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Lisa Bolton wanted to continue her softball career at a school that would jump-start her real career.

That’s mainly why the American Canyon High School senior, who is getting ready for her fourth season as the Wolves’ pitching ace, chose NAIA power Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa.

Bolton, American Canyon’s first-ever softball signee, has been on larger colleges’ radars with her 382 strikeouts and just 40 walks in 289 career innings, seven shutouts, three no-hitters and one perfect game.

An All-Solano County Athletic Conference First Team selection the last two seasons, she also has a career.365 batting average with 69 hits, 49 RBIs, 25 doubles, a home run and, in more than 240 at-bats, has struck out just 29 times.

“During my sophomore year, Boise State was interested in me and I went for a visit,” recalled Bolton, who wants to be a surgeon, during a signing ceremony in the ACHS theater on Oct. 1. “But it didn’t work out because they wouldn’t let me do pre-med and play softball because they collided too much, so I cut Division I schools out of my list.”

Last November, Morningside softball recruiting coordinator Jim Misiaszek saw Bolton play in an all-star showcase at the USA Preps Nationals in Palmdale.

“She faced six batters in two innings and struck out five,” recalled her father, Tim Bolton. “She hit two balls, one off the fence and another one that drove in a couple of runs. She lit it up, so he started following her.”

Bolton also drew interest there from a Division II school, New York’s Mercy College. She never visited the campus just north of New York City, however, because she and her dad visited Morningside first.

“I visited in January and they rolled out the red carpet for me,” she recalled. “I could honestly tell that they cared about me as an individual and wanted what was best for my education and for me as a person. It was a great experience. They actually are a really good softball program, so it’s going to be exciting.”

Bolton also did a pitching session with Morningside head coach Jessica Jones-Sitzmann, who is going into her 21st year at the Mustangs’ helm. Morningside went 29-13 last spring, nearly giving the coach her 14th 30-win season.

Jones-Sitzmann has guided the Mustangs to eight NAIA National Tournament appearances, seven Great Plans Athletic Conference regular-season championships, and seven GPAC postseason tournament titles. The Mustangs went 47-10 in 2016, earning their first-ever appearance in the NAIA Softball World Series, and were 40-12 in 2017.

“When we went there, I looked for anything I could that was wrong, because it’s 1,600 miles away,” Tim Bolton said. “They graduate 98 percent of their softball athletes, the class size (student-to-teacher ratio) is 13 to 1, we got to meet a professor that’s going to be teaching her – I couldn’t find anything wrong with it.”

Bolton’s overall record at American Canyon is 24-22, but the Wolves are looking forward to playing in the new Vine Valley Athletic League and North Coast Section after struggling against Benicia and Vanden in the SCAC and going 1-6 in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.

The daughter of Tim and Veronica Bolton might fare better against VVAL competition in preparation for the high standards at Morningside, but finding a winning college program wasn’t her priority.

“I really am focused mostly on my education because I getting into medical school is not going to be easy – and I want to be a surgeon, so that’s going to be even more difficult,” said Bolton, who carries a 4.3 GPA. “I decided on this school because I really enjoyed the softball program, but mostly because of the academics.

“It’s a great academic school, a private school, and the classes are smaller than at my high school. The professors know you, I can get one-on-one help if I need it, I have a lot of volunteer opportunities, internship opportunities, and I can do research with professors. All of that is going to make me more competitive when I apply to medical schools.”

Though she’s lived her entire life in balmy Napa County, Bolton isn’t worried about Iowa’s cold winters.

“The week before my visit there was a blizzard and it was like negative 10, but it was still cold a week later, like 10 to 17 degrees,” she recalled. “But I would rather go to a place that’s extremely cold than extremely hot. When I was younger we had a family home up by Lake Almanor, so we could go play in the snow there. I’m sure once I’m living in it, it’ll be a lot different, but I do enjoy the snow.”

Bolton said she never considered dropping softball to focus on the challenging academic road ahead.

“Softball is a big stress reliever for me and it’s gotten me through a lot, like school, and I’m very hard on myself when it comes to school,” she said. Softball is really like a safe place I can go to where I don’t have to think about my responsibilities.”

She also thinks having her college search wrapped up will free up her mind this spring. Her education could be 75-percent covered by academic scholarships, her father said.

“Last year all the seniors were worrying about applying to colleges and everything and I was kinda alongside with them,” she said. “I was taking visits and taking the ACT because I needed a certain score to get academic scholarship money, so I was stressing about that. Now I don’t’ really have to worry about my after-high school plans, just travel softball, high school softball, and my grades.”

Bolton used to play travel ball for Stockton-based RR Gold and will be playing her fourth season for the Batbusters’ 18-and-under team coached by Napa High alum Kristin Grubbs, Benicia’s longtime head coach.

Tim Bolton couldn’t be happier to see his youngest daughter carry on a family tradition.

“Softball is ingrained in us Boltons,” he said. “My cousin Carol was a phenomenal softball player in the ‘80s at Fairfield High School, Lisa’s mother was a stupendous ball player, my mom played in the ‘40s before going to work in the factories during World War II, and I played competitively and traveled probably 40 weekends a year before Lisa was born,” he said.

He said his brother was a college baseball player, Lisa’s grandfather was a minor league shortstop, and Lisa’s cousin, Cody Bolton, pitches for Class A Greensboro in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

Tim Bolton said he spent “thousands of hours” teaching Lisa how to pitch, and that getting to watch her play in college will be just one reward.

“She’s going to have a passion for it that she’s probably going to share with her children,” he said. “And I got to spend a tremendous amount of time with her at tournaments where she did her homework in the truck or hotel room.”

American Canyon head coach Roger Harris said Bolton has the right mindset for the next level.

“She’s so even-keeled that just looking at her, you can’t tell if she was having a bad day or not,” he said.

He’s also glad she’s stuck with his high school program.

“When we played at Drake last preseason, their pitcher was in the swimming pool right next to the softball field because she had verbally committed to Cal and her travel ball coach told her she didn’t need to play high school ball anymore,” Harris recalled. “That was the day Lisa almost got another perfect game.

“It’s a good thing that she’s stayed with us. It’s helped her, it’s helped us definitely, and I think the camaraderie is big for Lisa. She likes being with teammates with whatever team she’s on.”

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Sports Reporter

Andy Wilcox is a sportswriter-photographer for the Napa Valley Register. He's had similar roles in Walnut Creek, Grass Valley, Auburn, Tracy and Patterson. He grew up in Ohio. His wife, Laura, is a pastry chef. He also enjoys playing guitar and piano.