NEW PALESTINE — It was a Sunday, a typical off day for most high school athletes. New Palestine had just played seven games in six days, five before the weekend and two on Saturday.
Then disaster struck. Well, almost.
A water line connecting to the field was left on after a pair of Dragons’ wins that afternoon. The field was flooding. Water was pooling around first base and beyond.
For the sake of the field, New Palestine head coach Ed Marcum is fortunate junior shortstop Ashley Prange isn’t like most athletes. After four home runs, 14 hits and 15 RBIs that week, Prange was found back on the field at 5 p.m. Sunday (April 23), fielding extra ground balls and taking cuts at the plate.
— Ed Marcum (@CoachEdMarcum) April 23, 2017
Prange is top-ranked New Palestine’s (21-2) best player and doesn’t know it. But that’s what it takes – undeniable dedication – to lead the state in home runs.
With another shot over the wall on Friday in the second of two wins over Connersville, Prange sits atop the state leaderboard with 15 home runs this season. Her total as a sophomore? Five.
“(Ashley) has really improved from year to year but especially this year,” Marcum said. “She has really poured in a lot of time and gotten hungry in the weight room. She was out here on a Sunday, that is what makes her the type of player she is.”
Prange is currently hitting .564 at the plate with 53 hits, 44 RBIs and 12 doubles. She hit .371 last year and finished with 36 hits and 21 RBIs.
Marcum, who has now coached in over 400 softball games at the school, knows softball talent when he sees it. He knew Prange would be good. But this good?
“She was a very solid player when she was younger but what has developed is her athleticism,” Marcum said. “When she came in as a freshman she really wasn’t very fast and she wasn’t that athletic. She really worked hard on that and her footwork. She has all the tools now.
“To hit 15 home runs is incredible.”
Playing up a division in travel ball, Prange was accustomed to seeing college scouts before high school. She wasn’t intimidated. In fact, she made quite an impression with Ohio State. The Buckeyes extended her an offer in eighth grade.
Rather than settle, however, Prange’s hunger has continued to grow.
“I’ve had coaches who have really pushed me to do my best and my parents are always there (for me),” Prange said, who hits second in the lineup. “I guess I just… want to be great. It is kind of like a deep down thing I’ve always told myself: don’t be that person who stops working.”
Now, by her junior season, the shortstop’s hunger is growling. Prange even lifts weights on game days.
“I have gotten a lot stronger, I lift weights almost everyday,” Prange said. “I guess I have gotten used to it. Last year I did it (worked out) but didn’t take it seriously. I took a lot of off days on game days. This year I’ve tried to focus more on staying with heavy lifting and keeping a rhythm so it doesn’t make me sore or tired.”
Getting jacked in the weight room by day, hitting bombs by night. No surprise, talent + daily hard work = big results. She lifted today too! https://t.co/ihl6ZszgTP
— Kyle Ralph (@NPCoachRalph) April 20, 2017
But what did Ohio State see in Prange as an eighth grader? Whatever it was, the Buckeyes, as it appears now, couldn’t have been more right.
“You kind of wonder as a coach, what type of person she is going to be (as a freshman) and how humble she is going to be,” Marcum said. “She was the first one to grab the bucket of balls. Whatever needed to be done, rake the field, whatever, she was the first to do it.”
For Prange, the Ohio State coaching staff felt like family. And that football field?
“I got there, and I was sad to leave,” Prange said. “There is nothing like Ohio State on football game days. I just fell in love with it.”
The Buckeyes aren’t getting a one-way player, either. Prange, playing arguably the toughest position on the field, has a cannon attached to her right shoulder and the footwork and range to go with it. She has committed just seven errors (92 total chances) this season and has a .924 fielding percentage.
But consistency at the plate has been her best friend in an impressive junior campaign. Prange has registered a hit in every game but one this season and has finished with three or more hits nine times. She had a season-high five hits against Wapahani and a season-best seven RBIs in a win over Fishers.
“Her personality is different this year,” Marcum said. “She is a lot more relaxed. She says she is kind of goofy. But that is really a part of who she is, and I think because of that she is having more fun playing the game.”
Ashley Prange 3-run HR to the same spot – over scoreboard – ends game. New Pal 11, Mt. Vernon 1. Prange 6 RBIs, two HR. Crumlin HR, 3 RBIs
— Kris Mills (@KrisMills37) April 20, 2017
New Palestine, in addition to spending most of the season at No. 1 in the 3A poll, also earned at least a share of its fourth straight Hoosier Heritage Conference title with an 11-1 win over Greenfield-Central last week. And according to MaxPreps, the Dragons are ranked No. 2 overall in the state among all classes.
New Palestine travels to Greenwood today and will open sectional play next Monday at home against Herron. The team’s final HHC contest will be on Friday at Delta.
Notes: Marcum has won 345 of the 403 games he’s coached at New Palestine…. Prange hit .431 as a freshman and finished with 35 hits, 22 RBIs and three home runs… Nine players are hitting over .350 for the Dragons this season… Sophomore Emily O’Connor, who hits immediately behind Prange, is hitting .519 with nine home runs and 38 RBIs.
Family: Laurie and Scott Prange, parents; Tyler Prange, brother (seventh grade at Doe Creek).
Image provided by New Palestine Athletics.
Kris Mills is an editor at Eastside Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KrisMills37.