Competition way of life for Wright

Irrigon's Noelle Wright was the Co-Player of the Year for Special District 5 and the East Oregonian's selection as Small School Player of the Year in 2009. She batted .544 and also struck out 168 batters from the circle.<BR><I>Staff photo by E.J. Harris</i>

IRRIGON - Whatever you do, don't try to compare Irrigon's Noelle Wright to any other player - at least not to her face.

"I don't like to be compared to anybody else, I like to be my own person," she said. "I get really mad ... because I'm my own individual, I pitch how I want to pitch."

The East Oregonian's 2009 small school softball Player of the Year is fiercely competitive.

"She wants to be the best one out on the field," Irrigon head coach Jake McElligott said.

"Noelle, she's just an all-around competitive person," said Kim Campos, the Knights' first baseman last season and a recent Irrigon graduate. "She doesn't like to lose at anything, even running in practice."

Even a pulled muscle in her stomach couldn't derail Wright's competitive drive in the Class 2A/1A state title game against Union, which the Knights won 1-0.

"I just wanted the game to be over," Wright said of the pain she was in. "I was just praying to God it just got over. I just stuck it through. I knew it was our last game and I wanted to give it my all."

Her combative nature isn't restricted just to athletics though.

"I'm competitive in school, I'm never wrong," she said. "I always have to be right and if I'm wrong, I say I'm right."

The Knights' ace is so intent on being the best that she keeps track of her stats during the season. Her season offensive totals of a .544 batting average, .985 slugging percentage, 38 RBIs and eight home runs put her in elite territory, but Wright still wasn't completely satisfied. She noted her eight home runs as a bit of a sore spot.

"In practice I even track my home runs," she said. "I think I ended up with 40 home runs in practice, I had eight season-wise, I wish it was more.

"In Districts when I hit my second home run (of the tournament) (Coach) McElligott said the catcher from Pilot Rock (AmyLee Perrine) was beating me in home runs so I just pictured his face and hit one over," she said.

Wright tied Perrine for Special District 5 Player of the Year.

Not only did Wright lead the Knights in nearly every major offensive statistic, she was the team's ace in their run to the title.

Wright mowed down opposing hitters with 168 strikeouts, a 1.90 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. She averaged eight strikeouts per seven innings pitched.

"Leading up to the title game all we kept hearing about was Union's Jessy Reynolds and how good she is," McElligott said. "Noelle takes that stuff personal."

Wright responded by allowing just two hits and striking out eight in front of a flawless defense in the championship, making sure the Knights' one run in the first inning held up for the win.

Campos said Wright's play was something the rest of the team never had to worry about.

"We knew she wasn't going to let us down," she said. "She'd have spots when she walked people but she would always make up for it with her bat."

Wright, who moved to Irrigon in the third grade and started playing softball when she was 12, said her ultimate goal for her senior season is a repeat state title and to get recruited by Portland State.

It's quite a turnaround from a girl that didn't even like the sport when she began playing.

"I didn't really like it for the first couple years I did it because I sucked," she said.

But Wright said once her mother got her working in some pitching clinics, she found her niche and a new favorite sport.

Wright said Portland State is her "dream" college, and their coach has agreed to watch her play this weekend with the Columbia Storm. Wright said she would want to study photography.

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