JACKSON – Leah Alford made it official.

In a small ceremony in front of family and friends, the Jackson High School softball standout put the pen to paper on Wednesday, signing her letter of intent to play Division II college softball at West Liberty University.

Alford, the daughter of Mike and Kelly Alford, has been a starter for the varsity squad at Jackson since her freshman season.

“When we started doing drills in the barn, I knew that she was going to be a starter for me as a freshman. It was pretty easy to see,” said former Jackson head coach Shane Wolford. “Her hitting was always great. Even as a freshman, we batted her in the top of the order.

“She had a shoulder injury, so we played her mostly at first base, and she only got to pitch sparingly. But they got that taken care of, and she will be pitching this year, so I look forward to her having a big year this spring.”

While losing her sophomore season due to COVID, Alford made the best of her junior campaign, predominantly at first base. She did, however, pitch in in the final game of the season after receiving the all-clear sign from her doctor.

She has worked hard to improve her pitching skills during the summer while playing for the Ohio Hawks, an 18U travel softball team.

During the fall season, Alford had impressive stats in the pitching circle, with an insane 0.96 earned-run-average in 29.1 innings. She also had 33 strikeouts.

She was remarkable on offense as well, batting .407, with 17 doubles, two triples, and two home runs. She led the Ohio Hawks with 71 RBIs and 53 runs scored.

Alford’s first college offer came from Ohio Christian University in Circleville, followed by West Liberty. Amid that, she was also talking with Otterbein, Rio Grande, and two smaller schools.

However, after West Liberty Coach Herb Minch reached out to her to visit the campus, she automatically fell in love with it, and her decision was clear.

“It is absolutely beautiful. There are so many rolling hills,” Alford said about the West Liberty campus. “It is small but not too small to where I feel like I am back in Jackson. It is just right for me.

“Everyone I met while I was there was so welcoming, and the coach was absolutely amazing and so helpful through this whole process. I am glad I have decided to go there. I think it is the right choice for me.”

Alford, who was recruited as a pitcher, just passed her one-year date after surgery to repair her injured shoulder.

“I am back. I am stronger, and I feel better,” Alford said.

Although she didn’t get much of an opportunity to pitch during her junior season at Jackson, she did pitch during the summer, and she has been throwing two-to-four times per week since school began.

“My speed is starting to come back, my location is better, and I just feel better all around,” said Alford.

Alford admitted she is relieved to know where she is going before her senior softball season begins. Admittedly, she said her goal during the summer was to recruit to West Liberty by the time school had started.

“That has freed up so much of my time to work on outside scholarships, rather than working on a bunch of college applications. I am glad I made this decision early.”

Alford certainly has fond memories of playing at Jackson.

“My first year was nothing short of amazing. My coach at the time, Shane Wolford, left a huge impact on my life. I got to play with so many amazing girls, and we had and a good season,” Alford said. My sophomore year obviously got taken away because of COVID, and I know God has a reason for everything, but I feel if I had played during my sophomore year, I would be further along.

“During my junior year, I couldn’t do much. I had a slow range of motion in my shoulder when the season began. With it being cold when the season started, I couldn’t throw very hard until the end of the season.”

However, she was still an offensive leader, finishing second in batting average for the Ironladies during the 2021 season.

Alford looks to have a special senior season at Jackson this spring under new head coach Alex Kuhn-Stevens.

Alford plans to major in speech-language pathology at West Liberty University.