The Right Spin

Central pitcher Bekah Ansbro, The Northern Virginia Daily's 2015 Softball Player of the Year, finished her junior season with an 18-4 record, a 0.53 ERA and 263 strikeouts. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – The numbers don’t lie. There’s no denying the statistical impact junior Bekah Ansbro had on Central High School’s softball team this past spring.

An 18-4 record in the pitching circle. A 0.53 earned run average and 263 strikeouts. Team highs in batting average (.314), home runs (5) and runs batted in (23). All the numbers point to just how important Ansbro was for the Falcons in 2015.

But for Central coach Lisa Rhodes, Ansbro’s impact was felt beyond the numbers — for a young and inexperienced Falcons team that featured eight underclassmen, Ansbro’s character and work ethic were “magnetic.”

“You can’t measure with numbers what she did for this team as far as their morale and their energy and their positive attitude and their ability to work well with each other and pick themselves up,” Rhodes said recently. “Girls sports teams can be a challenge as far as a team dynamic and they didn’t struggle with that whatsoever, and I think she’s a major contributor to that. She was really a leader.”

Ansbro was admittedly a little worried before beginning her third varsity softball season at Central, as she found herself wondering how the Falcons would replace the handful of seniors that graduated from a season ago and, more importantly, how one freshman and seven sophomores would fit in their new roles.

Quite nicely, it would turn out. Behind the leadership of Ansbro, the Northern Virginia Daily’s 2015 Softball Player of the Year for the second straight year, the Falcons soared to a 21-3 record, although their season ended with a Conference 28 semifinal loss to William Monroe.

“I was very impressed,” Ansbro said. “A lot of our sophomores came in and did really well for us. Kristina [Stead], our freshman, she really developed really well. So I think over the season we got better as a team and I think we all developed into a position and we found our spot on our team.”

Ansbro’s place in the circle for Central has long been established due to her shutdown performances since joining the varsity team as a freshman in 2013. In her junior season, she managed to raise her level of dominance.

After coming so painfully close to the 200-strikeout mark last season (she ended her sophomore year with 199), Ansbro shattered that threshold in 2015 by fanning 263 batters in only 146 innings, a rate of 1.8 strikeouts per inning. Central’s coaching staff also credited Ansbro with two no-hitters this season, giving her four in her career to go along with a perfect game she threw as a freshman.

That dominance earned Ansbro player of the year honors in the Bull Run District and Conference 28 and a spot on the all-Region 3A East first team.

“I think it went a little better than I expected,” Ansbro said of her junior season. “All of the hardware I got was really nice to receive, but mostly I was going out there and just trying to help my team win.”

Ansbro, who sports a five-pitch arsenal consisting of a fastball, curveball, changeup, drop ball and rise ball, said that although she doesn’t approach every at-bat trying to strike out the opposing batter, the movement on her pitches allows her to consistently avoid contact.

“In the general world of pitchers I don’t throw that hard but I spin the ball really well, so over the years I’ve learned to try to work that to my advantage,” Ansbro said. “I am working on throwing a little faster but I’m just not going to throw 70 miles an hour, so I do try to work on making sure I can spin the ball and hit my spots really well.”

Ansbro, who works in the offseason with pitching coach Denny Tincher, the father of former Virginia Tech All-American Angela Tincher, said she did add some velocity this spring, which she credits, surprisingly enough, to her early commitment to George Mason University in late January.

“My pitching coach always said that after you commit you throw five miles an hour harder and I think I agree with him because there is like a weight off your back and you’re set and you’re good to go,” Ansbro said.

Rhodes agreed that Ansbro’s early college commitment appeared to have a relaxing effect on her star pitcher.

“It’s just she could go out there and have less pressure on herself because she had achieved that goal and she had solidified that,” Rhodes said. “She could just go out there and truly enjoy the game for what it was and enjoy her team and enjoy this season.”

Ansbro took care of business at the plate, as well. After hitting one home run in her first two varsity seasons, Ansbro used a newfound power stroke to hit five homers this spring, a mark tied for second in the area.

The junior, who batted cleanup all season after sliding into that role late in the 2014 campaign, said she focused on drawing more walks this year and began hitting more home runs as a result.

“I think because I was trying to walk more, get on base more, I was seeing the ball a little deeper into the zone, so I think that helped me so I wasn’t out in front of it too much and I could see more balls and more strikes,” Ansbro said.

With one more high school season yet to go, Ansbro said her main focus is to be more consistent at the plate — three of her five homers this year came in the Falcons’ first three games — and to reach 200 strikeouts again in the circle.

Rhodes said it’s impossible to know definitively if Ansbro is Central’s all-time leader in strikeouts (softball records weren’t kept prior to Rhodes’ arrival three years ago, she said) but the head coach feels it’s a pretty safe assumption.

“If I were to speak to it and it not be true then I would be in trouble but I can’t imagine that anyone else holds that strikeout record other than her right now,” Rhodes said.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com