BRADENTON -- Ashley Burney said she hated softball when she first took the sport up.
Makes sense, since she was coming from the sport of baseball where she more than held her own until she was about 14 years old.
But Burney's ability on a softball field is what made her a standout in the small town of Palatka.
After a slow start to the season, Burney has become an integral offensive weapon for the State College of Florida Manatees.
Her state tournament performance alone aided a deep SCF pitching staff and enabled the Manatees to punch their first national tournament appearance since 2005, just the second in program history.
"Ashley Burney has been a slow-burning ember all season," SCF head coach Meredith Headings said. "And then in conference, she really started spark things for us and by the time we got to the state tournament, she was just a flame thrower. The girl is on fire, and I'm so proud of her. Because I saw her in a tournament in Kissimmee, and I was like, 'I love that girl.' And some people I was recruiting with they didn't seem to bite. I was like, 'I want her.' And I knew if we could get her here and get her built up get her confidence up, and understand that she's not a small town, she's not a small school player. That she can shine on the big stages."
Burney went 10-for-15 with three home runs and eight RBIs in the state tournament to garner co-MVP honors.
She said she either got a hit or struck out, and that she was "seeing the ball really well" that week.
But that wasn't how Burney started her career at SCF.
Just a freshman, she was homesick leaving Palatka, a town situated between Gainesville and St. Augustine in North Florida with a population of under 11,000 according to the United States Census Bureau.
"I'm used to the small town," Burney said. "I was the star in my town, because everyone knew who I was. And here, nobody knows who you are. You have to prove yourself. And I would over-try. I would over swing and try to swing for the fence, and nothing would ever get done."
All Burney needed to get things on track was a spark.
And it came just before the Suncoast Conference slate started for the Manatees.
SCF was playing on the road against Palm Beach State College in early March when it clicked for Burney at the plate.
She launched a mammoth home run off the scoreboard.
"It was unbelievable," Headings said. " Then it was like, 'I am the Burney I was back home.'"
It translated into a powerful freshman season at the dish, culminating with that standout state tournament performance.
Currently, Burney leads the team with a .360 average, an on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) of .984 and seven home runs.
The home run tally is six shy of tying Headings' single-season mark set in 2001. Headings also has the career record with 23 between her two seasons at the then-Manatee Community College in 2000 and 2001.
"Over the summer, she was like, 'I have the home run record here and I would love to see you beat it,'" Burney said.
The first baseman's power and consistency has provided a perfect piece to SCF's offense, and a key reason to the Manatees success this season that's led to the first Junior College World Series appearance since 2005.