What opponents wouldn’t give to own Spencer Byerly’s sweet swing.
The Northeastern High School softball standout is hitting .459 with five triples, 18 RBIs, and a .757 slugging percentage.
But there’s one Byerly statistic no one would envy: four fluoroscopy spinal injections in the past four months to manage debilitating, sacroiliac joint pain.
“It’s been rough, that’s for sure, but anything to play,” the tough-as-nails junior said. “I’m not sure how I’ve managed to keep playing. I have no explanation. The only thing I can come up with is that God is definitely putting his hand on me. It’s unbelievable.”
Thirteen months ago, Byerly found herself at Ohio State University Medical Center after a nasty fence collision, wondering whether she’d ever compete again.
“I was very, very frightened,” she recalled. “The doctor came in after an MRI and told me to consider taking a year off. I started bawling. I told him there was no way that could happen.”
The bad news only strengthened Byerly’s resolve.
“I don’t take a single game for granted anymore,” she said. “It’s amazing what can be taken from you, instantly. I leave it all on the diamond.”
As the Jets’ starting catcher last season, Byerly clenched her teeth through pitch after painful pitch until relocation to the outfield finally became necessary.
“I’d pop up out of the crouch position and my back would just lock up. I’d crumble to the ground in pain,” she said.
“I missed about half the season. It’s a lot better now than it was. I can get through seven innings in left field and manage. I’m in pain, but I make it.”
Although playing poses no further injury risk, it demands plentiful rounds of ice and ibuprofen once Byerly returns home.
“My doctors said I basically can’t make it any worse,” she said. “They told me I can play for as long as I’m able to stand the pain. I just try to block it out and let adrenaline take over.”
Their ‘play-if-you-must’ approval provides little comfort to loved ones who watch her play.
“I still dive for balls, oh, absolutely,” Byerly said excitedly. “It’s just SO worth the out. It’s kind of hard on my mom when I do, though. She covers her face a lot.”
Byerly’s daily grit has inspired the upstart Jets, who, at 15-3 overall and 10-1 in the Ohio Heritage Conference, are enjoying their best spring in years.
“That’s just Spencer,” said Northeastern coach Randy Elzey, whose squad defeated rival Southeastern, 6-4, Thursday in a key OHC game.
“She has that determined attitude toward everything - her school work, her charity work, life in general. That’s who she is. She’s a joy to coach. They all are.”
Six equally capable Jets join Byerly in hitting .300 or better: Allison Castle (.510), Ashlen Lockwood (.500), Kaitlyn Moore (.446), Leigha Waugh (.448), Casey Moore (.414) and Cayla Long (.333).
Freshman sisters Kaitlyn and Casey Moore remain the greatest surprise. Kaitlyn is 15-3 in the pitcher’s circle with 99 strikeouts, 22 walks, and a 2.88 ERA. She leads the team in RBIs (31), home runs (2) and slugging percentage (.786).
“Our mindset is to put the ball in play,” Kaitlyn said. “If one of us hits, we all start to hit.”
“None of us (is) intimidated,” added Casey (16 singles, 8 doubles, 20 RBIs). “Every practice, we hit off tees for a good hour-and-a-half.”
The Jets, it seems, are finding fresh success with old-school drills and drive. Their team motto is “Finish!”
“The tee is a fundamental tool that’s overlooked a lot in softball today,” Elzey said. “In today’s world, kids overlook that stuff. Hitting hasn’t changed over the years. The fundamentals haven’t, either.”