2016 Softball Player of the Year: Central’s Ansbro puts stamp on a memorable career

Central pitcher Bekah Ansbro, The Northern Virginia Daily's 2016 Softball Player of the Year, went 18-5 with a 0.67 ERA and 289 strikeouts this spring. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – At one point during this past school year, Central High School senior Bekah Ansbro was sitting in her creative writing class when her teacher assigned what Ansbro referred to as a “mini project.”

The idea, Ansbro said, was to write someone a letter or poem because, as the teacher explained, even the “corniest” handwritten poem or letter would hold a special place in the recipient’s heart. Ansbro, in the midst of her final season of high school softball, knew who would receive her letter.

In the midst of the Falcons’ playoff run leading up to Central’s Virginia High School League Group 2A softball state semifinal game against Glenvar, Ansbro handwrote letters to each of her teammates, as well as Falcons head coach Lisa Rhodes and assistant coach Mike Hunt. When the Falcons boarded the bus for Salem for that June 10 game, Ansbro handed them out.

In those letters, Ansbro thanked her teammates and coaches for all of the support over her four-year high school career and for making her senior season a memorable one. She wanted to get those feelings into words, she said, because she worried she would break down trying to voice those sentiments.

“I got really emotional writing them,” Ansbro said last week. “I didn’t know how (my teammates) would be, and a lot of them came up to me and just had big hugs for me. Nothing was really said, it was just knowing that we kind of had that connection and had that between us.”

Such has been Ansbro’s impact on Central’s softball program during her decorated high school career. She was far more than the Falcons’ star, a two-time all-state pitcher going on to play Division I college softball at George Mason University next year. Ansbro, The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2016 Softball Player of the Year, was Central’s undisputed leader, the driving force behind the Falcons’ push to the program’s first state championship game appearance. When her teammates talked of what was powering the Falcons’ historic postseason run, many said they were doing it for their senior captain.

Rhodes, who began her coaching tenure at Central in Ansbro’s freshman year and will depart the program alongside her senior star, said Ansbro’s impact on the school’s softball program has been “tremendous.”

“The impact that she’s had on this program is incalculable, honestly,” Rhodes said. “I mean, everything that she’s worked for and all the honors that she’s received and how she’ll be remembered at the school is pretty awesome.”

Since taking over the Falcons’ pitching role full-time as a sophomore in 2014, Ansbro has never had an earned run average higher than 0.81, and her 811 career strikeouts likely rank as the best mark in school history (Central did not begin keeping softball records until Rhodes took over as head coach in 2013).

This spring Ansbro compiled an 18-5 record – her second straight season of 18 wins – to go along with a 0.67 ERA and 289 strikeouts in 178.2 innings pitched. She was voted a VHSL Group 2A first team all-state pitcher and was the Bull Run District Player of the Year.

She also led the Falcons in batting average (.362), home runs (two), triples (four), RBIs (15), runs scored (22), walks (13), on-base percentage (.511) and slugging percentage (.667).

In the final game of her high school career, the Group 2A state championship against Lebanon on June 11 at Radford University, Ansbro threw more than 200 pitches over 15.2 innings before surrendering a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 16th inning of the 2-1 loss.

Ansbro, who allowed just 3.2 hits per game this spring, only walked 10 batters all season and didn’t hit a batter.

“From when I was young we knew I wasn’t gonna come out and throw 74 miles an hour. I just wasn’t gonna be that girl, so my dad and I would constantly work on hitting my locations with my fastballs,” said Ansbro, who estimated that her fastball tops out around 63 mph. “Once I mastered that we’d start learning new pitches and really working on spin and location with that. I think that has really been the key to my success and my career.”

Rather than velocity, Ansbro relies on the spin of her pitches to keep opposing hitters off-balance. Her pitch arsenal includes a fastball, riseball, curveball, changeup and dropball.

And then there’s her mental fortitude when in the circle. There were numerous times throughout the postseason when, in Central’s biggest games, Ansbro was able to pitch her way out of a jam with runners on base. In one instance, in the bottom of the seventh inning of the state championship game, Lebanon put the potential winning run at second base with one out only to see Ansbro record back-to-back strikeouts on six pitches to end the threat.

“When I was younger we had noticed a lot of girls would get, we would call them head cases, and they would just wear themselves out worrying and trying to place the ball instead of just going out there and throwing and doing their best,” Ansbro said. “So from a really young age my parents have tried to instill in me mental strength, and I’ve read books about just, if I ever did wear down a little bit, to give me pointers to try to help myself out.”

Ansbro never projected anything negative from her position in the pitching circle, Rhodes said. Rarely were there times when Ansbro didn’t have a smile on her face, a fact not lost on the mother of a Lebanon player, who reached out to the pitcher following the state championship game and commended Ansbro for her feel-good vibes.

“It’s a fun game and it’s supposed to be. It’s a children’s game,” Ansbro said. “Watching Major League Baseball, it breaks my heart to see guys go out there and be so serious because, I understand it’s your job and it’s a business, but it’s still a fun thing to do. And if you’re getting paid to play the game you love, I don’t know why you wouldn’t have a smile on your face.”

Keeping things light on the field has long been a primary emphasis for Ansbro, who had taken charge of calling out which chants the team would break the huddle with before each at-bat during a game.

Some of those chants were pretty generic. Sometimes the Falcons would yell the name of an injured or absent teammate or coach. Others were just random – including “Waka Flocka,” a reference to the rapper of the team-favorite song “No Hands;” quotes from the movie “Finding Nemo” and the television show “Spongebob Squarepants;” and “tennis,” a reference to an inside joke that began during Ansbro’s sophomore year.

“If something funny came up throughout the season it probably became a huddle chant,” Ansbro said.

Ansbro, who is competing with a Virginia branch of the Sarasota Heat travel team this summer, will soon shift gears and enter her first season of college softball. She expects a different experience without her Central teammates in the field behind her, and she’s already told the rest of the Falcons that they need to come watch her play at George Mason next spring, when she said she hopes to have “as much success there as I have here.”

That success at Central didn’t culminate in a state championship, but Ansbro is OK with that.

“A state ring would’ve been nice,” she said, “but all the memories I’ve made the last four years, and this year especially, that’s more valuable than any ring I could get.”

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