He tossed the ball up a few inches and caught it. And that was about as close as South Williamsport junior Nick Mistretta came to playing baseball the last two seasons.
Mistretta spent a lot of long, lonely days away from the field during that time. He wondered if he would ever make it back.
A baseball junkie, Mistretta started having concussion issues while wrestling as a freshman. He suffered another one, this time severe, just after starting his baseball season that year. Soon after he was diagnosed with Post-concussion syndrome.
South Williamsport’s Nick Mistretta has returned from Post-concussion syndrome to be the Mounties’ starting second baseman.
That was just the start of the problems.
Mistretta soon started having vision issues and was told he was suffering from convergence inefficiency. Basically, his eyes were not working and he had difficulty focusing on moving objects.
"It was scary," Mistretta said. "My first thought was am I ever going to play another game?"
Dr. Masse's Top 5
1. South Williamsport (7-0)
The Mounties have won games in many different ways and showed last Monday they can win while not playing their best in a 5-2 victory over Montgomery. Of course they also can batter opponents to, blanking Mount Carmel, 14-0 two days later as Anthony Caruso homered and drove in four runs. Pitchers Tyler House, Billy Rummings and Cody Nelson have been outstanding and Air Force-bound catcher Justin Knee had five RBIs in the two wins. South is the district's only undefeated Class AA team remaining after losing six starters from last year's state qualifier.
2. Montoursville (5-1)
The Warriors still have not played a home game, but they also still have not lost since their season opener. Montoursville downed streaking Mifflinburg, 9-2 in its only game last Monday and delivered 14 hits. The Warriors have been hitting up and down the lineup and also have been getting some big contributions from players off the bench, highlighting their depth. Senior Zach Pepperman is having a big year and has three multi-hit performances while Derrick Evans is 4-for-7 with a double and three RBIs in his last two games.
3. Loyalsock (6-1)
Robbie Klein is emerging as a big threat in the middle of Loyalsock's lineup. Klein has been one of the team's most consistent hitters and has gone 4-for-5 with three doubles in his last two games. He was 2-for-3 with two RBIs in an 8-1 win over Bloomsburg and Stanford-bound pitcher Colton Hock. Ethan Moore also is hitting well, delivering four hits in his last two games. Moore also is 2-0 on the mound and threw five shutout innings against Bloomsburg. Loyalsock plays for the first time in a week today against Danville.
4. Jersey Shore (7-1)
The Bulldogs have won four straight and the offense has been surging, producing 33 runs in those games. Shortstop Colton Potter went 4-for-5 with a home run and five RBIs in a 13-7 win over Shikellamy while brothers Ryan and Eric Huling combined for three hits and five RBIs in a 5-2 win over archrival Central Mountain. Catcher Christian Rishel has been one of the area's most consistent hitters and is 7-for-14 in his last five games. Jersey Shore, 25-4-1 the last two years, plays two big non-league games today and Wednesday against Hughesville and Williamsport, respectively.
5. Canton (9-0)
The Warriors can become the district's first team to clinch a playoff berth if they defeat Troy today. Canton outscored four teams 46-10 last week and Garrett Wesneski and Chase Pepper struck out 13 in a 2-0 win over Wellsboro. Lead-off hitter Emmett Watson plays three different positions and has four multi-hit performances in his last five games. He stole five bases in Saturday's 15-4 win over St. John Neumann while scoring four runs and driving in two.
Player of the Week
Tyler House, South Williamsport
The senior outfielder/pitcher is as hot as any player around. House went 7-for-7 with seven RBIs in South's two wins last week. He was 4-for-4 against Montgomery and had five RBIs against Mount Carmel while also throwing five innings of scoreless two-hit baseball. House is 4-0 and the left-hander has allowed just four runs in those starts.
Game of the Week
Sullivan County at Montgomery
The Griffins (7-3) are on a rampage, scoring 78 runs during a 7-game winning streak, but Montgomery (5-4) swept three games from them last year. Montgomery edged Sullivan, 5-4 in a dramatic 9-inning District 4 Class A semifinal last May.
Mistretta made frequent visits to Pittsburgh and worked with a concussion specialist while also undergoing eye therapy. By the start of last season he appeared ready to go. Early in preseason, though, the second baseman collided with the right fielder and was sidelined again. His sophomore season was basically over and he endured more therapy.
As dark as those times were, as long as the odds against a return seemed, Mistretta never lost hope. And this season, he has never missed a start.
Mistretta has made a triumphant return, starting every game at second base while helping South start 7-0. The start has been outstanding, but Mistretta knows the blessing is that he is playing at all.
