Russellville's Stephens signs softball scholarship
It's been a good week for Russellville's Kayla Stephens.
The senior third baseman and outfielder slugged two home runs, including a walk-off homer, in a 5-4 win over Red Bay Tuesday, and then signed a softball scholarship Friday to play for the Cleveland State (Tenn.) Cougars next fall.
"My top two choices were Cleveland State and Itawamba, and it came down to their locations," said Stephens, who expects to play third base for Cleveland State coach Suzanne Bayne. "I thought Cleveland State was in a better area even though it's three hours from home."
Stephens, who bats and throws righthanded, was recruited primarily for her power hitting abiltiy but isn't satisfied with only hitting the long ball.
"I'd like to improve my running speed and my throwing," said Stephens, who batted .301 last season with 25 RBIs and five home runs, including a game-winning grand slam against archrival Muscle Shoals that gave Russellville its first win in school history against the Lady Trojans.
"I think the best thing about softball is winning, and this season we want to get past the first round of the sub-state playoffs even though we play in a tough area."
Stephens has played softball since age four and has only had to sit out once since joining the Golden Tiger varsity team as an eighth-grader despite experiencing her share of injuries.
"During my sophomore year I broke my thumb and had to sit on the bench for six weeks," she said. "When I hurt my shoulder, there was a lot of pain but I just wanted to keep playing."
Stephens injured her shoulder midway through her junior season but she finished the season with the Russellville varsity and also played for two summer league teams, including the Bay Rockets coached by Brad Ivy and the Russellville Rage, a team based in Phil Campbell.
"I was diving back to second base and my shoulder just popped out of place and I tore the labrum in my right shoulder," said Stephens, who had surgery last October to repair the tear and still found a way to play in a Russellville powder puff football game less than a month later.
"I'm playing full-time now and I'm probably at 80 or 85 percent already."
Freddie Kirby attributes Stephens' success on the field to her attitude towards playing softball.
"There isn't a better power hitter in the county but the thing that stands out the most about Kayla is her joy for playing the game," said Kirby, a regional supervisor for Southeastern Athletics, Inc.
Stephens said she hasn't always been a power hitter and didn't hit her first outside-the park home run until high school.
"When I was younger, I didn't hit the ball very hard," said Stephens, who changed her swing from an upper cut to a more level approach that allows her to drive through the ball consistently. "I didn't hit my first home run over the fence until my freshman year.
"I give a lot of credit for my swing to coach (Ted) Ikerd, Tyrus Taylor, my Silver Bullets summer coach, and Brad Ivy, who has helped the past two years and I go to him once a week for hitting lessons."
Stephens is the daugther of Michelle Stephens and Scott Stephens, both of Russellville.