Burney powers through first season with Pats

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Burney powers through first season with Pats

Photo by: Ciera Hunt

Photo by: Ciera Hunt

Photo by: Ciera Hunt

Burney ranks first in four categories in the Peach Belt Conference.

Jessica Imbimbo, Assistant Editor

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Junior first baseman Ashley Burney is swinging for the fences, and hitting passed them, in her first season as a member of the Francis Marion University (FMU) softball team.

A Palatka, FL native, Burney had a bat in her hand since before she can remember.

“I honestly don’t know when I started to play softball,” Burney said.  “Before I was old enough to even play I was out in the yard with my dad and brother throwing and hitting.”

Burney started her career as a baseball player until she made the switch to softball at age 13.  She knows that her father played a vital role in her career as an athlete.

“He spent countless hours working with me in our yard,” Burney said.  “Every night we would go outside and I would throw baseballs at him for over an hour. I’ve always wanted to please my dad when I play, because his approval is the only one that matters in my book.”

At Palatka High School, Burney was one of only three freshmen to make the varsity squad.  Unfortunately, the summer prior to her freshman year she injured both her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus in her right knee.  The doctor told Burney her ACL was only partially torn so they did not repair it during surgery.  Midway through her freshman season, Burney tore her ACL and meniscus completely, an injury that brought an abrupt end to her freshman season.

“It took eight months to get back on the field to play,” Burney said.  “The hardest time of my life was overcoming that.”

After rehabilitating from what could’ve been career-ending injuries, Burney, playing both first base and shortstop, finished her high school career with three consecutive all-county honors, second team all-state honors and all-county MVP player of the year.

After graduating Burney had offers from many Florida junior colleges including St. Johns River State College, Florida State College of Jacksonville and State College of Florida (SCF).

“I got recruited at a showcase in Orlando when our team was playing at Disney at the World Wide Sports Complex,” Burney said.  “At the time I never heard of SCF, but she allowed us to come on a visit and I immediately fell in love with the coach and campus, and knew that was where I wanted to go.”

During her first year at SCF, Burney received all-conference second team honors while making a notable run in the state championship tournament. Though her team fell just short of the state title by a score of 4-3, Burney went 3-3 with three RBIs during the state championship match. In five games, Burney went 10-15 with eight RBI’s and three homeruns, the last of which being a walk-off homerun that gave her team a bid to the NJCAA National tournament in Utah.  After the state tournament, Burney earned many awards including Co-MVP of the tournament and Gulf-District all-tournament team.  Burney ended her freshman season with her team ranked sixth nationally.

As a sophomore, Burney received first team all-conference and second team all-state honors while batting .343 with team-high totals of 44 RBIs, nine doubles, 10 home runs, and a .615 slugging percentage.

Following her career as a Manatee, Burney reached out to head coach Stacey Vallee, wanting to become a part of FMU Patriot softball.  When Burney came on a recruiting visit, Vallee liked what she saw.

“I heard great things from her coach about her and her stats were great as well,” Vallee said.  “A lot of times a good hitter is just an OK fielder and that is not the case with Burney. She is a great fielder as well.”

So far this season, Burney has been a powerhouse at the plate, scoring 19 runs, 28 RBIs and slugging out nine homeruns, six of which came in the last 12 games.  In Peach Belt Conference matchups, Burney ranks first in four different categories: total bases (25), RBIs (14), homeruns (5) and slugging percentage (1.087).  Burney hopes that she can win her first championship here at FMU.

“I have always been so close to winning a big championship but can never pull it through,” Burney said.  “I want to be a part of the team that wins conference and regionals and take home the championship at the World Series.”

Coach Vallee expects Burney to live up to her full potential as a Patriot through both hard work and humility.

“A lot of times you see good players get huge ego’s and let things go to their heads,” Vallee said.  “If she can stay humble and think ‘team first,’ she could end up being one of the best here at FMU.”

As a biology major, Burney aspires to find a career in either physical therapy or as a physical education teacher and softball coach.  She also hopes to further her softball career by playing overseas.

“I want to travel and I’m definitely not ready to hang up my cleats just yet,” Burney said.  “I truly do not know what I want to do after I graduate but I know that whatever I do it will have softball in it somewhere because I don’t think I can live without it.  It’s not just a sport, it’s a passion.”

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