E.A. Sports Today

Shurbutt a sure thing

Alexandria infielder runs hard on rebuilt knee as North sweeps all-star doubleheader; Heflin’s Akles named North MVP

Pleasant Valley coach David Bryant hits grounders to his North infielders before Tuesday's all-star doubleheader. On the cover, Alexandria's Timberlyn Shurbutt (R) and Cleburne County's Kiara Akles, the North MVP, await their turn.

Pleasant Valley coach David Bryant hits grounders to his North infielders before Tuesday’s all-star doubleheader. On the cover, Alexandria’s Timberlyn Shurbutt (R) and Cleburne County’s Kiara Akles, the North MVP, await their turn.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

MONTGOMERY — If there was any doubt about the sturdiness of Timberlyn Shurbutt’s rebuilt left knee, all you had to do was watch her in the second inning of Tuesday’s North-South All-Star softball opener.

The rising Alexandria senior played at a sprinter’s pace in the five-run inning that catapulted the North to a 12-4 win at Lagoon Park. The North won the nightcap 4-1 to complete its first sweep in the series in five years.

Cleburne County’s Kiara Akles was named the North MVP. She was the starter and winning pitcher in the nightcap and ripped a couple doubles in the twinbill.

Oxford’s Rylee Waldrep, the last of the North’s six pitchers, pitched the final two scoreless innings of the nightcap.

Shurbutt played the majority of both games at shortstop and third base. She went 1-for-3 in the doubleheader, reached base four times in five plate appearances and scored three runs.

Not bad for a player who blew out her knee in January in the basketball game she was certainly going to score her 1,000th career point. She said Tuesday night she would not pursue the scoring milestone this winter, concentrating instead on her softball future. She already is committed to North Carolina State, which bravely stood by Shurbutt during her rehab and recovery.

“I wasn’t worried; my coaches were worried – they asked if I should be sliding,” Shurbutt said. “I told them I was fine because you can’t play scared, you can’t play afraid, that something bad is going to happen again. You have to play like you’re used to play. I just acted like there’s nothing wrong with my knee and played like I knew how to play.

“Everything feels normal. I feel like I’m getting back to where I’m supposed to be.”

She beat the odds and returned in time for the regional tournament. Valley Cubs coach Brian Hess had a plan in place to run for her, but it wasn’t needed.

In one of Shurbutt’s first games back, she dove head-first Into third stretching a triple just to test the knee in her own mind and she’s been going strong ever since. In her second game back, she hit a game-tying double against Hayden that helped get the Lady Cubs to the state tournament in Montgomery, where they were eliminated just a few hundred yards from where the game was played Tuesday night.

“She told me back when she messed her knee up in January that she would be back before the end of the season,” Hess said. “We just didn’t see that being possible, but I wasn’t going to tell her no. I just said well, there’s a possibility, but we’re looking forward to having you back next year. She said I’m telling you I’m going to be back.

“She ends up working and working and said I’m going to be cleared by regionals, I promise. Then I get a text that Monday (before regionals) at school that says I’m cleared. … It’s a testament to what kind of work ethic she has. There are a lot of kids you have to stay on about working to get back, but I never had to say one thing to her. What I had to say was she needed to back off a little bit. She’s the type kid who’s always wanting to push herself.”

It was early in Tuesday’s opener where she proved she was ready to tackle anything.

She led off the second inning with a pop to short, but her work in the inning was far from finished. She was inserted as a courtesy runner for Westminster Christian’s Annie Willis after the starting pitching singled home the inning’s third run and advanced on the throw home.

She scored on Coosa Christian catcher Alaina Hampton’s double and immediately returned to third as a courtesy runner for Hampton and scored again on Sparkman Kaily Stoker’s grounder to short.

Even before she came to the plate for the first time, she started an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play in the bottom of the first after the previous batter beat her throw on a bunt single.

“That’s what the game is all about – the next play,” Shurbutt said. “If you don’t get the first play, you get the next play.”

Cleburne County’s Akles earned top honors for her team with a solid doubleheader. She had an RBI double in the first game, a double in the nightcap and pitched the first three innings of the nightcap with three strikeouts.

She worked out of a third-inning jam in which the South put two runners in scoring position with one out without giving up a run.

“I’m very excited, very honored and blessed to get this,” she said. “I was like please just let me play so good. I just want to hit the ball, pitch great, just have an all-around good softball game. This (MVP award) was like the icing on the cake.”

Waldrep pitched the final two innings, allowing one hit and striking out four.

“I thought I did pretty good,” she said. “My pitches were moving pretty well and the catcher did good calling the pitches I wanted to throw. It was an honor to play in it.”


North 2, South 0
North 13, South 2

Piedmont’s Taylor Hayes was one of four pitchers combining on a one-hitter in the opener and he had three of the North’s 14 hits in the nightcap.

Hayes was the third of the four pitchers in the opener; he threw 13 pitches in his inning, seven for strikes. He went 3-for-3 with two runs in the nightcap.

The North held the South to one hit over the first 10 1/3 innings of the doubleheader and five hits total.

Oxford's Rylee Waldrep, shagging flies in pregame warmups, pitched the final two innings of the nightcap to secure the North's sweep.

Oxford’s Rylee Waldrep, shagging flies in pregame warmups, pitched the final two innings of the nightcap to secure the North’s sweep.

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