FARMER CITY – When the Blue Ridge softball team takes the diamond, Ashley Elliott takes command.
The junior controls her pitches and she also controls the pace of the game. Her quick delivery style started – out of necessity – in youth leagues.
"When we were younger, we had time limits on games," Elliott said.
She once finished pitching an inning in four minutes to give her team a final chance to bat. On Monday, she finished off El Paso-Gridley in a 70-minute Heart of Illinois Conference game at Weedman Park that lasted the entire seven innings.
Blue Ridge won, 6-0. Elliott walked no one in her two-hitter. She struck out nine, including seven of the first 11 Titans she faced. The shutout was her fifth of the season.
Coach Myron Schroeder has learned not to interrupt Elliott during the innings she pitches.
"She hates it when I call a timeout," said Schroeder, whose team has won 11 of its last 12 games following a 5-4 start.
Elliott's pitching progress has been instrumental in the turnaround.
"I've learned a drop curve, and lately it has been my key pitch," said Elliott, who leads the area in wins (14) and strikeouts (154). In 127 innings, she has issued just 30 walks. "I try to get into a rhythm and keep it."
Schroeder, whose association with softball dates back 45 years, is not surprised that Elliott has emerged as one of the area's elite pitchers.
"Her desire is unparalleled and she is relentless," Schroeder said. "I don't have to say a word to her. She is very self-motivated. She doesn't need a pep talk."
The coach is fine with not needing to provide inspiration for Elliott.
"You let a pitcher be a pitcher and leave them alone," he said.
Elliott is backed by a defense that played flawlessly against El Paso-Gridley. She said that makes it easier to pitch without fear that someone will hit the ball.
"I know my defense is behind me," she said.
Schroeder has kept the infield intact with letter winners. Sarah Lytel is at first base, Brittany Sedberry is at second, Parker Eckhoff is at shortstop and Jessica Nichols is at third base. Lytel, Sedberry and Nichols are the Knights' only seniors.
"We move well together and we know where everyone is," Schroeder said.
Center fielder Allison Riggs made two key plays against the Titans. She made a diving catch to end the fifth inning with a runner on second base and she threw out a runner at third in the seventh following an overthrow on a stolen base.
Sedberry had two of Blue Ridge's four hits as it improved to 16-5 overall and 8-1 in HOI action. Lytel drove in two runs with a two-out double in the second inning and Nichols belted a two-run homer in the sixth.
A year ago, the Knights were 14-13. Schroeder looked for improvement this season, but added, "we are a little above what I expected."
He need not worry. Elliott is in control of the situation.