Alyssa Buchanan has spent most of her after-school time in the spring retrieving balls during softball infield practice, keeping a scorebook in the dugout, cheering on her teammates.
Cheering on her teammates and being a part of the Hamilton Southeastern camaraderie wasn’t anything new, but her other duties certainly were.
Last season as a sophomore, Buchanan was smoking fastballs past hitters. She was one of the top pitchers in Hamilton County. This season, she was being groomed for even bigger things. Everything pointed to her being one of the best pitchers in the state.
Buchanan was the workhorse on the mound as a sophomore, pitching 132 innings. She was 15-5 with a 1.70 ERA and 3 shutouts with a 0.98 WHIP while striking out a team-high 101 batters, averaging 5.3 strikeouts per game. She also was a .400 hitter.
All of that was before she underwent off-season elbow surgery on her pitching arm.
Her coach, David Cook, a two-time HSE state championship high school softball coach (2007, 2010) could only sigh as he looked away while thinking about what might have been this season.
“We have two pretty good pitchers (junior Amanda Wintrow and freshman Maggie Armstrong), but Alyssa, wow,” Cook said prior to a recent game for his Class 4A Lady Royals, who were ranked No. 1 Class 4A before losses to Fishers and Greenwood in early May.
“We’ve got some really good hitters, but Alyssa would give us another good. That’s been our hope all along this season . . . to see her swing the bat and be able to help us.”
Buchanan was officially released from her doctor to start practicing, that is . . . to start swinging a bat the first of May.
She actually was able to step into the batter’s box for the first time on May 11, said her coach.
The right-hander can’t start throwing again until at least July 4. But everything will be done in moderation. She has, however, thought all along that she would eventually be able to help out the Lady Royals at the plate.
Buchanan said she has a strong upper body. When she was working on weights, in particular benching, she thought she stretched a tendon. Turns out she suffered nerve damage. She had to have the nerve in her elbow moved.
The surgery was successful, said Jeff Franciosi, a Methodist trainer for Hamilton SE and Fishers along with Steve Zook. Their medical group, however, was not involved in the surgical procedure or any of Buchanan’s rehabilitation.
“In my 27 years in sports medicine, I really can’t recall many times I’ve heard of this surgical technique,” Franciosi said. “It’s really complex. You can’t even google it, and get many answers. It’s really that complicated.”
Buchanan broke out in a big smile when she talked about her situation.
“Well, I guess I’m unique,’’ she said. “This type of surgery is more common in men than women, I’m told. At least if it had to happen it didn’t happen in my senior year.”
Buchanan tries to put a positive spin on all of this.
“I’m used to playing, being a big part of the team,’’ she said. “So to go through this and not be able to help my team, well, it’s hard . . . it’s difficult to sit and watch and wish I was on the field.
“But being an observer, well, I can say I’ve learned a lot about our team, our players, and about the game, in general.”
“And did you learn a lot about yourself?” she was asked.
“Yes, I thought I knew a lot about the game . . . but I’m discovering that I didn’t know as much as I thought. Hopefully all of this will make me a better player next season. We’ve have just about everyone back next season (4 seniors graduate, and centerfield Taylor Shuey is the lone full-time starter), so we’re going to be pretty good again. I’m excited about the possibilities.”
So is Coach Cook.