COATESVILLE >> There is arguably no more demanding position on a softball field than catcher. Involved in every single play, every single pitch, the mental and physical tolls on a person crouched down behind the plate can be exhausting.
Coatesville’s Ashley Mendenhall loves every second of it.
A recent Coatesville grad and La Salle recruit, Mendenhall was not only one of the very best defensively at her position in the county, completely shutting down opposing running games, she was the best power hitter in the Ches-Mont League, a combination earning the Red Raider backstop honors as the 2017 Daily Local News Softball Player of the Year.
“This has been a great season,” said Mendenhall. “I really enjoyed playing with this team. We’ve all played together since we were little kids, so it was great to out with a great season like we had.”
Mendenhall got her start in softball somewhere around age 6, to the best of her recollection. Other than a year on the volleyball team as a freshman, he athletic endeavors have always centered around softball. She started as a pitcher, but after making her rounds around the diamond, settled in as a catcher.
“In Little League, they would put you at every position, trying to see what might be best for you,” said Mendenhall. “But I really liked catching, so I kept asking to catch. I really like that you always have to be in the game because you are part of every single pitch.”
Though Mendenhall takes pride in her defense, it’s when she has the bat in her hand that she has the most fun.
“I really like hitting,” said Mendenhall. “I like the one on one with the pitcher, and I like putting the bat on the ball.”
And she puts the bat on the ball regularly, with big results. For the season, Mendenhall hit a lofty .507, with a slugging percentage of 1.074. She had 34 hits — 20 of them for extra bases, including nine homers and 11 doubles. That kind of production allowed Mendenhall to knock in 37 runs on the season.
“Ashley has such great knowledge of the game, she’s a natural leader on the field,” said her coach and father, Bill Mendenhall. “Her understanding of the game allows her to have such great abilities both offensively and defensively.”
Mendenhall led a Coatesville team to its best season in decades, as the Red Raiders won the first Ches-Mont title of any kind in softball since the 1980s.
“This season was filled with so many great memories, it was just an amazing way to have a senior season,” said Mendenhall. “I will never forget the game when we beat Shanahan to clinch the division title.”
It’s worth noting that a Mendenhall homer put that game out of reach.
Though it isn’t always easy to have a parent as a coach, the Mendenhalls wouldn’t have it any other way.
“My dad has always been my coach,” said Ashley. “I don’t think he’s ever missed a game, and he couldn’t be any more supportive.”
It’s a simple matter of separating the roles, according to Bill.
“First, she is very coachable, whether it’s me or any of the other coaches,” said Bill. “Somewhere along the way, though, we both learned when it’s the right time to talk about softball, and when it’s time to just be a father and daughter.”
That support runs through the family.
“My mom, Sue, may not make it to quite as many games, but she loves coming, and I can always hear her cheering when she’s there,” said Ashley. “My sister Corine, is always telling me how proud she is, and my brother, Bryan, too. Having that kind of family support means everything.”
Mendenhall will be headed to La Salle next year. She will play softball, but her plans to major in biology are first priority.
“One of the reasons I picked La Salle is that during the recruiting process, the coach really emphasized balancing athletics and academics,” said Ashley. “As a science major, the academic side of things was very important to me.”