First Posted: 11/18/2009
PILOT MOUNTAIN Dont let the quiet smile fool you. East Surrys Hayley Shelton is a fierce competitor.
Someone who doesnt know this fact might be taken by surprise when the happy high school senior blasts a blazing fastball by their eyeballs for strike three, but for those who have watched her rise to the top, its common knowledge.
The two-time 1A state tournament MVP will take that killer instinct and fastball to the next level at Marist College, as the Cardinals pitcher signed her national letter of intent Tuesday.
Just the third East Surry softball player in the last 15 years to receive a full D-1 scholarship, next fall Shelton will call Poughkipsee, N.Y., home, but not until she takes another crack at leading East to a state title.
Last season Shelton was a dominant force on the mound for the eventual 1A state champion Cardinals.
While her season ERA of .180 was staggering, it was her MVP-worthy performance in the finals of the state tournament which should quell any questions about her desire and determination.
Shelton put the Cardinals on her back and finished with the third most strikeouts in the history of the softball state finals (66) and pitched four games in two days, including three grueling contests on the final day to secure the schools second consecutive title.
On the first day of last seasons finals, Shelton pitched one of the wildest games in the tournaments history, a 14-inning 1-0 nailbiter. Shelton struck out 29 batters in the game but, perhaps more amazingly, picked up just her first loss in her East Surry career.
After receiving interest from UNCG and Western Carolina, among other schools, Shelton said she first fell in love with the Red Foxes coach, then upon visiting the campus, fell in love with Marist.
Her parents, Scott and Michelle Shelton, said they too felt that coach Joe Ausanio, a former major league pitcher, really showed the most interest and dedication to having Hayley be a part of the Marist program.
I was in love with the coach, but when I visited the campus, it was really pretty and the girls I stayed with acted like they have known me forever, she said. He made me feel more wanted than any coach I had talked to.
Ausanio first saw Shelton pitch for the Carolina Cardinals travel softball team at a tournament in New Jersey this July. According to Hayleys parents, the connection seemed to be fate.
We didnt expect to go to New Jersey and have somebody see her, Scott Shelton said. His mind was made up then and he has really pursued her from that day. He has called religiously every Sunday. We played in Florida and he was down there, and when we went and visited, you can talk to him like youve known him all your life.
But for a young woman from Pilot Mountain, New York can seem like a million miles away.
Michelle Shelton said she will worry about her daughter but that the opportunity to play for a coach and a school which seemed like a perfect fit was too much to pass up.
Im excited for her, she said. But I want her to get as much as she can out of everything. Of course, I am going to miss her.
Hayley said shes not too worried about the distance.
I know anywhere I go Ill be homesick, so Ill just have to get used to it, she said. Im excited.
Sheltons travel softball team coach Rick McHone said Shelton embodies a player who wants to get better and strives to perform her best.
She has work ethic, competitiveness and she carries herself well on the field, McHone said. She is a very competitive kid even though she doesnt show it all the time on her face. Shes matured as an individual and thats carried over to her play on the field. The way she walks on the field, the way she can dominate a game. Its the difference between a girl and a woman.
East Surry coach Derrick Hill, who has the pleasure of having Hayley around one more season in Pilot Mountain, said he has seen the soft-spoken Shelton grow as well.
When she first got to East Surry, she had incredible stuff, she threw the ball hard and it moved all over the place, but she hadnt quite learned yet how to control that movement and velocity and once and a while, wed get in a game and start walking people, Hill said. But we talked to her about that and she took it to heart and it has gotten progressively better. I think a lot of that is her maturity and her willingness to trust her pitches and just throw strikes, which I think comes from confidence. Shes turned into one of the top pitchers weve ever had, theres no doubt about it. As a two-time state MVP, theres not too much more that you can do, but wed like to see her win it again.
The numbers can prove Hills statement.
In her sophomore season, Shelton walked 15 batters in 62 innings. Last season, in 150 innings she walked 16. In addition to that, she struck out a phenomenal 302 batters (better than two per inning) while giving up just eight total runs, four of which were earned.
But for the upcoming season, Hill knows he has a solid cornerstone to build around after losing a number of seniors.
There is no doubt that shes a key, he said. We feel like when she pitches if we can score two or three runs we will be in pretty good shape. If she does anything close to what shes capable of, we dont need but two or three runs. The big thing this year is we are going to ask her to step up and be a more vocal leader.
That shouldnt be a problem for Shelton, because if she can pull herself to the level she sits at now, theres no telling where she can go.
Contact Thomas Smith at [email protected] or 719-1920.