Iolani alum Lei, Baldwin's Russell power BYU softball
By Dennis Anderson
Advertiser Staff Writer
Barely a year after they completed all-state high school careers in Hawai'i, Iolani's Ianeta Lei and Baldwin's Ashlyn Russell are starting for a Brigham Young-Provo softball team that is off to its best start.
Russell shares the team lead in home runs with four and is batting .325 (13 for 40). Lei homered in her first college game, against No. 23 Oregon State, but her average has slipped slightly to .290 (9 for 31), largely because of 13 strikeouts in 13 games.
Both have nine RBIs and bat in the heart of the order.
"I am very, very pleased with what we have in those two, even though they have only scratched the tip of the iceberg of their ability," coach Gordon Eakin said.
Both Lei and Russell played on state championship high school teams. Lei was first- or second- team all-state all four years for Iolani while Russell was first team the past two years for Baldwin.
"The upside with both of them is so high that we plan on baptizing them by fire, keeping them out there while they are young and learning," Eakin said.
"I am going to push them; they are just starting to show how good they could be. The more experience they get, the more I am going to expect from them."
Lei lined a two-run double down the left-field line in the fourth inning to defeat No. 24 Texas A&M, 2-0, on Feb. 15.
Russell smashed a two-run homer in the first inning of a 2-1 victory over San Diego at Santa Barbara's Softball by the Beach tournament on Feb. 21. Her slugging average is .625.
"The tougher the situation, the tougher they are," Eakin said. "That really appeals to me. ... I could take a dozen more just like them."
"This is what I wanted to do," Russell said. "I've been preparing myself to contribute early."
Russell, who hit her first two home runs in a 7-6 victory over Cal Poly on Feb. 1, said she was not known particularly as a home-run hitter in high school.
"I try to get (the ball) into play; sometimes it happens," she said. "I picked up a few tips that helped me better my swing."
Between games, practices and classes, Lei and Russell are like kids in a new playland at the foot of 11,068-foot Provo Peak. "Ashlyn and I have been having a lot of fun in the snow," Lei said. "I built my first snowman (Friday). We're always chucking snow balls at each other."