numbers: a .636 batting average on 56 hits in 88 at-bats, 47 runs scored, 43 driven in, 10 home runs, 14 doubles, a .680 on-base percentage and a 1.159 slugging percentage.
"It was more of a reassurance when she got up to bat, we knew we still had a chance," senior catcher Kelly Bako says.
For Ashby, though, it was just more of the same.
Upon season's end, she was the Pacific League Most Valuable Player for a second straight season and she was once more a CIF Southern Section Division III first-team honoree. Her numbers put the finishing touches on a stellar career line: .510 batting average (181 for 352), 159 runs, 124 RBI and 17 home runs. But, as impressive as the numbers were, they certainly were not the entire story.
"She did whatever we asked and that was in her makeup to make the team better," Berry says.
And as much as the team needed Ashby the hitter, it needed Ashby the pitcher just as badly entering the 2010 season.
Previously a standout at third base — and still one in the field as evidenced by her .989 fielding percentage after committing just one error in 88 chances in 2011 — Ashby had no designs on being a pitcher, but in the wake of Heather Bacon and Kali Cancelosi's graduations, there was a call to Ashby for her arm. It was a role that Ashby took on gladly as a junior and a senior.
"I really felt that going into both seasons, 'I'm a pitcher. … I have to be the best I can be at that position,'" Ashby says. "I was happy to fulfill that role for my team."
In leading the Falcons to a share of the league crown with Burroughs and an appearance in the Division III postseason, Ashby was 15-3 in the circle, striking out 124 batters in 97 innings, while walking just 27 and finishing the season with a 2.02 earned-run average. Ashby wasn't always overpowering and she wasn't always flawless, but even in the games in which she struggled, she kept the Falcons in the hunt. And even in the games when the opposition jumped on her early, Ashby pitched better as the game went on to keep her team within striking distance.
"She was the pitcher and she took control of it," Bako says. "Even though it wasn't her main position, she acted like it was hers.
"She would stay strong. She would pull through."
Ashby's worth to the Falcons also came in the form of leadership, a role she took on as a junior and even more so entering her senior season.
"She's a great leader on and off the field," Falcons freshman outfielder Hannah Cookson said. "She kind of took me under her wing and helped me out and showed me how to be a leader."
Ashby, however, is quick to dismiss the notion that all the duties of steering the Falcons' ship rested upon her shoulders.
"It wasn't a pressure situation at all," she says. "Sydney [House] was a really big part, Kelly was a really big part, all our seniors, whether they were captains or not, did a really good job stepping up. We all had each other's backs."
But Ashby's leadership also came simply by example in the work ethic she showed and the preparation she put forth.
"She was always out there ready to go," Bako says. "[It was] a job she likes to do."
Indeed, softball is likely best described in Ashby's case as a job she enjoys doing.
"Softball, softball and more softball," Ashby replies when asked of what her summer has entailed.
Since she was 4 and took up T-ball, playing "with the boys," Ashby has found herself on the diamond. Little League, travel ball, Crescenta Valley and soon Stanford, Ashby's built a reputation for herself and put in hours and hours of practice and play.
"I know she's always loved to play softball," Bako says. "Whenever anybody heard about Erin, it was because she was good at softball. She's always been very good, she's won a bunch of awards, she's going to play at Stanford, so any time you're that good, there's always pressure."
But it's the pressure that Ashby seems to enjoy most and the work and the practice that she's seemingly so ready to take on.
"I think that the adrenaline that comes with performing is my favorite part of the game," she says.
Of course by all accounts, softball is more than a game for Ashby.
"She does it for enjoyment and because it's life and it's her, it's part of her," Bako says.
It's what's driven her to work hard and perform at an All-Pacific League, All-CIF, All-Area and All-State level. It's one of the reasons she's off to one of the country's finest universities in the fall. For Ashby, softball has been hours and years of practice, extra practice and too many games to count.
"It's a huge part of my life, but I can't imagine it without it," she says.
And, at least for the foreseeable future, she won't have to.
"Stanford will be a big jump," Berry says. "Academically, it's one of the better schools and they have a good [softball] program.
"She'll continue to work hard and she's got that drive that will continue to help her do well."
Though the level of competition and the stakes will no doubt rise when Ashby dons a Cardinal uniform, it's clear that the approach that has led to a lasting legacy at Crescenta Valley will remain unchanged.
"I'm really a little taken aback by it in the sense that it's a whole new ballgame," Ashby says. "It's a different level, it's a big challenge and that's exciting, but I really have to work hard and I have to prove myself."