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Sophomore getting in the swing of things

Northwestern-bound catcher hitting .517, has three HRs in last week

Oswego East batter Ashley Schultz connects for a home run against Oswego during a varsity softball game at Oswego East High School on Monday, April 17, 2017.
Oswego East batter Ashley Schultz connects for a home run against Oswego during a varsity softball game at Oswego East High School on Monday, April 17, 2017.

When Ashley Schultz digs into the batter’s box, she visualizes line drives and hard hits.

Home runs? Forget it.

“If I try to imagine a home run I’ll usually pop it up,” said Schultz, Oswego East’s sophomore catcher.

Schultz, to be sure, has plenty of pop in her bat. The Northwestern recruit provided the Wolves a taste of it last year, when she was called up to varsity as a freshman for the playoffs. The full package is peeking out this spring.

Schultz last week was 9-for-12 with two doubles, a triple, three homers and 11 runs batted in. She kept it going Monday, launching a moon shot for a solo home run in the Wolves’ 5-3 win over Oswego.

“Her pitch selection is what’s most impressive,” Wolves coach Mark Green said. “She’s been very selective at the plate. Once she gets the pitch she’s waiting for she’s not missing it.”

Oswego East’s cant-miss catcher, Ashley Schultz is this week’s Ledger Athlete of the Week.

A few mechanical tweaks Schultz worked on with hiting coach Kevin Sullivan at ESP dug her out of an early-season slump.

It’s worked. She’s now hitting .517 with four homers and 17 RBIs.

“I was definitely in a slump at the beginning of the year, and it got in my head a little bit,” Schultz said. “I worked with my hitting coach on keeping my hands back because I get thrown a lot of offspeed pitches and changeups. I wasn’t going out far enough with my stride. When I got my stride right it kept me on the ball more.”

Noteworthy, Schultz is doing damage to all fields.

Her homer against Oswego was pulled to left-center. Against DeKalb, Schultz drove one to right. She hit a soaring ball down the right-field line against Romeoville that carried over the fence.

“Taking it to all fields, it makes her extremely difficult to pitch to,” Green said. “She’s an extremely hard-working young lady. She wants to get better. She takes extra reps, extra swings in the cage. She really takes pride in what she does at the plate for a relatively young player.”

Young in age, Schultz is hardly that in softball years.

She did dance and volleyball, too, but softball stuck after she went to a tryout with the Oswego Wolves at age eight. Schultz played with older sister Emily on the Wolves for three years, and now plays with the 16U Bevery Bandits.

By nine or 10 her first coach, Chris VanDegraft, broached the idea of catching. It fit.

“He was there to help me, to help with the fundamentals,” Schultz said. “I love being in control of the game, to be able to see the whole field.”

She also loves catching her sister, a Loyola recruit.

“At the beginning it was just convenience. When she wanted to play catch, I was available,” Schultz said. “We’ve been playing together for so long that she knows me so well and I know her preferences. When I go to the mound I try not to be too tough. I’ll try to relax her, crack a joke, calm her down.”

She calls the game from behind the plate - and it’s clear Schultz has a command of things.

“There’s been a few times where I took a step or two out of the dugout to talk to Emily and before I can Ashley is already out there,” Green said. “She is a confident young lady. She has a good understanding of how to attack hitters. And she has an amazing throwing arm; she tends to control teams’ running game in warmups.”

Schultz committed in November to Northwestern, where she could major in engineering.

First things first, though.

Schultz is committed to building off the Wolves’ finish last year. They have a busy week ahead, with West Aurora coming to Oswego East Thursday.

“When we met before the season started, one of our main goals was that we were going to take this season one game at a time,” Schultz said. “We aren’t focused on things that are too far ahead. Everybody is working really hard and doing their job. It’s produced a lot of runs and great outcomes.”

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