Utility players’ versatility key to softball’s playoff push

Ashley Huff gets ready to advance bases on Feb. 27 against her former team, the San Francisco State Gators. Photo credit: George Johnston

Ashley Huff and Cailin Garmon are the Swiss army knives of Chico State softball and can play a variety of positions across the field.

The duo of utility players both transferred this year and in their first season as Wildcats, they have become a key part of the playoff-bound team.

Ashley Huff — junior kinesiology major

Huff began her collegiate career at San Francisco State in 2012 after finding success at Yucaipa High School that included two MVPs and one Defensive Player of the Year award.

During her two years as a Gator, she stole 16 bases and batted .286.

Huff has been a utility player her entire career, able to play a number of different positions effectively.

Huff has become a key player for the Wildcats in all aspects of the game. She usually starts in left field, but her primary position is second base, she said.

She can play almost anywhere, including every position in the outfield, shortstop and catcher.

But despite the fun of being a utility player, Huff said, there are some drawbacks.

“I think you have to have a different mentality for each position you play,” she said. “It’s hard to drop one and pick up another. It’s a whole other approach.”

Huff is in the middle of an impressive first year batting for the Wildcats, hitting .306 and accumulating 33 hits, nine RBIs, six doubles, three triples and a home run in 36 games so far.

She attributes her success at the plate to staying aggressive and having a clutch mental game.

“She has a great eye at the plate,” said Kacee Cox, assistant coach. “When she’s on and mentally focused, she will absolutely put the ball in place and beat it out with her feet, or she will walk. She will always find a way to get on base.”

With playoffs coming up fast, Huff’s personal goal is to stay on stealing bases and having great base running, she said. So far this season, she has already stolen 15 bases.

“I want us to bring it all together,” Huff said. “We’re a really good team. We have everybody we need.”

Cailin Garmon — sophomore business major

Garmon joined the Chico State softball team in stride. In her rookie season for the Wildcats, she has been putting her utility player skills to use, helping the team push to the playoffs.

Garmon normally plays right field but recently had her first outing on the mound as a reliever in a close game on April 4 against University of San Diego.

The Wildcats were down 6-3 in the top of the sixth when head coach Angel Shamblin told Garmon to start warming up to pitch in the next inning after starting the game as an outfielder.

“The inning before I went in to pitch, coach said I needed to warm up and fast,” Garmon said. “I started running back into right field, then coach called me in to pitch. And it was the first time I had ever pitched for Chico.”

She pitched four scoreless innings to get the ‘Cats back into the game, leaving the mound in the top of the 10th in a tied game. However, the Tritons rallied against Wildcat ace pitcher Haley Gilham to win 8-6 after Garmon was pulled.

“When we did have (Garmon) play against our own players, she was always pretty successful,” Cox said. “We finally realized we had to get her in this game and see what she can do because we didn’t give her that chance yet. And she completely exceeded her own expectations.”

Even though Garmon hasn’t started every game for the Wildcats, she has been brought in to pinch run a lot this year and has already stolen eight bases.

With the team headed into the California Collegiate Athletic Association playoffs on May 1, the Wildcats will use Ashley Huff and Cailin Garmon’s versatile skill sets to the max.

Lars Gustafson can be reached at [email protected] or @larsonsports on Twitter.