Blue Springs shortstop Ashtin Stephens is an artist.

Blue Springs shortstop Ashtin Stephens is an artist.

She uses a bat as a paintbrush and an infield as her canvas.

With graceful ease, she can direct a softball to any part of the diamond, setting the table for the teammates who follow her leadoff position in the batting order.

“Ashtin is the best – the best,” said junior pitcher Kelsey Kessler, who is 14-0 for the 16-0 Wildcats and the No. 4 hitter one of the top offensive teams in the area.

“Before the games, we have a magnet lineup card on the dugout wall and I’ll go up and switch my name with Ashtin’s name because I want to be her so badly.

“Ashtin is Ashtin – and in the area softball world, that’s saying a lot. She’s just the greatest. I don’t know what we’re going to do without her next year. She’s our leader on the field, she’s the leader who fires the girls up before games and she always seems to find a way to get on base.”

In Wednesday night’s 1-0 victory over Liberty, Stephens led off the game with a bunt single. She stole second and scored the game’s only run on two wild pitches.

“She’s pretty amazing,” Blue Springs coach Roger Lower said. “I wish I could say it’s coaching – but it’s not. She is so good, so talented, that when she doesn’t get on base we’re surprised.

“And I don’t think people realize how tough it is to get on base in softball against the type of pitching we’ve seen this season. And game in and game out, she makes it look easy.”

Stephens has put up the kind of numbers that weekend beer league players could only dream about.

In tournament play, she’s hitting .668 (22 for 32). In non-conference action she has an incredible .833 average (5 for 6) and in one of the toughest conferences in the state, the senior standout is batting .500 (7 for 14).

She leads the team with 34 hits (34 for 52) and is hitting .654 overall with 21 runs scored and 19 stolen bases.

She was the starting shortstop on the Wildcats 2008, 31-0 state championship team, and committed to the University of Missouri as a junior.

This year, she has one goal – and only one goal.

“To get back to state,” Stephens said, before a recent practice session at the high school. “I’ll never forget the feeling of winning state as a sophomore. And we have the type of talent to do it again this year.

“Kelsey (30-0) was amazing that year and we got the timely hits and played great defense. Kelsey is pitching as well now as she’s ever pitched and we have a lot of new girls this year, who are really getting it done in the field and at the plate.

“I’m not going to say we’re going to state this year, but I’m going to say we’re working hard and that is the goal of everyone on the team.”

When asked about her lofty stats, she just shrugs.

“I don’t know what I’m hitting or any of that stuff,” she said. “My dad does, but I don’t. I just don’t pay attention to any of it. I know if I get on base, we have a good shot of scoring a run.

“And if we score a run, with our pitching, we have a good chance of winning. So I will do anything to get on base. If I need to bunt, or get a slap hit or even try to muscle up and get an extra-base hit – I can promise I will do whatever to help us win.”

And that fire and determination has rubbed off on her teammates.

“I’m really blessed, because my best player is one of my hardest workers,” Lower said. “You just know the younger girls are watching how Ashtin handles herself at practice. When they see her working hard, and see the end results, they’re going to think, ‘If I work as hard as Ashtin, I might be that good someday.’”

Stephens, who is not the most imposing player on the Wildcats from a physical point of view, said she uses her stature as a reminder of how hard she must work.

“I’m one of the smallest girls on the team,” Stephens said. “I’ve always been one of the smallest girls on the team. I remember my folks telling me, ‘You’re smaller than everyone, so you have to work 10 times harder than anyone else.’

“I never forgot that, and I do work hard. I can’t say I work 10 times harder than everyone else, but when I’m on the field or at practice, I work as hard as I possibly can.”

And that hard work has paid off with a state championship and Division I scholarship.

“People ask me if hitting is easy, and I just laugh – no way, it’s hard,” Stephens said, as she prepared to join her teammates on the practice field. “I hit every day – off a tee or with live pitching – and I work on my swing and my game every day. I never take a day off.

“I can’t take a day off, because this game means too much to me. I want to accomplish a lot more before I graduate, and time is running out. I’m a senior and I have to make the most of every minute I have.”