Rock Bridge senior pitcher Justin Corral believed his senior season was over before it even began.
He had no reason not to. The X-ray results on his swollen right hand, suffered while making a routine dive back to first base during the first week of baseball practice, came back positive.
“One in a million,” doctors told him when they disclosed the diagnosis: a broken third metacarpal in his pitching hand.
“Doctors were telling me that my season was over and that it was unlikely that I would ever be able to pitch this season,” Corral said. “They told me that I would have to wait for next season, but that was not looking up to me.”
The fact that his senior season may have ended on a fluky play before even pitching a game devastated Corral. He sensed how special the group around him was and it gutted him not to be a part of it.
Even as the physical pain slowly faded from his right hand, Corral continued to struggle mentally. Staying upbeat and positive, he found, became an increasingly difficult challenge, no matter how much time he spent around the team.
“It has been mentally rough being in the dugout,” Corral said. “Physically, I was not in any pain at all, but knowing it was my last season it was a little rough. However, my teammates kept me up both on and off the field. ”
As the Bruins raced out to their 23-4 record, stringing together winning streaks of nine, four and six games in the process, Corral could only watch on from the sidelines. While unable to secure wins on the mound, the senior has embraced his role as one of the fallen veteran leaders.
Corral often checks in on his younger teammates, from sophomore Carter Ihler to the Bruins’ slew of the pitchers, to make sure they are mentally prepared for games. He prioritized bringing energy to the dugout and making sure his teammates are upbeat.
While he tried his best to stay positive, Corral did not sugar coat anything: those weeks sucked. However, that struggle also set the stage for the top of the sixth inning in a 10-0 win against Boonville on April 25.
With Rock Bridge within striking distance of a run rule victory, Corral trotted out to the pitcher’s mound to rapturous applause – louder, even, than what the Bruins’ offense received during their six-run second inning.
“I kept my head up and it felt really good,” Corral said. “People were acknowledging me and were excited for me to be back.”
And then – bruised purple hand and all – he pitched.
“I was so happy for Justin,” teammate Jake Hawkins said. “I was there and just seeing him go through (his recovery) I knew he was so ready to be back on the mound. I’ve seen him work his butt off to be able to do that and it makes me so happy to see him excited to be out there. ”
Like Hawkins and junior Owen Wise before him, Corral did not allow the Pirates any runs. Three outs and one scored run later, Rock Bridge completed its run-rule victory – it’s 23rd win of the year.
It’s crazy to think, Corral said, that just weeks ago, doctors told him his season was likely over. Now, back on the mound, he does not plan to take another moment for granted.
“I’m so happy to be back and play a couple of games before the season is over,” Corral said. “I never thought about playing baseball outside of high school, but since I’ve gotten injured, I’ve been looking to play again. I want to be back out there and I’m happy I got to do that today. “