By GENE PHELPS
Not even the risk of a total knee replacement kept North Pontotoc’s Danyel Raby off the softball diamond this year.
The senior center fielder played for the Lady Vikings with a bulky brace on her left knee to support a torn anterior cruciate ligament. In just about every game, her knee buckled, but she fought back tears and played through the pain.
“Actually, I don’t have a high tolerance for pain,” she said. “I just suck it up and go.”
Her coach, Shane Montgomery, eventually quit checking on her when she dropped to the ground in agony.
“She would always say, ‘I’m OK.’ She would just walk it off,” he said.
Raby, despite playing on a bad wheel, batted .562 in the crucial leadoff spot, scored a state’s-best 61 runs and stole an amazing 38 bases in 42 attempts. She also had 72 hits, 28 RBIs, three triples and a home run for the MHSAA’s Class 4A state fast-pitch champions.
“She’s a gritty person,” Montgomery said. “She was our catalyst. When she gets on base we’re a much better team.
“She gives you everything she’s got … dives for balls, slides in head first, goes from first to third on a sacrifice bunts. She beats out routine ground balls and just puts so much pressure on a defense.
“She wants to win.”
Raby’s “gritty” performance, along with her impressive numbers, has earned her the Daily Journal’s 2010 Player of the Year award in fast-pitch softball.
“She’s a tough person and a great player,” said ICC coach Chad Case, who signed Raby to a softball scholarship. “I was impressed with how well she played, and with an injured leg.”
Houlka outfielder Candiace McIntosh, who batted an amazing .750 with 51 RBIs, and Nettleton pitcher Michele Hester, who posted a 25-1 record with a 1.20 ERA, were also considered for the award.
Raby is scheduled to undergo surgery for her torn ACL this summer in Birmingham. Her doctor, James Dugas, is a member of the Alabama Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center made famous by Dr. James Andrews.
“I was told by their nurse that had I been their patient from the start they would not have let me play,” Raby said.
The risk, she says, was additional injury to the knee and the possibility of a knee replacement before age 30.
Raby tore her ACL her junior basketball season and had surgery. She missed fast-pitch last spring while undergoing rehab. She tore the same ACL again in November, at the start of basketball.
“I knew if I had surgery I wouldn’t get to play basketball or softball my senior year,” said the Lady Vikings’ point guard. “I decided to not have the surgery and play.
“I played basketball and every game in fast-pitch. My knee would buckle just about every game, but within five minutes I would be ready to play again.”
Raby’s not sure how fast she really is. She’s played most of her high school career with some kind of leg injury, including a fractured knee cap her freshman season.
“When I run straight, my speed isn’t affected,” she said. “The only time my knee bothers me is when I turn on it or crow hop to throw a ball.
“I did hurt it sliding (head-first) during the state tournament in Ridgeland. I don’t know why, but it buckled.”
Raby doesn’t think about her bad knee when she plays, thanks to some advice from her older sister, Brandy, who played softball with a similar injury a few years ago.
“She told me the more you worry about it, the more likely you’re going to do something to it,” Raby said. “I just put it out of my mind and played.”
Raby’s goal is to play college softball next season in Fulton, but she will have to wait and see how her surgery and six-month rehab goes.
“If I can play, I will,” she said.