New Hope High School senior Alex Melton poses for a picture Friday during a signing ceremony to celebrate her decision to play softball at Northeast Mississippi Community College in Booneville. With Alex are her mother, Jaime; her father, Larry; New Hope assistant softball coach Billy Ray Lee; her grandmother, Mott Ellis; her grandfather, Wayne Ellis; New Hope softball coach Bobby Taylor; and New Hope assistant softball coach Ginny Swedenburg. Photo by: Adam Minichino/Dispatch Staff
January 20, 2018 4:39:46 PM
Have glove will travel.
In Alex Melton's case, two gloves will do just fine, even though she is apt to move from catcher to pitcher to infield to outfield in the same game.
Don't worry because the New Hope High School senior can handle transition from blocking a dropball to snaring a hot smash at third base. Ever since she was 5 years old, Melton has been working with her grandfather, Wayne Ellis, on fundamentals that have enabled her to contribute at any position.
Melton's versatility was a key reason why friends and family gathered Friday morning in the New Hope High library to celebrate her decision to play softball at Northeast Mississippi Community College in Booneville.
"I worked hard and put my mind to it," said Melton, who called herself a "utility player." "I can play any position. I have played every position ever since I started playing softball.
"It is something special for me. College coaches look for utility players. They look for players who can play every position."
There was only one glove on the table Melton used to show off jerseys and T-shirts of her soon-to-be school, but anyone who knows Melton's love for softball realizes she can play any role needed to help make a team go.
"She is probably my best all-around player," New Hope softball coach Bobby Taylor said. "She is the type of player I can put anywhere. I can put her in the infield. I can put her in the outfield. She can catch. She can pitch. The only position I really haven't seen her at is first base.
"Northeast is getting a pretty good deal. She can do it all. That is her best asset."
This will be Taylor's second season with the school's fast-pitch softball team, and third overall. He said Northeast Mississippi C.C. has expressed interest in seeing Melton catch and pitch.
Taylor said having an athlete who can play so many positions is a "dream" for a coach. He said he would take nine players who could play anywhere if he could.
"She is athletic to play anywhere," Taylor said. "She is going to have to work hard up there. It is a lot harder than high school. It is a lot more running than high school. They all come back and tell me the same thing: They run and they condition. She is going to have to get used to that.
"I think she will do good and fit in. If she gets her head right and does what they tell her to do, she will play."
Melton likely will see time in both roles once the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) fast-pitch softball season starts. Last fast-pitch season, Melton hit .378, scored 18 runs, had 28 hits, and had 10 RBIs. For now, though, Melton will complete her final season with the basketball team. She said there was a time when she wondered if she would pick between basketball and softball, but she said softball always has had a special place in her heart.
"My grandfather has had a lot of roles, and watching him coach all of the girls and coming to every game he coached had a big impact on me and made me want to do something great," said Melton, who signed her National Letter of Intent last week.
Ellis, who worked as an assistant coach with longtime former New Hope softball coach Cary Shepherd, said Melton has a great work ethic and always was willing to play different positions. He said she has continued to mature as a player since the days he coached her on slow- and fast-pitch teams.
"She has always had the ability to field, to throw, and to catch," Ellis said. "We worked a lot on the fundamentals, playing T-ball and coming up under coach-pitch and playing a lot of travel ball.
"She has a lot of the fundamental skills I was brought up coaching. I think that is a good reason she is gifted that way."
Ellis said he has seen Melton play every position and that he is proud of her for her work ethic and willingness to polish her skills to get a chance to play softball in college. He said he recalls trying to impress upon Melton the importance of the fundamentals and how those skills were going to pave the way for her to play at the next level.
On Friday, all of that time playing multiple positions paid off.
"She has never been afraid to tell a coach, 'I will play there if you don't have anybody to play there,' " Ellis said. "She has always had that about her. She has always been a team player, and that is a good thing."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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