North Texas Daily

Pitcher focuses on good times amid historic year

Pitcher focuses on good times amid historic year

Pitcher focuses on good times amid historic year
May 01
01:01 2014

Ehsan Azad // Staff Writer

As she pitches her way into the North Texas record books, senior pitcher Ashley Kirk is just trying to have fun in her final season with the Mean Green.

“I never thought this would happen,” Kirk said. “Right now I just want to go out and have fun.”

This season, Kirk became the all-time leader in wins for a pitcher in North Texas softball history with 52 wins in her career. She also broke her own record for most wins in a season with 20 and three games left in this season.

Yet with all the accolades, Kirk is far from thinking about her legacy and is more focused on the present. While she made a name for herself here at UNT, she said a lot of the drive for her success comes from her family. Ashley was drawn to softball at a young age.

“She has been playing sports since she was four or five years old,” Ashley’s mother Lisa Kirk said. “It was not until she was 9 or 10 that she started to play softball and became serious about it.”

Though she also played basketball and volleyball, by the time Kirk was 11 she made the decision to commit to softball. When she became a pitcher, her parents decided it was time to talk to her about where her focus should be.

“We told her that if she was going to be a successful pitcher, she really needs to concentrate on softball,” Lisa Kirk said. “She started to just focus on playing softball on teams outside of school.”

As Ashley Kirk began to focus on being a pitcher, she got a lot of help from her family, which is also athletic and competitive, when she started focusing on pitching. Her father and older brother played college football and she has an 18-year-old sister who is committed to Indiana University to be a pitcher as well.

“We are all very competitive,” Lisa Kirk said. “Her dad helped her a lot with pitching and the competiveness.”

Outside her team, it’s her parents that Kirk looks to for inspiration and to better her mood when she isn’t feeling her best.

“They always tell me that we are going to get through this,” Kirk said. “Anything that I have is because they have given up stuff for me to succeed.”

As her family helped shape her pitching career, Kirk developed into one intriguing prospect and was ready to go to college. She had a lot of offers, but chose UNT mainly for the close proximity to her home and because of her interest in becoming a teacher after finishing school.

Her first year with the team wasn’t the best start, as she had torn her knee that forced her to redshirt her freshman year. It brought a new focus to just try to stay healthy so she can finish her career.

“I wanted to work to get better and be able to be here for the next four years,” Kirk said.

Kirk said that one of the main reasons she is the pitcher she is today is because of how she had to mature as a player the last three years. There to help her was former Mean Green pitcher Brittany Simmons.

“We had to rely on each other, we had to learn how to work with each other and how to mentally overcome things,” Kirk said. “Sometimes things aren’t going to happen and you need to learn to be mature and go with it.”

Kirk had a lesson in maturity when she learned a new head coach would be coming as she entered her senior season. She admits she wasn’t too excited for the change.

“Nobody likes change,” Kirk said. “I was 22 sitting here thinking ‘oh my gosh, what was going to happen’ and I didn’t know what the expectations would be.”

She said all of her doubts and fears vanished when new head coach Tracey Kee agreed to work with Kirk’s hectic schedule in the fall.

“It was never ‘oh sorry we can’t work around that,’ it was always ‘that’s fine, we’ll do what we need to do, to get you better, to get you ready for spring,’” Kirk said.

When Kee got to North Texas, one of her first impressions was how tall Kirk seemed to be.

“She is probably one of the taller pitchers I have worked with,” Kee said. “When they said they make them bigger in Texas, they weren’t lying.”

Kee said her competiveness and willingness to get better was another thing that stood out to her. She said Kirk is up there with some of the best pitchers she has coached.

“I have coached a lot of good pitching, I’ve had a couple of all-American pitchers,” Kee said. “When I look at Ashley Kirk, I think she is right on the top because she has a lot of intangibles.”

Kee said her selflessness is why she puts Kirk on her list because it is hard to find that quality in pitchers.

“What separates her from other pitchers is that it isn’t about her, it is about the team,” Kee said. “I just wished I had her when she was a freshman.”

Her teammates appreciate playing with Kirk as well. Freshman pitcher Kenzie Grimes said she’s learned a lot from her this year.

“People tell me I have a similar motion to Kirk, so I try to look at her and see everything she does because she is such a great pitcher,” Grimes said.

Grimes said she used to watch Kirk pitch when her sister was playing for the Mean Green, and watching her as a teammate has been a different experience. Grimes said she loves how much of a team player she is.

“She’s not egotistical at all,” Grimes said. “She treats us like teammates; she doesn’t act like she’s the best on the team.”

While the season is nearing its end, Kirk hasn’t slowed down in her personal life. She has already graduated with a degree to teach Spanish and is hoping to find a job to teach Spanish and go into coaching.

In the midst of the race to get into the conference tournament, Kirk is also planning her wedding in May.  With so much going in a month, the season is still on Ashley’s mind.

“The game that I have been playing since I was 5 is about to be done, so why not live it up,” Kirk said. “My goal that I set on August 28 was to win C-USA, win the tournament and make it to the (College) World Series.”

Feature photo: Senior pitcher Ashley Kirk takes a minute on the mound before pitching the ball during an away game in Murfreesbror, TN against Middle Tennessee University on Feb. 8. Photo courtesy of Steve Miller

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