When Ariel Ortiz dug her right foot into the back of the batter’s box, her only thought was to get one or both of the two runners on base home to extend the Bobcat lead.
But, tucked away in the back of her mind was the opportunity to slug No. 30.
The long ball is a beautiful thing. It has the ability to change the momentum of a ballgame in a single swing, plant a seed of doubt in an opposing pitcher or etch one’s name in a history book.
Ortiz entered the game Saturday, April 8 against South Alabama tied for the all-time home run mark in Texas State softball program history. The junior Bobcat shortstop and 2014 Waxahachie graduate slugged 12 home runs in her freshman campaign, took six round trips around the bases her sophomore year and had already launched 10 dingers in just 34 games this season.
Of course, her power could be surprising for some, as a 5-foot-4 frame is not always indicative of a middle-of-the-order power hitter.
“A lot of people [are surprised] because of her look, she’s built smaller, and they don’t realize how much power she has,” said Madison Yannetti, a former club teammate, longtime friend and current shortstop at the University of Arkansas. “Even growing up or when she was getting recruited, I remember people saying that she wasn’t a power hitter and I was just like ‘huh, you just don’t even know.’
“She is one of those people where it just comes naturally for her. I could be up there trying as hard as I could and she could take one easy swing. She just has so much talent,” Yannetti added. “[…] I think it is super cool that every time I get on Twitter, I swear, her name is up there. She is just someone who works so hard, but she doesn’t just do it for herself and is one of the most humble people I have ever met. She just loves the game and I love seeing her success.”
Despite claims of newfound speed, Ortiz is by no means a burner on the base paths. In 149 career games, she has just nine stolen bases.
Which makes an unexpected trip around the bases in Mobile that much more of a memory she will not soon forget.
With runners on second and third in the top of the fifth inning and two outs, Ortiz ripped a 2-1 pitch through the infield. As the ball rolled toward the outfield gap, the junior said she thought coach Peejay Brun would hold her up at third base.
But she didn’t and for good reason, as there was no real play at the plate.
The inside-the-park three-run home run snapped a seven-game home run drought and put Ortiz all alone atop the career list.
“I didn’t even think about it until I saw that it was ruled a hit and I was like. ‘Oh, that was the record breaking one,’” said Ortiz of career home run No. 30. “It’s not how I pictured it, that’s for sure. But then again, I haven’t been hitting the ball like I want to so I was just trying to hit the ball on the ground, honestly. It wasn’t the time that I was looking for that. It was exciting, though. And I am going to remember it, for sure. It wasn’t dramatic. It wasn’t crazy and wild or anything, it was just something where if you run the ball out, it could happen.”
As she currently sits, Ortiz is seven RBIs and 12 doubles shy of becoming the new Bobcat career leader in each respective category. She is also just one RBI from tying another former Waxahachie Indian, Ashley Koop, for ninth all-time with 98 career RBIs.
“I honestly don’t try to think about [career numbers],” Ortiz said. “Someone like Chris (her brother) or my dad will say something about it, and it’s in the back of my head, but I don’t really think about them. […] I knew at the beginning the year before we even started playing that the record was within 10 or 12 and was doable within two years. Once I hit 10, I realized that it was more realistic than you would think. At the beginning, you are looking at the bigger picture.”
For Ortiz, the bigger picture is doing what she can to help the Bobcats win ballgames — longball be damned.
“We all help contribute, and we all get to live on that high when someone gets a big hit or when someone drives runs in. That is what we thrive on. It is hard to go through a game zero to zero. Don’t get me wrong, pitching is good and everything, but you like scoring runs, and you like living on the big hits, getting the momentum or keeping the momentum. If we just keep having quality at-bats then we have a chance to be really good.”
PERMISSION TO LAUNCH
Although at first reluctant to admit it, Ortiz does enjoy the occasional trot around the bases. Whether it’s the game-winner against the University of Texas, the first allowed by an Auburn ace all season or two round-trippers in one game against Appalachian State, she has a knack for the dramatic.
“It is always cool to be able to come up and do that for your team, but I’m not the biggest girl here or in college softball, at all. I’ve always believed in myself, but when the girls started believing in me, then I was like, ‘OK, I can make this happen in one swing,’” Ortiz explained. “Then, I got more confident and started trusting myself because I know I can and my team knows I can. When you have them behind you, it is probably the best feeling that you will ever have.”
Ortiz also credited a boost of confidence received from working with Texas State head softball coach Ricci Woodard, who has taught her to trust her swing and natural power.
“She really knows what she is talking about, so anything that I feel or think that is going on, I can go to her and she’ll help me with like being short to the ball or being quick to the ball,” Ortiz added. “Nothing has really changed in my swing. It has just been buying into what coach Woodard is saying and what coach Woodard is teaching. She definitely knows what she is doing.”
To follow along with Ortiz and Texas State softball, visit Txstatebobcats.com or follow @TXStateSoftball on Twitter. The Bobcats return to the diamond for a three-game set Friday and Saturday in San Marcos against the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns. First pitch of Friday’s doubleheader is slated for 5 p.m. followed by a 2 p.m. start Saturday.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith