Laurel senior mixes science and softball

2014-05-28T13:00:00Z 2014-05-28T13:18:06Z Laurel senior mixes science and softballBy JOE KUSEK jkusek@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

LAUREL — Ayla Grandpre sees similarities between science and softball.

“One step leads to another,” said the friendly Laurel senior of her passion for science. “You’ve got specific parts and it all comes together.

“Same with softball.”

Grandpre has an insatiable thirst for knowledge.

She wants to know about everything.

“Oh, I do,” Grandpre said with a laugh about her penchant for following a question with another question.

She loves watching PBS — “I have since a young age,” Grandpre said — relishes balancing chemistry equations, and loves to hunker down with high school classmates to work on a project for NASA that could find its way into space.

“It’s neat you could create something that can be used by NASA,” she said. “I love being part of a team.”

Grandpre and her peers have twice attended the NASA camps in Huntsville, Ala.

“I love soldering. I call it arts and crafts to the extreme,” she said with another smile.

And once in a while, Grandpre will look around, soaking in everything around her.

“I’m a religious person,” said Grandpre, who plans to study computer science and chemistry at Rocky Mountain College next year. “It’s amazing how God created everything.”

That love of learning was fostered by her parents Tim and Amy, a biologist and horticulturist, respectively.

“Dad would take us on hikes and point out different plants and how they work,” Grandpre said. “It would be, ‘Photosynthesis, cool!’

“Beginning at a young age, I wanted to know how things work.”

That continual pursuit of information extends to the softball field.

“She wants to know everything about everything,” said Laurel softball coach Greg Branstetter. “She wants to know every scenario that can happen in a game.”

“And if I didn’t get a quick answer, I would pick at him until I did,” Grandpre added. “I didn’t bother him so much this year.”

A three-year letter winner, Grandpre has been the Locomotives leadoff hitter the past two seasons, along with patrolling right field.

“She has a natural gift of being able to read the ball right off the bat,” Branstetter said. “You don’t find many players like that.”

Grandpre hit .435 as a junior but has struggled at times this season.

“I’m not hitting near as well this year,” said Grandpre. “Last year, I hit a few off the fence. I’ve never hit a home run. I was a little fast on pulling the trigger.”

And just when she found her batting groove again, Grandpre suffered an ankle injury against Anaconda during the Butte Central Invitational during the last weekend of the regular season.

“I slid back to first base on a pick-off attempt,” Grandpre explained. “I heard a couple of pops.

“I looked up at my coach and said, ‘We need a time out, this isn’t good.’ ”

Grandpre initially did not get the ankle checked until the pain forced a trip to the emergency room that night at the Butte hospital. She had torn a couple of tendons.

Grandpre, who was on crutches last Wednesday, was forced to be a spectator during the inaugural Eastern A Divisional tournament on her team’s home field.

She could only watch as the Locomotives were upended by Miles City in the semifinals and came back to beat Sidney 5-4 in a tense 10 innings on Friday evening for the third and final spot in the Class A State tournament.

“It was kind of frustrating,” Grandpre said of watching and not playing. “You want to go out and help the team.”

She plans to play this week in Polson.

“If it can’t get any worse, I’ll wrap it up and play,” said Grandpre. “This team, we’ve had our ups and downs, but we’ve worked so hard and we’ve stayed together.”

No questions about that.

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