The opportunity for play for the same junior college softball program was too much for Ridgeline teammates and best friends Tia Washington and Laci Leishman to pass up.
Leishman and Washington signed with Dawson Community College last November and will be roommates when they arrive at the school, which is located in Glendive, Montana. The Buccaneers typically the have best team in the Mon-Dak Conference, and they won the Region XIII Tournament every year from 2015-19.
“Oh, it’s going to be just what I need,” Leishman said when asked how nice it was to have a friend to help make the transition to college softball more seamless. “I’m lucky enough that Tia is my best friend, so being able to play with her my entire life and then being able to continue this after high school with her is what I’m looking forward to the most. ... It is like an 11-hour drive up there from here, so being that far away from home, Tia basically is my family.”
Washington echoed Leishman’s sentiments.
“We’re best friends,” Washington said. “We’ve been playing softball together since we were eight, and so going to play in college with her is just crazy. I honestly wouldn’t really want to do it with anyone else, so it’s pretty awesome.”
Washington was well on her way to garnering all-state honors for the second straight year when the 2020 high school softball season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Logan native was having a monster season at the plate and was Ridgeline’s No. 1 pitcher for the second year in a row.
In nine games — the Riverhawks won six of them — Washington batted an impressive .500, with an on-base percentage of .531. She ranked first on the team in both categories and was tied for the top spot with Leishman with nine RBIs. Washington, who only struck out once in 30 at-bats, also chipped in with four doubles and one home run.
Additionally, the daughter of Jennie and Tyrone Washington was getting the job done in the circle as she posted a 2.33 ERA. No. 00 struck out 27 and only issued four free passes and 29 hits in 33 innings. As a junior, Washington earned first-team Herald Journal All-Valley and honorable mention all-state accolades after going 17-10 in the circle, fanning 155 batters and finishing with an ERA of 2.89.
The Riverhawks appeared to be legitimate state title contenders before the season came to a halt.
“Yeah, I was really sad,” Washington said. “I had a super good feeling about this year. The girls, we were all doing pretty well and I thought we were playing well in St. George, and so when they canceled the season I was really sad about it. ... I gradually came to terms with it and it’s not the best situation, but it’s all right.”
Fortunately for Washington and Leishman, they will have more opportunities to play the sport they love — this time at the JUCO level.
“It definitely eases (the pain),” Leishman said. “I really only cared about playing my senior year just because these are the girls and the coaches that I have been with my entire life, so it’s pretty heartbreaking not being able to play my entire senior season. But I’m very excited that this isn’t how it ended for me, this isn’t how my softball career ended. I’m very excited to continue to play and play at a level I didn’t feel like I would ever have the opportunity to do ... so it definitely has helped and given me something to look forward to and keep a positive attitude and open mind about what the future has in store for me.”
Leishman was having another solid season for the Riverhawks before play was halted. In nine games, the middle infielder batted .310, with three doubles, nine RBIs and six runs. The daughter of Karren and Ryan Leishman was an honorable mention all-valley selection as a junior.
The Millville native’s passion for softball grew as the Riverhawks peaked at the end of the 2019 campaign. Ridgeline played very well en route to placing fourth the 4A State Championships.
“(This opportunity means) an incredible amount,” said Leishman, who went on to thank her coaches, teammates and parents. “It is a huge opportunity and I didn’t realize I wanted to play college softball until the state tournament of my junior year, and then that’s when I started really getting serious about playing. And then it was able to come true and I was able to pursue that dream, and it means so much to me. I’m so grateful to have this opportunity. I’m super excited. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Leishman was recruited by a couple more collegiate programs, “but they didn’t come close to Dawson,” she asserted. No. 15 compared Dawson coaches Jim LeProwse and Tami Lagmay to Ridgeline head coach Mike Anderson.
A handful of athletes coached by Anderson have played for the Buccaneers, “and they have all loved it, and so it just felt right,” Leishman said. One of those players is former Mountain Crest standout Trinity Anderson, who sparkled in her two seasons at Dawson and was starting for NAIA program Dickinson (North Dakota) State University before its season was canceled.
As a sophomore at Dawson in the spring of 2019, Anderson was tabbed the Mon-Dak Conference and Region XIII MVP. She ranked first on the team in hits (66), runs (66), doubles (seven) and stolen bases (44) that season.
“I got to play with Trinity for a while and I have been able to reach out to her about Dawson and I talked to her about it before I made my decision,” Leishman said.
Athletes who excel at Dawson receive chances to play at four-year programs, which is something Washington is excited about.
“Most people that go to Dawson usually go to Dickinson and so if I did want to continue playing after Dawson, I’m very confident that I’d have the opportunity to keep on going,” Washington said. “That’s one of the great things about Dawson.”
Dawson was the first collegiate program to offer Washington a scholarship and she pledged her commitment to the Buccaneers on her visit.
“Their coach was just very similar to Mike Anderson, my (high school and club) coach,” Washington said when asked about gave Dawson the edge. “I’ve been playing with him my whole life and their coaching styles are very similar, so it didn’t seem too off-base and like too much of an adjustment.”
Dawson head coach Jim LeProwse raved about Leishman and Washington in a press release.
“We have had a lot of players from coach Mike Anderson’s programs through the years and every single one of them have been outstanding players at Dawson,” said LeProwse, who went on to list the strengths of both Ridgeline athletes. “... (Washington and Leishman) will fit very well into our system here at Dawson.”
The Buccaneers went 43-5 last spring, including 16-0 in conference play. It was a new single-season record win tally for Dawson, which was ranked 18th in the final NJCAA Division II poll. The Buccaneers were 4-3 when the 2020 season was halted. Five of their players from this spring are from Utah.