Lauren Maley witnessed what pitching dominance looked like.
She saw how to carry herself - how to control both sides of the plate. How to manipulate hitters and how lethal speed and control when paired together can be.
It was Lynden's Brooke Bonsen, who like Maley this year, dominated the Northwest Conference with her ability in the circle.
Ferndale's coach Holly Hilton saw a young sophomore a year ago that wanted to reach Bonsen's elite level of consistency and power.
"I believe that Lauren walked away from her sophomore season with a strong desire to be a more dominant pitcher and help her team go further into the playoffs," Hilton said in a phone interview. "She just decided, 'I'm going to take control.'"
And she did.
Maley emerged as the best pitcher in the NWC, going 20-4 overall while holding 1.35 ERA, striking out 174 batters over 135 1/3 innings. Contact was something difficult to come by, her 12-0 record and 1.05 ERA in league play being a testament to how baffling she was against those who were most familiar with her.
"It's just I practice a lot in the offseason - a lot in the offseason," Maley said in a phone interview. "I think that's necessary to be successful."
Maley's contributions in leading Ferndale to its first Class 3A State Tournament berth led to her being selected as The Bellingham Herald's All-Whatcom County Softball Player of the Year. Hilton was selected All-Whatcom County Coach of the Year after guiding her Golden Eagles to a 22-4 overall record, an NWC crown, runner-up in district and a state tournament berth.
Hilton saw a different Maley at the beginning of the softball season. After her 10th grade year ended, Hilton said the two talked about where she could improve - how she could take that next step to follow in the lines of someone like Bonsen.
"Improving her speed. Improving her strength - physical strength. Improving her endurance throwing more so that she could last longer," said Hilton of the specific areas she wanted Maley to work on between her sophomore and junior season. "I was amazed at the improvement in speed. She made a huge jump in speed to be able to get up over 60 miles per hour."
The strikeouts she amassed were indicative of her leap in velocity.
Of the 406 outs Maley accounted for this season, 43 percent came via the strikeout (174), putting down seven or more hitters on 15 different occasions.
Her best performances came when Hilton and the Golden Eagles needed her most.
Against Stanwood in Ferndale's district opener, Maley struck out 13, allowing just four hits and two unearned runs in a 12-2 win. In the following winner-to-state game against Mountlake Terrace, she struck out 12, allowing just one run and two hits in a 3-1 picturesque performance sending Ferndale to its first state tournament in program history.
"As a pitcher, it's important that I try to help and carry the team," Maley said. "It was really exciting. We'd accomplished our goal. Everybody was really proud. ... I think our whole team had that sense of pride."
Maley's prowess in the circle shouldn't marginalize her impact at the plate.
Ferndale was in no shortage of hitters this season, scoring on average 9.7 runs per game. Maley paired with fellow juniors Abigail Bauthues, Kadence Kane, Scarlett Nyenhuis, senior Collette Brown and freshmen Drew Westford and Savanna Shawler to make one of the most potent lineups in Class 3A.
The junior pitcher put together a season in which she hit .368, accounting for 38 RBI, eight doubles and three home runs.
Clearly, she didn't forget that softball is a two-way sport.
"I've been working on being more aggressive and being more of a presence at the plate," she said.
Hilton's assessment of Maley's hitting was simple: "If she's hitting well, it's tough keeping her out of the lineup."
Reach Alex Bigelow at email@example.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.