In the first game of her senior season, one of the great athletes to come through Leon, Kan., was knocked on her heels.
Ashtyn Jurging gave up 18 runs to Sedgwick in her first high school game since she was named to the coaches' Class 2A All-State team. She was rocked mentally.
"That was the longest game of my life," Jurging said.
Coach Michelle Womacks said her ace lost all confidence. No amount of accolades could have saved her that day. In eight years of pitching, that was her worst outing.
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"Every time she threw and it didn't go where she wanted, she just got a little deeper in a hole," coach Michelle Womacks said. "It was quite a bit of stress knowing that she was letting her team down. But she also knew that at any moment, she could turn things around."
Nine days later, Jurging sent down every Neodesha batter she faced for her first no-hitter of the season.
Jurging has two no-hitters, two one-hitters and a two-hitter this season. She has 91 strikeouts in 52 innings. She is the undeniable leader in the circle, and at the plate.
She bats with a .537 average and 39 runs scored, 26 RBIs and six home runs. She is the team leader in almost every statistic.
But that is just what catches the eye.
Jurging has known Womacks since she was about 10. They met at a regional baseball tournament, and Jurging asked whether Womacks would be her pitching coach. Four years later, Womacks accepted the Bluestem coaching job.
Four years after that, she watched her prodigy become a woman.
After Jurging gave up 18 runs in the season-opener, Womacks didn't expect her to be too lively for the second of the doubleheader. Jurging entered with incredibly high expectations.
Freshman Kyndall Clevenger started game 2. After the Lions scored seven in the top of the first, Clevenger struck out three straight batters to end the inning.
"The first person out to that mound, screaming at that kid, 'Way to go,' was her," Womacks said with a tear in her eye. "After she just had the worst game of her life. Instead of feeling sorry for herself, she was all over that kid encouraging her. And that's the kind of kid she truly is."
Since middle school, Womacks asked Jurging, "What pitcher do you want to be?" In eighth grade, she told Womacks she wanted to be the face of the program. She craved the ace role at 14 and earned it, but she was coming into one of the worst softball programs in Kansas.
For about a dozen years, the Lions went 0-22 or 1-21. Bottom of the barrel.
Jurging practically grew up at Bluestem baseball games with her dad. She watched the struggle and knew she would likely be a part of it unless she changed it.
"I would turn around and look at softball, and it would be 15-0 or 20-0," Jurging said. "The girls just didn't look like they were having fun."
She set some goals.
She wanted to take one of the worst softball programs in Kansas and turn it into a winning one. She did that as a freshman. And more than anything, she wanted to take Bluestem to the state tournament. She did that as a junior.
"From the time I started playing, I felt like I had a really big passion for the game," Jurgining said. "I always wanted to see people have as much fun as I do, and that's what helped me deal with the pressure."
Jurging will go down as arguably the best softball player in Bluestem history. Few players have gone to college to continue playing, but she signed with Allen Community College on Nov. 9.
Leon is a tough place to gain serious notoriety. Graduating classes have about 35 students, and the school has one state championship in any sport, and it came with a 2017 baseball title.
Some athletes with superior talent would have considered leaving the town of 700 for something bigger. And for Jurging, it would have been easy. Just 15 minutes west, she could have played for Augusta, one of the premier softball programs in Kansas history. And 30 minutes farther, she could have competed at the highest level at Maize.
She chose to stay. And never once thought about leaving.
"From that moment I met coach, I knew I wanted to be the starting pitcher for my school," she said. "I wanted to turn things around here, and I've done exactly that."
Jurging has made the most of her time at Bluestem. The Lions are 13-5 this season, even outperforming the defending champion baseball team.
They host a regional this year and will be tested with Flinthills (13-4) and Yates Center (10-4) zoned to come to Leon on May 14. Jurging will be in the circle and in the box for what could be the last time in high school with a chance to qualify for the state tournament again.
Bluestem goes as Jurging goes, and Womacks will be hoping her pupil is running on all cylinders when it matters most.
"Normally I can tell by the look on her face early in the first inning if she's gonna be that kid for us," Womacks said.