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2010 HERALD ALL-AREA SOFTBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Haley Ellis, Worth County

Worth slugger Haley Ellis missed the state home record of 16 by three this season, but she ended with 13, including two grand slams in one game.

Worth slugger Haley Ellis missed the state home record of 16 by three this season, but she ended with 13, including two grand slams in one game.

SYLVESTER -- She never said a word.

Never.

Even when the pain cut through her like a knife, even when her knee popped in and out like a jack-in-the-box, or the times she cut around the bases too sharply and it felt like someone had taken a hammer and whacked her right knee.

No, Haley Ellis never complained.

Not even when her poor right knee was so worn out from squatting all day behind the plate, rising and falling with each pitch, pushing herself in silence.

Never a word.

She just took it out on the softball.

And that's putting it mildly.

Ellis put up Ruthian numbers this season while leading Worth County to the Class AAA state playoffs. And her final stats are mind-boggling.

She belted 13 homers in 30 games, drove in an unbelievable 66 runs, scored 48 times and hit 15 doubles. She batted .612 and had a slugging percentage of 1.187. All of those are school records, but what is more amazing about Ellis, just a junior, is that she played the entire season with a torn ACL in her right knee -- and never complained.

"It was the type of pain I just grew to deal with,'' said Ellis, The Herald's 2010 Player of the Year for softball. "I wanted to wait until after the season to have the surgery, and the doctor said I could play on it.''

She just bit her lip and kept going.

"When I was catching, if I came up too fast or came up at the wrong angle, my knee would pop out and there would be a sharp pain, but I got used to it,'' she said. "I didn't say anything to (head) coach (Russ) Beard because I was afraid he would probably take me out of the game.''

She changed the way she ran the bases.

"I had to hit the bag with my left foot instead of my right foot because my knee couldn't take the weight of me hitting the bag with my right foot and my knee would pop out,'' said Ellis, who even stole four bases this season. "And there were times when I would round the bases that I would put too much weight on it, and I'd feel the pain.''

About the only person who knew of the ailment was her twin sister Heather, who had a remarkable year herself at shortstop and was The Herald's runner-up for Player of the Year.

"She could always tell,'' Haley said of her sister. "She would come up to me and ask me if I was OK. Then I would just go about my business and keep playing.''

Nobody plays the game like Haley Ellis, who was named to the Class AAA All-State team for the third year in a row this season. When the coaches met to pick the team, someone pointed out that Ellis didn't throw out many runners trying to steal, and another coach at the meeting stood up and said: "That's because everyone knows you can't run on her.''

She has a cannon, and in the playoff loss to Eastside, Ellis picked off runners at third base and first base.

Eastside knew all about her coming in.

"We came into this game with the goal of not letting two particular players on their team beat us," said Eastside coach Jason Stokes, referring to the Ellis twins. Heather had three hits in the doubleheader, and Haley, who hit the ball hard all day right at players, doubled in a run and then hit a home run in her final at-bat of the season.

It just wasn't enough.

But what a season for Worth, which made it to the Sweet 16. Haley had one game that felt like a season itself. Against Monroe in a Region 1-AAA duel, Haley and Heather hit back-to-back home runs and drove in 18 runs between them. Haley hit two grand slams and a three-run homer and finished the game with five hits and 14 RBI.

"She's probably the best all-around ball player we've ever been around,'' said Beard, who has had some strong teams over the years. "She does it all. She hits with power, is a great catcher with a great arm and a leader on the field. And she doesn't just hit home runs, she hits them when we need them. A lot of her home runs either pulled us even or gave us the lead in games. And she is a joy to coach, and a delight to be around.''

She's also pretty tough to get out of the classroom. Haley is fourth in her class with a 3.85 GPA.

She kept learning on the diamond, where Beard convinced his power hitter to go to right field more this season. Her batting average went from .563 as a sophomore to .626, and her home runs still went up, from five to 13. And her RBI? They jumped from 17 to 66.

"She's the kind of kid when you tell her something, she just wants to know what she has to do to fix it,'' Beard said. "You tell her something, like a new technique in catching, and she says, 'Show me how to do it,' and then she does it. It's amazing.''

Beard just shakes his head when he talks about how Haley dealt with the torn ACL.

"We were really concerned at the beginning of the year, but she not only handled the physical part of it, she handled the mental part of playing with it,'' the coach said. "It just shows the character she has. There is no telling what she will do next year. She'll be bigger and stronger.''

Her home runs were notable, too -- actually, they were monster shots. Worth plays in a small ball park, but there was nothing cheap about her round-trippers.

The fans would park pickup trucks beyond the left field fence and then stand in the beds to watch Worth's games, and Haley had no problem sending shots over the fence and well over the rows of vehicles.

She hit a line drive so hard off the base of the center field wall once that the ball bounced halfway back to the infield, and she had to settle for a single.

She wanted the state home run record of 16, and might have reached it if Worth had made it to the Final Eight in Columbus, where the Lady Rams would have played in at least two more games.

Still, it was a season to remember, through the pain and the silence -- a season Haley will never forget.

"There's a lot to remember from this year,'' she said when she was asked to reflect on the season.

Then she listed big wins against Columbus early in the year, and some comebacks by the Lady Rams. And, of course, their run to the Sweet 16, playing with her sister and all that went with Worth's remarkable season.

But she didn't mention the pain or the ACL.

She was still remaining silent.