A strong pitcher can really make or break a softball team, and after a summer of hard work, the Los Lunas Lady Tigers’ gunslinger, Ashly Herrera, is ready to pull her team from the basement to the top.

“If a pitcher can throw strikes and keep the ball low, it is a definite advantage for the team,” Tiger head coach Glenn Trujillo said. “The pitcher needs good speed on her fastball and has to be able to move the ball in and out. Plus, she needs a changeup to complement her fastball because that’s what keeps the other teams’ batters off balance.”

In her third year pitching for the Lady Tigers, Herrera has shown some serious promise. She was the winning pitcher in Los Lunas’ first two wins this season.

She gave up just two hits against Belen in the opener and five hits in 11 innings against Gallup on Saturday.

Herrera has already won as many games this year as she did all of last season when the Tigers finished 2-18.

“Everyone is really positive. We feel like we can do it now. We can go out and compete,” Herrera said. “We work hard, we battle, and we know that we deserve to win.”

Herrera brings a lot to the Tigers lineup, according to Trujillo.

“She’s been pitching since she was a freshman,” he said. “She has a lot of experience and carried much of the work load for the team in the last few years. Plus, she has really committed herself to getting in shape and developing her pitching skills this year.”

When Herrera started playing varsity ball, she had never pitched before and said it was hard for her to get used to at first.

“It’s real hard to throw strikes and win games when you don’t know what you’re doing,” Herrera said.

So in an effort to help Herrera come into her own on the mound, coach Dominic Gallegos hooked Herrera up with local pitching coach Roseanne Chavez. Herrera worked with Chavez once a week, and Chavez basically broke down and overhauled the juniors pitching mechanics.

“She broke me down and built me back up,” said Herrera. “Now its a lot easier, and there is less stress on my arm.”

So, what can batters expect to see from this fireballer? Right now, Herrera has three pitches and is looking to add a fourth to her already lethal repertoire.

“We’re going to be working on my curve β€” the inside and the outside curve. Right now I have the fastball, the back-hand changeup and the rise ball.” said Herrera.

Which pitch is the deadliest?

“The changeup is working awesome for me this year. I’ve had a couple of girls swinging before the ball even got to the plate,” she said.

Herrera has something else that makes her so hard to hit β€” a killer work ethic.

“She was out here every day in the preseason β€” every day since October,” Trujillo said. “Last year she got all-district honorable mention, and I think, as a personal goal, she is out to make all-district this year.”

Herrera said she is definitely more determined this year.

“Everyone is more determined. I worked hard over the summer, and I am ready for this season,” said Herrera. “I go out there, and I’m thinking ‘we’re going to win.'”

Last year was an obvious disappointment for everyone involved, but on the mound, the blame tends to be carried a little heavier. Herrera said that going through a season like last year is arduous.

“It’s very difficult. You have games that are close and then there are games where you’re losing by 10 or 11 runs,” Herrera recalled. “It’s really hard to be positive when you have games like that and a season like that.”

However, things have already started looking better for the Lady Tigers. Los Lunas has already matched last year’s win total, and the attitude of the team is already up.

“We have a different coach; he is really positive. And everyone really believes that we can win any game,” said Herrera.

So, take three deadly pitches, one killer work ethic and a lot of determination; shake well, and you’ve got the recipe for a pitcher who could help the Tigers climb out of the cellar and straight to the top.

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Tony McClary