By DAVE LINK
Avery Flatford was ready to do whatever it took to recover from a torn labrum and surgery in her left (throwing) shoulder in the fall of 2019.
It was nothing new for Farragut’s junior softball pitcher.
Flatford has dealt with adversity almost her entire life.
She was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis when she was 18 months old.
“Basically CF is all I’ve ever known,” Flatford said. “So I’ve just had to live with it and just challenge myself based off of my Cystic Fibrosis, not letting it get in the way. I think that’s what helped me with my shoulder surgery, just because I’ve always had something that kind of set me back from everyone else, and I was able to defy the odds and still compete. I think that helped me with my shoulder surgery to be able to grow and come back stronger.”
Flatford says her rehabilitation is going well, and so is her outlook on the future. She committed to pitch for Tennessee Tech on Oct. 1, which is the birthday of her father, Chuck.
“Actually, overall, I feel better than I did a year before my surgery,” she said. “I feel over 100 percent.”
That may sound scary to opposing hitters coming off Flatford’s freshman year in 2019.
AN IMPACT PLAYER
She began the season on the lower rung of a pitching staff led by then-senior Lakyn Moore.
“I came in pretty confident just about myself,” Flatford said. “I knew I was going to have to start being the fourth pitcher, so I worked really hard when the season started to earn my spot, splitting time with Lakyn Moore, who was a senior at the time. I started at the bottom and worked with my coach, of course, elevated my abilities as a pitcher and eventually got to the point where I was pitching half of the games.”
Farragut coach Nick Green knew all about Flatford, having coached her in the Farragut Middle School program while serving as an assistant for the Lady Admirals under David Moore.
Green’s first season as a head coach also was Flatford’s first season of high school softball.
“Avery wasn’t really dominating in middle school by any means,” Green said. “She didn’t give up a lot of hits in middle school. Her biggest thing was control, and her mentality was she had to strike everybody out. She was trying to make the perfect pitch every time and would fall behind in counts and would walk a lot more people. Then I think she figured out what she wanted to do. At that point, she was still a pitcher and position player and working on hitting.”
So Flatford began focusing on her pitching before starting high school. No more first base. No more hitting.
Her move translated into a stellar freshman season.
She posted a 10-2 record with an 0.83 ERA in 21 appearances. She threw seven complete games and seven shutouts. In 67 and 2/3 innings, Flatford gave up 18 hits, 10 runs (eight earned), struck out 158 batters and walked 38.
“I think being left-handed has a lot to do with (her success),” Green said. “She’s giving everybody a different look. She hides the ball really well, and it just kind of jumps out. She does have a lot of movement on her pitches. I wouldn’t say she’s overpowering. I wouldn’t say she throws as hard as Catelyn Riley up at Jeff County, but she can really make the ball move and she can throw an assortment of pitches.
“She throws a rise-ball, a curveball and a changeup are her main pitches. In terms of baseball, she can throw basically that back-foot slider on a right-handed hitter, and it’s really difficult to hit. She was effectively wild, at least her freshman year. She had her fair share of walks and quite a few hit batsmen. I think she had almost 20-something hit batsmen.”
THE SHOULDER INJURY
Her career was thrown a curveball when she was playing for the Frost Falcons travel team in the fall of 2019.
It was the first fall tournament, in Chattanooga, and Flatford started having issues with her shoulder.
And it wasn’t getting better.
“I was off,” Flatford said. “I was still pitching good, but I wasn’t pitching my best. Going around in my arm circle, there was a bunch of grinding in my shoulder and all that kind of stuff that caused me a little bit of pain and everything, so I decided I should just take myself out because I wasn’t being as effective as I was supposed to be.”
Flatford got one evaluation of her shoulder that said it might only be a muscle strain.
She felt otherwise.
“It was like a deep pain in my shoulder,” Flatford said, “so me and dad made a doctor’s appointment at (Knoxville Orthopedic Clinic) and that’s when I got diagnosed with a torn labrum.”
Shoulder surgery followed, then rehabilitation that coincided with her treatments for Cystic Fibrosis, an inherited life-threating disorder that damages the lungs and digestive system. She has CF treatments at home at least twice a day, sometimes three times, and has more intense treatments about every three months.
It all was a new balancing act for Flatford.
“I had to balance (Cystic Fibrosis treatments) and rehab and school, of course,” Flatford said. “I had all of that to balance and everything, but eventually I was able to get everything down and able to do everything right.”
Flatford would not have been able to pitch in 2020, and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she wasn’t alone in missing the spring softball season. Everyone did.
Green told her at the time: “You don’t need to rush back. You just need to get your arm strength back and don’t be in a rush.”
Green says Flatford’s next high school season could be more challenging than her first one.
“It’s going to be a little bit tougher for her now,” he said. “When she was a freshman, she wasn’t really on anybody’s radar. Now, everybody knows about her. They’ll be prepping for her and getting ready for her. She won’t be a surprise anymore.”
Flatford is well-aware and ready for it.
She’s just glad her shoulder is fixed and she’s able to pitch. And she couldn’t be happier with her commitment to Tennessee Tech.
“Tons and tons of people mentioned how welcoming Tennessee Tech was and how close-knit everyone was,” Flatford said. “At the time when they told me that, it wasn’t a very important thing to me at first, then slowly I started to realize this was something I would adore in a school. It’s something that eventually became very important to me. I’m super proud of myself and extremely excited to see what Tennessee Tech has to offer me.”