"It's wonderful to be back on the field. I love baseball, it's my favorite sport and it's awesome coming back," he said. "This is definitely the year. I want to prove to everyone that I'm back and that I'm ready to play."
He has. Mistretta has been instrumental to South's outstanding start. The Mounties lost six starters from last year's state qualifier but have continued moving forward and have beaten both the 2012 District 4 Class AA and A champions.
"You wouldn't even know Nick went through what he did," South Williamsport coach Shawn Finn said. "He's come back and worked hard and it's like he was never gone. He busts his butt every day at practice. He's very coachable and he's a great kid."
He is just as tough. Mistretta dives all over the field and is fearless at the plate. There is no hesitation in his game and he has served as a second lead-off man while hitting in the No. 9 spot. In two of South's last four games, Mistretta has gone 3 for 3 and he hit a valuable sacrifice fly that was part of a game-winning rally in last Monday's 5-2 win over Montgomery.
Mistretta is not the most physically imposing player, but he does all the little things right and sparks the team. Just seeing Mistretta out there gives the Mounties a boost. They know how tough it was overcoming those obstacles.
"He's really battled back and he's helping us out a lot. He's hitting well and he's out there playing solid defense too," center fielder Tyler House said. "We're really glad to have him back."
Mistretta is part of the team's backbone. He is the type of athlete that never will take a play or an at-bat off. He understands that just being on the field again is a blessing. There is no time to waste.
Running, taking extra batting practice or taking extra groundballs, Mistretta welcomes all that work. That is why he came back. Playing at South is what sustained him through those dark times.
Just being able to do all that hard work means Mistretta is now enjoying the good times.
"He has a great outlook and has been busting his butt off. He is working hard all the time," Finn said. "He knows the game inside and out and he's one of those kids you love coaching."
South has rallied to win three times this season and that is not surprising. It helps that they have the Comeback Kid playing second base.
Shortly after the Williamsport Outlaws outdoor hockey debacle ended, Williamsport mayor Gabriel Campana told ESPN Radio 1050 in an interview that he promised Bowman Field would be ready in time for May 11th's Backyard Brawl. Now, however, that status is up in the air and the Brawl might have to be moved.
A promise was made and it should be kept. The city must do whatever possible to get the field ready to host this annual event, featuring four of the area's premier programs: Loyalsock, Montoursville, South Williamsport and Williamsport. Sure, the Brawl could be held at nearby Logue Field but that does not have the atmosphere that Bowman Field does.
Players, coaches and fans of all four teams wait all year for a chance to compete in the Brawl at Bowman Field. It is one of the year's best scholastic events. We were told it would be held at Bowman Field and now the city has to live up to its word.
Hughesville turned its season around last week, winning three consecutive games and breaking out of an offensive funk. The Spartans (4-4) scored 36 runs and collected 30 hits in wins over Warrior Run, Shamokin and Selinsgrove, overcoming a five-run deficit in the last one. It was just the week Hughesville needed and could provide a turning point for a talented team hoping to compete for a District 4 Class AA championship.
Justin Lambert combined on a no-hitter against Shamokin with Lambert retiring all 12 batters he faced and striking eight out. Sadiq Burkholder had four hits in the first two wins before striking out seven in three innings against Selinsgrove.
Montgomery pitcher Marcus Bartlett has been one of the area's breakthrough players. The sophomore won his fourth game Saturday, throwing a masterful two-hit shutout in a 1-0 win over Warrior Run. Bartlett is one of three area pitchers to win at least four games and has thrown consecutive complete games, allowing just two runs and eight hits in those performances ... Canton's Josiah Bardo has a nine-game hitting streak. He went 8 for 15 last week with a home run and 10 runs scored as the Warriors improved to 9-0 ... Williamsport finally is getting back into a rhythm. Following an 18-day layoff, the Millionaires played four games in six days, splitting them. The Millionaires (6-3) appear to be shaking off the rust and came alive offensively Saturday against Punxsutawney, winning 10-0 ... Dawson Fox went 5 for 6 with a grand slam and two home runs in Muncy's wins over Bucktail and Northwest ... Sullivan County captured its second straight Northeast Bradford Tournament championship Saturday, pounding Susquehanna and Northeast Bradford, 16-1 and 10-0. The Griffins (7-3) have won seven straight, mercy-ruling four teams during that span. Kelby Mullen went 4 for 7 with three RBIs Saturday and Sullivan delivered 24 hits.
Masse may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter for more baseball information at @docmasse.