By the time Lambert softball played its Region 6-AAAAAA game against Centennial on Sept. 24, the Lady Longhorns had thought they’d seen all manner of injuries this season. Bruises. Sprains. Fractures. Bone disease. But here, in this game against a Lady Knights team that entered 1-16, Lambert saw something new when senior third baseman Zoe Miller cleated herself as she slid into home plate trying to score.
While Lambert finished the game, Miller left to get 12 stitches near her right knee. Doctors told her she could return to softball activities in 10 days, meaning she’ll likely miss region games next week against Alpharetta and Northview.
“I feel like most of the time, when something happens, you just have to smile,” Lambert junior pitcher and first baseman Marissa Guimbarda said, “because it’s just so crazy by this point.”
The list of medical difficulties Lambert has suffered is inordinate, and it’s tested both the Lady Longhorns’ depth and resiliency a year after cruising with relative ease to its second consecutive region championship. But still, Lambert finds itself 12-9 overall and 11-3 in the region with a state playoff berth secured and a chance to host a first round game intact.
“This has been a very challenging season,” Lambert second-year head coach Brooks Youngblood said. “With the injuries and never really knowing as far as what kind of lineup you’re going to put out there on a daily basis. We must have put 10 different lineups out there this season. Things constantly rotating.”
The hits began well before the season even started.
Centerfielder Maddie Butz had missed all of last season. Then doctors discovered a growth on her femur, a symptom of fibrous dysplasia, so she had surgery to remove it. Outfielder Catherine Harper had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff over the summer. Starting pitcher Kassidy Krupit developed tendinitis in her throwing elbow after a summer’s worth of playing travel softball. Starting second baseman Skylar Aledia suffered a bone bruise during summer basketball practice.
Then the season began, and not three games in the Lady Longhorns had their first victim. Lambert was playing county rival South Forsyth, bottom of the eighth inning, runner on third with Guimbarda pitching. She threw a wild pitch and went to cover home plate, but the runner collided with her ankle. Lambert lost the game and Guimbarda for the next five games with a Level 3 sprain.
Aledia eventually returned from her bone bruise but quickly strained her hamstring. Ansley Lloyd was taking ground balls one day at practice but took a hard shot to the top of her wrist, leaving it fractured and in a cast.
Oh, and Youngblood missed three games for the birth of his daughter.
“It’d be easy for the girls to be like, ‘What are we going to do?’” Youngblood said.
So, instead, Youngblood and his staff made it their mantra throughout the year to downplay the injuries and accentuate the opportunity for other players to step in, like sophomore pitcher Catie Rose Hays, who logged significant innings while Guimbarda and Krupit worked their way back from injuries.
“We’re not going to let [injuries] be an excuse for what happens,” Youngblood said. “The better team out there is going to win. If we do the things we know we can do, we still feel pretty confident that we can be successful.”
“We have nothing to do but just have a good attitude and continue to play,” Guimbarda said.
Lambert has begun to assert itself again in recent days with wins against West Forsyth (4-2) and South Forsyth (4-1), and the week off for fall break has provided the battered team with a much-needed respite to let injuries heal.
That won’t help some. Harper is out for the year. Youngblood said he’s not counting on Aledia or Lloyd to return before the start of the playoffs, and even that’s optimistic. Butz still deals with constant pain in her leg and lets Youngblood know if she can play on a day-to-day basis.
But Miller can return as soon as Wednesday. Guimbarda’s ankle should be fully healed for the final week of the regular season. Krupit’s tendinitis has subsided.
The final week is daunting. Lambert has games Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, a match-up with North Forsyth that could decide second place in the region. But Lambert’s done that too. At one point, it played 11 games in 10 days.
Lambert has seen almost everything this season. Despite a season’s worth of adversity, it’s eager to see what it can do down the stretch.
“We’re coming back strong and looking to have four good games before playoffs start,” Guimbarda said.