No smiling inside the circle.
That seemed to be Ashley Scruggs’ creed throughout her four years at Polk County. Once the mask came on, once she had ball in hand, the smile her family and teammates knew and loved was usually nowhere to be seen, replaced by a demeanor so stoic that former coach Jeff Wilson once gave Scruggs the nickname Stoneface.
The transformation, according to Scruggs, was all about focus.
“When I pitch, or when I hit, I don’t really hear anything anybody says, unless we’re in a huddle,” Scruggs said. “Once I step on the mound or step into the box, I don’t really hear anything.
“People said I always had the same face. If something big happens, I will show emotion. I liked working hard for my teammates. I know they have my back, and I like to get things started for them.”
What Scruggs usually started in her four seasons as a Wolverine was a victory. The senior leaves the Polk County program with 66 career wins, just two short of matching the school record set by Jamie Hrobak, now a Wolverine assistant coach.
Her 66-25 record (Hrobak finished 68-23) included a 21-win season, a Western Highlands Conference title, WHC pitcher of the year award and a no-hitter. She was also one of the team’s top hitters throughout her career and had a four-hit game this season, matching a school record.
From her first win – a 9-1 decision at Asheville in which she threw a two-hitter in her varsity debut as a freshman – to her last, a 7-5 playoff win at West Davidson, Scruggs served as the heart of Polk County softball, that calm exterior masking an internal drive to succeed.
“Ashley is an amazing pitcher and person,” said Hrobak. “We have been very blessed to house her talent at Polk for the last four years. We have nurtured and improved her skill set, but she has driven and led our program.
“I am honored to have coached her during her last and my first season.”
Considered the gold standard for Polk County pitchers, Hrobak often dominated hitters during her career by overpowering them. Scruggs never had the same level of speed, but she did have an arsenal of pitches – curveball, screwball, drop ball, changeup, rise ball, fastball – and a philosophy of hitting the right spots, of working inside and out, up and down to find each hitter’s weakness.
“All my coaches told me to have confidence in myself,” said Scruggs, who also played several years with Gaffney-based 3rd Degree Softball. “I’m not that tall and I don’t throw that fast, so I had to have confidence in myself.
“Everybody said I had a lot of movement, and I just needed to trust myself. When I didn’t, I didn’t perform well.”
There were few of those moments. Scruggs befuddled hitters throughout her first two seasons, posting a 41-9 mark as a freshman and sophomore during what Scruggs called her “best years.”
Scruggs and catcher Autumn Owen tried calling pitches during Scruggs’ junior season, an effort that Scruggs said took away some of her focus. The arrival of Hrobak this season, joining first-year head coach Jamie Thompson, took that pressure away.
“I loved when she called pitches. She really helped me a lot,” Scruggs said. “When I heard she was going to coach, I was so excited. She went to the same pitching coach I did, so she coached me the way I was used to, which helped me a lot.”
“I feel the biggest similarity between Ashley and myself is the love of the game and the never-give-up attitude,” Hrobak said. “Ashley has demonstrated this fight many times.
“An instance that comes to mind this year when we were playing North Henderson. Ashley started the day with a huge deficit, 6-0. Ashley held down the fort on defense until her team could break out enough runs to take the lead. Ashley had a similar occurrence in the first round of the playoffs against West Davidson.
“Ashley’s strengths are not only as a pitcher, but as a hitter and most importantly a leader. She plays not for herself, but her team. She always gives 100 percent and truly puts the needs of her teammates above herself.”
Scruggs began playing T-ball at the age of three. She began pitching when she was eight. Most of her life has been spent in a circle, somewhere, looking to befuddle the next hitter.
She admits life away from the field will be different, but as has always been the case, she’s ready to step up and face that challenge.
“I’m ready to move on,” she said. “I’ve played my whole life, but I’m ready to graduate and go to college. I’m definitely going to miss it. It’s going to be weird not playing.
“It was definitely everything I hoped it would be. I never really had any bad times, just always good times and a lot of fun. It was probably more than I expected.”
And now, Stoneface can greet the world with a smile. Always.