COLLEGE SOFTBALL Veteran Diaz leads No. 12 Razorbacks into home opener

By: STEVE ANDREWS Special to the NWA Democrat-Gazette
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2019
Arkansas' Ashley Diaz bats during a game against Wichita State on Saturday, May 19, 2018, during the NCAA Fayetteville Softball Regional at Bogle Park in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas' Ashley Diaz bats during a game against Wichita State on Saturday, May 19, 2018, during the NCAA Fayetteville Softball Regional at Bogle Park in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Every season has been a new adventure for Arkansas first-baseman Ashley Diaz. She expects nothing different this time around.

The only four-year starter for the Razorback softball team, Diaz has kick-started her senior year with that typical calm, yet ferocious presence at the plate.

At A Glance

College Softball

Razorback Invitational

At Bogle Ballpark, Fayetteville

Schedule

Today

Arkansas vs. Southeast Missouri State, 5 p.m.

Friday

Drake vs. IUPUI, 10 a.m.

Drake vs. Southeast Missouri State, 12:15 p.m.

SIU-Edwardsville vs. IUPUI, 2:30 p.m.

Arkansas vs. Southeast Missouri State, 4:45 p.m.

Arkansas vs. SIU-Edwardsville, 7 p.m.

Saturday

Drake vs. Southeast Missouri State, 10 a.m.

IUPUI vs. Southeast Missouri State, 12:15 p.m.

Arkansas vs. Drake, 2:30 p.m.

Arkansas vs. SIU-Edwardsville, 4:45 p.m.

IUPUI vs. SIU-Edwardsville, 7 p.m.

Sunday

Drake vs. SIU Edwardsville, 10 a.m.

Arkansas vs. IUPUI, 12:15 p.m.

Tickets: Admission is free

*The Arkansas clear-bag policy will be in effect for the tournament.

After two season-opening tournaments on the road, the No. 12 Razorbacks are sitting at 8-1 and thriving with production up and down the lineup, as well as on the pitchers' mound. Diaz's hot start includes a .367 batting average while leading the team with nine RBIs and four doubles.

"I think we see that we can do something really special here this year," Diaz said. "So, we are all just coming together to strive for that one common goal."

That goal being a trip to Oklahoma City for the Women's College World Series in late May.

"I think this team has a lot of fight in us," she said. "Even my freshman year you could feel that something was different, and we have just continued to get better each year. The character and the drive of this team has just gotten bigger and bigger every year."

Arkansas will open its home slate today at Bogle Park against Southeast Missouri State in the opener of the Razorback Invitational. The five-team event will last through Sunday.

For Diaz, it will mark the beginning of the end of her Razorback career.

"It's really gone by fast," she said. "I always hear how time flies, but I have just been living in the moment since I got here.

"In college, you really have to take it day by day, because of all the obstacles you face, highs and lows. But it has definitely been a great experience. I'm going to miss it a lot when it's over."

Diaz, a native of South El Monte, Calif., came in the same year coach Courtney Deifel arrived in Fayetteville. As a freshman, she led Arkansas in almost every offensive category. Batting .331, with 12 homers and 41 RBIs. Unfortunately, the Razorbacks finished a dismal 17-39 in 2016.

"The numbers she put up offensively in her freshman year were huge for us," Deifel said. "We really didn't know what we were getting with Ashley. She really started to get it early in her freshman year, then just hit the ground running."

Her numbers dropped during her sophomore year, as she hit just .283 with three home runs and knocked in 21 runs. A typical "sophomore slump," according to Deifel.

"Players start to think the game a little bit more the second year -- and overthink the process, and expect a little more," the coach explained. "But that can take you off your game. You just have to find that balance.

"She just needs to let her instincts take over, and I think we have gotten her back to that. She is swinging it again like we know she can."

Diaz hit .313 last season, helping lead the Razorbacks to a 42-17 record and their first regional championship.

"She has really been an anchor for us, especially defensively," Deifel said. "Offensively, she is aggressively patient, and she is someone who can step in the box and do some damage for us."

Throughout her career, one of Diaz's biggest fans and supporters has been her longtime boyfriend, Hjalte Froholdt, a native of Denmark and an All-SEC performer for the Razorback football team. Since meeting their freshman years and dating for the past three, Diaz calls Froholdt her "rock" when times are tough.

"He has had to deal with some similar things in football, learning to adjust to different situations," Diaz said. "So, he's just really been there for me through this whole thing. He is always there to pick me up."

After going 27-2 at home last year, Diaz is hoping Arkansas can put on that same kind of performance for the growing Razorback fanbase again this season. She called the rowdy atmosphere in Bogle a huge advantage for the Razorbacks, especially when games are on the line.

"This is just such an awesome place to play," she said. "And this is probably the most talent we have had out here, and our chemistry is great. So I think that can take us a long way."

Sports on 02/21/2019

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