Former Westview standout Ashley Garcia stars for Linfield softball

by: COURTESY PHOTO: JOE GARCIA - Linfield senior softball player and former Westview standout Ashley Garcia garnered All-American honors at third base this season for the Wildcats. Garcia hit .406 with 51 RBIs and six homers.

Ashley Garcia felt most at home at the high-risk hot corner.

At third base — where bullets flew off the bats of burly power hitters and complete mental focus and feline-like instincts were required — the Linfield College infielder always found the most joy.

It’s an adrenaline rush comparable to running with the bulls in Pamplona or hang gliding off a mountainous cliff. When a softball is seared and soaring toward your face, there’s little time to deliberate. It’s more throw your hands up, guard your grill to avoid the dentist chair and make a hurried throw to first. However, it was a thrill Garcia went without for nearly five years because her Westview High School squad needed her in the circle as a junior and senior. At the collegiate level, Linfield required the right-hander to plug other leaking holes around the infield.

It wasn’t until this spring, as a senior at Linfield, that Garcia excitedly moved back to third — her natural position. The subsequent results were All-American sensational, as the now third baseman hit .406 with a team-high 51 RBIs, six home runs and a .632 slugging percentage. Make no mistake, Garcia was stellar as a junior, garnering all-West Region honors with 16 doubles, seven homers and five triples. But, back where she felt most free, Garcia was able to let go mentally and revolve her softball world around the dish.

“I was that much more comfortable and relaxed,” said Garcia. “When I was at the plate, I wasn’t thinking so much about what I’d just done or hadn’t done in the field. Instead, I was at the plate, and that’s it.”

Garcia noted the mental preparation pre-pitch of manning the perilous third bag can be taxing. Teams constantly try to put pressure on the infield with drag bags or slap hits from the left side that advance runners into scoring position. Third basemen like Garcia therefore have to be thinking on their feet and be prepared for anything at all times. On top of that, Garcia said she was responsible for covering the hole between shortstop and base and protecting the third base line from any potential doubles down the chalk.

“And, of course, you have to be ready for a ball that might come at your face, so it’s definitely mentally exhausting,” said Garcia “The ball comes at me too quick to think. You’re constantly paying attention to everything that’s going on: where the pitch is going, where you are in the lineup, how hard they hit the ball last time the batter was up.”

by: COURTESY PHOTO: JOE GARCIA - Garcia graduated with a psychology degree and a Spanish minor, and after a year off from school hopes to get accepted into a masters program thats close to Beaverton for social work.

Full circle

Linfield went two-and-out at the NCAA Division III regional tournament after winning its 11th straight Northwest Conference Championship and taking home the NWC tournament title. It was a disappointing way to end what was an illustrious four-year stint as a Wildcat, but on the flight back from California, Linfield head coach Jackson Vaughn pulled his senior star to the side and relayed the sort of good news that could’ve taken Garcia home sans the airplane.

Garcia was picked first-team DIII All-American, bringing a prominent career that started as a young 5-year-old tyro when the Beaverton native started playing t-ball with her father Joe and her uncle Chris, full circle.

“When (Vaughn) told me, I actually cried,” said Garcia with a laugh. “That was my one that I really wanted to make, and I didn’t care what team it was, I just wanted to make it. And, the fact I was first-team, was so overwhelming. It was awesome to say, ‘Hey, I went out and did it’.”

After playing for her dad and uncle, Garcia moved onto an elite fast-pitch softball squad at the age of 10. Garcia grew up focusing on the mechanics of the game and the intricacies of the demanding position.

“Knowing the situation you’re in before you’re in it just makes making the play so much easier,” said Garcia. “You already know what you’re going to do with the ball, and everyone else is thinking the same thing and is on the same page. You don’t have to think, it’s just an automatic reaction.”

Garcia said her experience at Westview was “different” because while the Wildcat was there to prepare for the collegiate level and get a scholarship, some of her teammates were there simply to enjoy the game.

Yet, so used to being on such a competitive ASA team, Garcia learned to have fun playing softball rather than take every game and each at-bat as do-or-die situation. Plus, playing in the Metro League gave Garcia the chance to go up against a slew of great pitchers, many of which she’d go on to face at Linfield.

“When I went to college, I already had that mentality and that experience,” said Garcia.

by: COURTESY PHOTO: JOE GARCIA - Linfield senior softball player and former Westview standout Ashley Garcia moved from second to third base this spring and became an All-American.

Team chemistry

After garnering all-Metro and all-State honors as a senior, Garcia narrowed her collegiate choices to Linfield and Pacific Lutheran University — two of the more pristine programs in the Northwest. Garcia “didn’t like PLU at all.” The layout of the campus, where the softball field was located and the overall setting weren’t up to snuff in Garcia’s eyes. But, when Garcia toured Linfield and took in the school, the former Westview start fell head over heels for the program. An overnight visit with a few of the friendly Linfield upperclassmen showed Garcia how much team chemistry and unity drove the program to success.

“That sealed the deal for me, seeing how they interacted and how much of team and a family they really were,” said Garcia. “I loved the campus — everyone was so nice and it was beautiful. That also pushed me toward it.”

As a freshman, Garcia didn’t expect to play much, seeing that Linfield had taken second at the NCAA Division III national tournament and was stacked with returning talent.

“It was basically, ‘We’re going to win nationals, and you’re going to watch us do it’,” said Garcia. “I was perfectly fine with that. For me, freshman year was about learning how they wanted the game to be played.”

However, Garcia ended up splitting time at second base, when one of the Wildcats’ All-Americans went down with a shoulder injury and later was a key pinch runner and designated player for some of the other Linfield regulars. As an 18-year-old underclassman, Garcia got a front-row seat and played a role on a National Championship squad as Linfield — a team with seven All-Americans — rolled to a DIII title. Learning from the nation’s best, Garcia said she sat back and soaked in the way her older teammates approached the game — with a ruthless demeanor and tireless dedication.

“That was definitely the highlight of my four years,” said Garcia. “They had a ‘we want to kill everyone’ mentality, and that’s what they did. They had no mercy. They wanted to make sure everyone knew they were in charge.”

Linfield practiced five hours a day, six days a week during the offseason, and once the season hit, the sessions were reduced to three hours a day with games on Saturdays and Sundays. To get the desired results and go deep in the postseason, Garcia said, her team had to put in the hard work.

“If you want something, you’re going to have to work really, really hard at it,” said Garcia. “That’s one thing that will always stick with me the rest of my life.”

More than just a softball player, Garcia got the full college experience, studying abroad in Costa Rica for three months and making close connections with some of the Linfield football team.

Garcia graduated with a psychology degree and a Spanish minor, and after a year off from school hopes to get accepted into a masters’ program that’s close to Beaverton for social work. Her plan is to work with military veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and start her own mental health therapy program.

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