Donner does it all for New Ulm softball team in senior year

NEW ULM — When talking about some of the best softball pitchers in the area, Ashlyn Donner made sure to remind fans, coaches and opposing teams this season that her name belonged at the top of that list.

She didn’t make demands or ask for any special labels this year in the circle, but what she did do was continue to improve and show off her skills, commanding respect in the process.

With 270 strikeouts, a 20-3 record and a 0.71 ERA, Donner did more than enough this season to be unanimously chosen by The Journal’s sports staff as this year’s All-Journal Softball Player of the Year.

Donner also had 10 shutouts, two no-hitters and averaged 1.96 strikeouts per inning this season in 138 innings of work, allowing just a .107 batting average against her, but she certainly did more than just pitch.

She also hit .366 with a .463 slugging percentage and a .529 on-base percentage, coming up with key hits on more than one occasion.

The All-Conference, All-Section and All-State player has made huge strides throughout her career and continued to step up even more during her senior year after last season’s strong 1.23 ERA and 1.28 strikeouts-per-inning average. She also made a big leap at the plate this season after hitting .295 a year ago.

Those kind of improvements did not go unnoticed, and neither did Donner’s changeup, something she says is one major area of improvement made from a year ago.

“I definitely am proud of my changeup, I haven’t had like a solid changeup or a consistent changeup since I was in 10U,” she said. “So that was something that my dad and I worked on during the offseason. He and I worked together with different grips and releases and all that jazz until I finally got one. So we finally got one and I think that totally was my top [improvement].”

The Eagles finished this season as Big South Conference champs and a 22-3 record, falling to Mankato West 8-5 in the Section 2AAA finals. Although just two wins short of reaching the state tournament, Donner enjoyed her final season and the year that everyone on the team had.

“It was everything I could have asked for minus a state run,” she said. “It was a lot of fun, it was a good season to go out with and we all had a lot of fun together. We learned a lot about each other that we didn’t know. It was cool to see my teammates improve, we’re a really odd team where we really truly do improve each day, and that’s what makes coming to practice so easy and fun.”

But with the winning season and improvement came several instances where Donner wasn’t at 100 percent. This past season, she dealt with a torn cuticle on the thumb of her pitching hand, a dislocated rib and bronchitis, just to name a few of her health struggles.

With all of those injuries and sicknesses piling up, one would think it would have led to a shaky season, but Donner pushed through and forgot about her health until delivering her final pitch each game.

“I’m not exactly sure, but I think adrenaline definitely played a big part in keeping me going,” Donner said. “It was weird, but in practice I would be in a lot of pain and I would be like, ‘Okay, I maybe need to sit out of this one,’ but as soon as I got to the game and I saw my teammates working hard and kind of looking at me like, ‘Are you going to be good to play for us? Are we going to have to struggle? Are we going to have to play a lot of defense?’ And so I think seeing them being like, ‘Hey, we need you to pick it up here,’ and I think the adrenaline, too, with the other team being there and watching kind of took the pain away for that hour, hour-15 that we were playing. It’s weird, I don’t know how to explain it. You forget it, but then after the game you definitely feel it.”

Donner already made the decision last November to further her softball career in college by agreeing to play for Chipola College in Marianna, Florida next season. She thought that being able to make her decision earlier only pushed her to play better her senior year with New Ulm.

“I think it definitely helped me improve,” Donner said. “It kind of took the pressure off, knowing that it wasn’t ever going to be my last ever softball game, so I think that I was able to play better and learn more about myself and my strengths and weaknesses. … I think keeping Chipola in mind didn’t hurt me, it was definitely helpful.”

Donner lastly thanked New Ulm head coach Kristi Andersen Loose for all of the work she has put in for New Ulm softball.

“She is absolutely crazy talented as a coach and obviously she was as a player, too, but she definitely doesn’t get enough thank yous,” Donner said of her former head coach. “I have to say thank you to her from all of the Eagles’ softball team.”