It was a moment that took the wind out of the sails of the 2016 Blue Springs baseball team.
It didn’t entirely derail the Wildcats’ season, but it sure knocked it down a few pegs. The team’s star pitcher, Trey Ziegenbein, threw his third pitch of a preseason scrimmage. He then went down in a heap, writhing in pain.
Zeigenbein had tore his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL).
"When we lost him, I about threw up" Blue Springs head coach Tim McElligott said. "Losing him was huge. I think he had a slight tear as a sophomore and tried to rehab and it just snapped."
His teammates were distraught, too.
"When he went down last season, you just knew our season wasn't going to be as good as we thought," Wildcats third baseman and pitcher Jake Lufft said. "He's going to be huge for our team."
After undergoing Tommy John surgery and months of rehab, the University of Arkansas signee is ready to contribute to the 2017 campaign. The senior has fully recovered from the injury and will be making his first start against Liberty North this weekend.
The surgery left four scars on his right arm, and he has been throwing off a mound after 11 months of rehab. The normal recovery time for a high schooler is close to 18 months, according to McElligott.
Ziegenbein’s fastball velocity is right where he wants it to be, and says it’s getting better every day. His curveball and changeup are coming along nicely, too, he said.
“The arm is recovering well,” he said. “It’s handling fatigue really well. I feel like I am near where I used to be, probably even better.”
Added McElligott: “His velocity is right where it needs to be. He’s locked in. After a year off, he really hasn’t missed a beat.”
It will help matters for the 6-foot-5 righty that he’ll be on an innings limit this season. McElligott said Ziegenbein will throw no more than 40 innings in his final high school campaign.
"He's got a bright future ahead of him at Arkansas,” McElligott said. “He could possibly be drafted, so we don't want to risk that by throwing him a lot of innings."
Ziegenbein said he’s looking forward to taking over the role of closer for the team that has tremendous pitching depth. Among the starters for the Wildcats will be Lufft, Max Gibler, Ryan McMahan, CJ July and Ryan Miller, all of whom have experience in varsity competition.
“I think I will adjust to that really well,” Ziegenbein said of taking over the closer’s role. “I am going to treat it like a short start and think of it as any other outing. I will keep my mind set like I am a starter. But I will have to consider how many runners are on base and will need to look how to get out of situations more than I am used to.”
The senior doesn’t just bring tools to the mound either. He is also the primary leader for the Wildcats.
“Everyone else follows his lead,” McElligott said. “He’s even our grounds crew guy during seventh hour. He just wants to be out here. He’s got a bounce in his step. It’s been awesome to get him back.”
He’s no slouch at the plate or in the field either. Ziegenbein is a speedy center fielder who can cover a lot of ground in the outfield and will likely hit near the top of the lineup as he provides solid contact.
“Last year when we lost him, it was a huge deal,” said McMahan, one of his best friends. “He brings a good bat along with being a fantastic pitcher.”
Although he will be available in a limited capacity, Ziegenbein’s presence bolsters an already deep Wildcat pitching staff. It’s expected to be a win-win for him and his team, as he’ll get the opportunity to build up his arm strength and fine-tune his pitches before playing Division I baseball next year.
“My freshman year, my best opportunity to play will be in the ’pen,” Ziegenbein said of when he plays for Arkansas. “Playing in the SEC will be a dream fulfilled.”