CORINTH — Every time you turn around, it’s Shelby Nelson this and Shelby Nelson that. And it’s easy to see why. The Lake Dallas slugger is practically a household name these days after clubbing 10 home runs, cobbling together a .500 batting average, and leading the Lady Falcons to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
Everything is clicking — and the best part is she’s only a junior. Lake Dallas has another year with Nelson in the lineup.
“She’s gotten progressively better as the season has gone along,” Lake Dallas coach Amber Britton said of her catcher. “She’s great behind the plate, and when she bats, you can see it. She has a plan. It’s coming together at the right time.”
It is the right time. It’s also about time.
The tumultuous year that was 2020 wasn’t kind to Nelson, whose sophomore season was cut short because of COVID-19. She also watched her dad, Kyle, suffer through complications from weight loss surgery and end up back in the hospital. If that weren’t enough, Shelby also went under the knife to repair a torn labrum in her right shoulder.
The Tarleton State commit wasn’t even sure if she’d ever be the same, but today, she’s confidently powering a youth movement for a Lake Dallas team that, despite having just one senior on its roster, has some pretty lofty postseason expectations.
The Lady Falcons open playoffs at 10 a.m. on Friday against Aledo in the Class 5A Region I bi-district round. Game 2 of the best-of-three series is slated for immediately after in Aledo at 1 p.m.
If necessary, Game 3 is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday at Lake Dallas.
“Me and my mom always said, ‘That’s just 2020 for you,’” Nelson said just before practice Monday morning. “I’ve just been working extra hard, and it’s steadily paying off. After I hit five or six home runs, I finally realized that I was doing pretty good. But it never made me think I was better than anyone. If anything, it made me want to work even harder — because I know I am capable of more. I’m just trying to keep that groove going.”
Nelson is making her junior year look so easy that teams don’t even want to pitch to her right now. She was intentionally walked five times in last week’s series against Richland and still went 3-for-3 with a homer, double and single. She enters the Aledo series having only struck out seven times in 62 at-bats.
Her slugging percentage is 1.129.
She’s also a brick wall behind the plate and has led Lake Dallas to wins in six of its final eight regular-season games.
But to build such an impressive resume, she had to first overcome plenty of obstacles — starting with her dad’s health issues. Kyle Nelson is one of the most engaged softball dads you’ll ever meet. His office is outfitted with posters of Shelby and even a few medals she’s won. He strives to be at every game, every practice, and anything else softball related that Shelby has on her schedule. Sometimes, this means driving her from Denton to Fort Worth and all points in between for various workouts and games. In their downtime, they’ll still be on a field together somewhere.
But following a surgery at the tail end of 2019, Kyle began experiencing complications and was readmitted to the hospital.
“He had his surgery in December of 2019 and felt pretty good until just after Christmas when he woke up throwing up blood,” Shelby said. “That obviously extended into January and February, which was really hard on all of us. It was also difficult getting to places because he was always the one driving me. He’s the type of guy who always goes out to throw or hit with me, even if he’s tired.”
“He’s definitely a softball dad. I’ve seen medals of mine in his office and am like, ‘I thought I lost that.’ But he just took it.”
Thankfully, Kyle is doing just fine now and is back to rooting on his daughter. But while this was all going on, Shelby was nursing a significant shoulder injury that, at the time, she had no idea was as bad as it was.
She originally aggravated it at a club summer softball tournament in Georgia. She had played several games back-to-back and was behind the plate for all of them. She noticed that her arm wasn’t feeling right and even experienced numbness. But it wasn’t until she was doing planks at a conditioning class in December 2019 that she knew something was wrong.
“It felt like a rope snapped in my arm. I couldn’t breathe, and it hurt really bad,” Nelson said. “Even then, it got better by the next day, and I didn’t think much of it. But I eventually told my mom that I should probably get it checked out.”
An MRI in early 2020 revealed a full labrum tear. It would require surgery, but doctors gave her the choice of waiting until after her senior season. With the coronavirus having canceled her sophomore season, she opted to push the surgery up and went through with it on May 7 of that same year.
“Doctors told me the recovery would be 10 to 12 months, but I came back in seven,” Nelson said with a laugh. “I felt like everyone else was so far ahead of me, so I worked harder than I ever had in my life with rehab.”
Britton said she expected nothing less from a committed player like Nelson.
“Last year was one thing after another; she faced a lot of adversity. But this is her best season yet,” Britton said. “Her mechanics have always been solid, but her mental game has improved. That’s the biggest thing. It’s been fun to watch.”
As for the upcoming series, Nelson said she is well aware that no one is expecting much from the Lady Falcons. Aledo is one of the better teams in the area and has the luxury of facing a fourth seed in the first round.
But after so much adversity, and now having the chance to be part of a special group, she’s not ready for the season to end just yet.
“I think we are going to show people a few things,” Nelson said. “Aledo will be tough, but we have to stay calm and take it one pitch at a time. This is a young team, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.”