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Impressive transformation
CHS grad Ryan Norton enjoys breakout season with Simpson University softball team
Ryan Norton helped lead the Simpson University softball team to record heights this year. Norton batted .474 with two homers, one triple, 19 doubles, 47 runs, 38 RBIs and nine stolen bases for the 39-9 Red Hawks. Ryan was selected to the NAIA All-American Second Team. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Former Ceres High varsity softball standout Ryan Norton had a breakout junior year with Simpson University.

Norton batted .474 with two homers, one triple, 19 doubles, 47 runs, 38 RBIs, nine stolen bases, a .647 slugging percentage and a .506 on-base percentage for the 39-9 Red Hawks.

"The awards were a surprise," Ryan said. "But this is what I should have been doing. This is what I expect from myself."

Norton was selected to the NAIA All-American Second Team.

She was named to the NAIA Softball All-World Series Team.

She also earned NAIA Scholar-Athlete and California Pacific Conference Player of the Year honors.

"I really worked hard this year," she said.

Ryan started every game. The No. 2 hitting rightfielder struck out just 10 times in 156 at-bats. She collected 74 hits.

"My coaches expected a lot from me," said Norton, who posted an impressive .611 batting average in conference play. "They pulled me aside and told me I needed to step up as a leader. Being an upperclassman on the team helped me. My mental game grew a lot."

Ryan ranked in the top 20 in the nation in four offensive categories, including sixth in doubles per game (.396), 11th in total doubles (19), 17th in hits per game (1.542) and 18th in batting average (.477).

Norton raised her batting average 229 points from the previous season.

Ryan hit .248 with one homer, one triple, six doubles, 22 runs, 21 RBIs and three stolen bases at the bottom of the lineup as a sophomore.

Ryan batted .333 with three doubles, nine runs and eight RBIs in 26 games during her first season with Simpson University.

"I was comfortable at the plate this year," Norton said. "I was confident. I kept telling myself I was the best.
All the little things contribute to success." Simpson University climbed to No. 11 in the NAIA Softball Coaches Top 25 Rankings this past season.

The Red Hawks won their third straight Cal-Pac Conference crown, knocked off defending national champion Concordia of Irvine twice (9-7, 7-2) en route to claiming the title at the NAIA Western Regionals and advanced to the World Series for the second time in program history.

Norton batted 4-for-6 with three doubles and one run at the World Series. The Red Hawks lost 15-2 to Oklahoma City and 3-2 to St. Gregory in Columbus, Georgia.

"We had a big target on our back before we went to Nationals," she said. "That's what we wanted. Unfortunately, we didn't do as well as we wanted. We saw very good pitchers. It's nerve racking. There are cameras all around you, commentators behind you. You play in a stadium full of people. It's a great atmosphere."

Ryan's father Gene watched 40 percent of her games this past season.

He even attended Western Regionals.

"Unbelievable," Gene said. "I'm still stunned. She played like she did when she was 18 in travel ball. She was red hot. She owned pitchers."

Norton turned down a scholarship offer from Division-I Tennessee State so she could attend Simpson University.

"I wanted to stay local and play in California," she said. "I like knowing I'm looked upon to be a leader. It's not going to be easy but I'm going to try to top what I did this year next season. I need to keep improving in all areas."

Added Gene: "She's got outstanding bat control. She spreads the ball all over the field. She just loves the game. I couldn't be prouder of her."