ST. MARYS — One chapter will close for Ella Smith after the upcoming high school softball season, but another one opens.
Tuesday afternoon inside the St. Marys High School auditorium, Smith was surrounded by her family and a host of teammates as she signed her letter of intent to join the West Liberty University softball program next fall.
“I’m honored that was I accepted at West Liberty,” said Smith, last year’s Class A second-team, all-state pitcher who was accompanied by her parents Jessica and James, and her eighth-grade sister Madelyn. “I had other schools I was looking at. I decided I was not ready to give up softball. Not yet, anyway. I thought, three-quarters of my life was spent playing softball and I wanted to continue.
“I’ve known (West Liberty coach Herb Minch) since I attended a pitching camp as an eighth grader. He gives a lot of constructive criticism to the players and I really like that.”
Primarily known for her accomplishments on the mound, Smith has a bat that is sure to take advantage of a short porch.
The outfield is located 180 feet from home plate when the Blue Devils play their inaugural season at their on campus site.
Her coach at St. Marys, Lacy Riggs, sees it as a catch-22 for her pitching staff. Keep pitches low may be the best advice for Smith as St. Marys seeks to advance to the state tournament for a second year in a row.
“I love the turf at our new field — I’m not so sure about the 180 foot fence,” Smith said. “Offensively, it will really help. Defensively, you really have to make sure the strikes are there.”
Smith, who also plays first base, will be the first graduate since Lacy Riggs took over as head coach in 2020. Even though Smith’s freshman season was wiped out by COVID, she has showed an upward progression behind the experience of her travel ball teams and three seasons with the Blue Devils.
Last spring, Smith pitched her best during St Marys’ postseason run, which resulted in a third-place showing at the Class A state tournament.
“Since what would have been her freshman year, Ella has grown tremendously — mentally as an athlete, as a person,” Riggs said. “Her demeanor on the field, she is so much more mature. She has definitely put in the work, and it definitely shows.
“Leading into tournament, Ella was kind of struggling a little bit. But she really stepped it up at state and came back alive. She owned it. She was our junior, our leader and she took over.”
Smith’s impact is felt off the field as well with her artistic ability. She plans to major in graphic design at WLU.
“Since I love art, I am taking that as a major,” Smith said. “With graphic design, I am going into SkillsUSA for it because they really like my designs.”
Smith joins another Mid-Ohio Valley pitcher on the WLU roster for their freshman season. Last week, Smith attended the signing of Williamstown’s Lindsey Keller with the Hilltopper softball program. The two girls play travel ball on the same team.
“Lindsey and I are best friends — I have been playing softball with her for a very long time,” Smith said. “It’s so nice she can be my teammate again. We have a big bond, and it’s really to know we will be playing together again.
“I had three other schools in mind, but West Liberty had been on my radar. They are Division II, they have softball and I really like that.”
As the lone senior for the upcoming St. Marys softball season, Smith understands the responsibilities that entails. She is up to the task to take ownership and become a leader more than ever.
The signing ceremony, which included picture opps with her teammates, created a lasting memory.
“I’m really taking this in,” Smith said. “This is a lot, but I am really glad I am doing it because it will benefit me in the college. I do not want to lose softball. It’s a big part of my life.
“Being able to sign for a college really makes me happy.”
Contact Kerry Patrick at [email protected]