PC's Russell signs softball scholarship with Itawamba
By By Kim West
PHIL CAMPBELL – Melissa Russell always knew she wanted to play college softball.
Russell, who graduated from Phil Campbell High School this May, accomplished her goal by signing a full scholarship to pitch for first-year coach Chad Case at Itawamba Community College in Fulton, Miss.
"I didn't want to join the Army to pay for college like my older brother and sister did," Russell said. "On the way to a tournament when I was 13, I told my dad that that I wanted to get a scholarship.
"I really didn't expect to get to play in college, because I tried out for several schools, and it didn't work out. And then I got a phone call."
Russell helped lead Phil Campbell to a record-setting season as the team's top pitcher. The Lady Bobcats won a school-record 31 games and captured the county and area championships before being eliminated in the second round of the state playoffs.
"Her attitude was excellent, and she was teaching the young players and working within the team dynamic," Phil Campbell softball coach Greg Winstead said.
Russell, a 5-10 righthander, was named the 2A, Area 16 most valuable player, all-area and all-county. She was also voted team MVP and named team captain.
"I will miss everyone at home, and I've always played with the girls here," Russell said. "I'm hoping there's some of the same talent on Itawamba's team that I've played with here. I'll just have to get used to playing with the girls there. I'll also miss Coach (Winstead).
"Our team was like a family, and we were a team on and off the field. We were all pretty close, and we acted like it."
Russell finished her senior season 28-10 and allowed only 1.29 earned runs per game. She threw 342 strikeouts in 219 innings, and had 15 games with 10 or strikeouts, including 16 against 4A Hamilton.
Russell had 12 shutouts, 3 no-hitters and one perfect game. After only pitching during her junior season, Russell also contributed in 2007 with her hitting. She hit .271 with four stolen bases and one home run, a grand slam during a 5-0 win against Red Bay in the area tournament.
"What makes Melissa such a good pitcher is the number of pitches she throws with good command," Winstead said. "She started getting a lot better with her control in the eleventh grade, and she started falling in love with the rise ball. If all you do is throw fastballs, people are going to catch up to hitting them."
Russell can throw five different pitches with good control, including the fastball, curveball, changeup, drop ball and rise ball. She was taught to pitch by her father, Mike Russell, and she learned more advanced throwing skills in weekly pitching lessons from former University of North Alabama softball coach Blake Bach.
"I learned how to control my pitches and place the different pitches, and Coach Bach taught me how to keep up my pitching speed." Russell said. "My favorite pitch is the rise ball because if I get it spinning just right, a batter will swing right under it. I also like the inside fastball with two strikes, because I noticed most batters will crowd plate at two strikes. Throwing inside will usually jam them if they're over the plate."
Russell attended Itawamba's orientation Tuesday, and she has been assigned a roommate.
"I've already talked to my roommate, Lindsay Brasfield," Russell said. "She's the new catcher, and she can throw from home to second in 1.8 seconds, which is really good.
"I had wanted to go to Gadsden State because I had play in a tournament there before," Russell said. "But I like Itawamba better, and the campus is gorgeous."
Classes begin Aug. 14, and Itawamba will practice and play in tournaments for six weeks and then resume play in the spring. The Indians are scheduled to play three Alabama schools – L.B. Wallace, Calhoun and Bevill State-Sumiton.