February 9, 2011 8:46:00 AM
The rough part is history.
Now DeShuni Sanders can concentrate on playing softball.
A little more than four months after having surgery on her right knee, the former New Hope High School softball standout is ready to start her sophomore season at East Mississippi Community College. EMCC will kick off the 2011 campaign at 2 p.m. today with a doubleheader against No. 12 Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. in Perkinston.
Sanders likely will be in center field, using her speed to patrol the alleys just like she did in high school and last season as a freshman for the Lady Lions (20-30, 18-6 MACJC North Division).
The knee surgery might have made Sanders, who always was known for her speed, a little quicker, even though she doesn''t recommend the course of action she took for people who would like to improve their speed.
"It started off pretty rough, but it has gotten better now and my (right) leg is just as strong as the other leg," Sanders said.
Sanders arrived at EMCC as a line-drive hitting right-hander. Coach Kate Neely opted to convert Sanders into a slap hitter. Slappers typically hit left-handed to be a little closer to first base. From there, they try to beat the ball into the ground and beat an infielder''s throw to first base, or to slap the ball past the already drawn-in defenders.
Sanders had never slapped in high school, but she took to the skill quickly. She did so well that she paced EMCC in batting average (.358), hits (53), and runs (37) in the No. 2 spot in the lineup. She also led the team with 22 stolen bases (in 23 attempts), even though Neely admits Sanders could have had many more if she would have given her the green light.
Sanders might have that freedom now that she is a year older and smarter. Neely said Sanders also might be a little faster given the hard work she invested in the offseason regaining flexibility and strength in her leg.
"I don''t think she ever dealt with surgery and rehabilitation," Neely said. "She rehabbed it pretty quick, but she had soreness and a lack of mobility at the start and that scared her. I think she thought she would be ready to go and would be 100 percent (right after the surgery), but she had to rehabilitate it, stretch it, strengthen it. I think she babied it a little bit, but once she got past the initial reservations she progressed pretty quickly.
"She is real knowledgeable about the game, she is a good leader, and she is always talking the team up. I think she is going to be a great asset to us."
Sanders had the surgery Sept. 29 and was cleared to resume action four weeks later. Instead of playing in a junior college All-Star game in October, Sanders decided to focus on her recovery. She feels she has something to prove to herself and to college coaches who might be interested in recruiting her but are cautious considering her knee injury.
"(The injury) slowed me down for a while but I am ready to go," Sanders said. "The talent on this team is just phenomenal. I think we''re going to go way beyond what we did last year."
Sanders also hopes to take her game to the next level. She feels more confident in her ability to place the ball when she slaps, which could spell disaster for defenses who already have to cope with Sanders'' speed. She hopes her success at the plate will attract attention from college coaches. So far, she said Jackson State is the only school that has shown interest.
Neely said Sanders has the potential to play at a four-year school and that she is excited to se just how much faster Sanders is now that her knee is healthy.
Who knows? Neely might even give Sanders the green light. If that''s the case, look out for speed.
"With her speed she is capable of doing anything," Neely said.
EMCC also will look to players with local ties to contribute. Sophomore Nashedra Barry, of Columbus, figures to see action in the circle with the departure of 2010 NJCAA All-Region 23 hurler Courtney Nunn. Barry hit .311 last season and led the way with three home runs and 25 RBIs. She also was 3-2 as a rookie.
Sophomore first baseman Justine Jenkins, of Caledonia, hit .272 last season with 13 RBIs. Former Central Academy teammates Alex Dawkins and Lillian Lindsey also will compete for playing time.
In all, EMCC returns eight players back from last season, when it earned its third postseason bid in a row, including six of its top seven leading hitters.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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