It’s tough for any high school athlete to miss games due to injury. It’s even tougher when it’s your senior year.
That’s what Blue Springs High School graduate C.J. July had to go through in 2017 as he only got to play four games during his senior year due to an elbow injury.
The injury occurred in a game against Liberty North during his senior year. He had a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. He initially decided not to have surgery and tried to rehab without it. He pitched a couple of games for the Blue Springs Rod’s Sports A’s last summer before he noticed a drastic dip in the velocity of his pitches. He then decided to get Tommy John surgery last October.
After eight months of rehab, July got to get back on the mound during the Missouri-Kansas State Championship Tournament last Sunday. He tossed 1 2/3 innings in relief to get the win the championship game.
In the first game of Thursday’s doubleheader, July picked up his second win in as many appearances as he and the A’s survived a late rally from the Lee’s Summit Outlaws in a 13-5 victory at Legacy Park.
“It felt good to be back out there. I was a little hesitant to put in some off-speed (pitches),” July said. “I was out there and decided to throw some and it felt good. I was happy about that.”
July was on a 45-pitch limit, and ironically, finished the game with exactly that number when he caught Jason Gonzalez looking with a fastball on the outside corner. He was limited said his physical therapist said he could only pitch at 90 percent effort.
“I am not able to throw everything at full speed right now,” July said. “I have been at it since October and still have a month to go. Hopefully I can throw at full speed by the end of June.”
Even then, July performed well. He relieved starting pitcher Zane Barr in the sixth inning and ran into some tough luck while having a 5-2 edge. An infield error and a dribbler down the third-base line led to two runners reaching base. They both scored on a Lane Adams’ safety squeeze bunt and Jarrett O’Shaughnessy’s groundout. Another throwing error on Trevor Key’s attempt to steal third allowed him to cross home and tie the game for Lee's Summit.
July instantly got support from his offense when Blue Springs put up eight runs in the seventh. Five walks by Outlaws reliever Jason Gonzalez led to a pair of runs for the A’s. Both bases-loaded walks came with two outs. Dustin Brewer had a two-run single; Jake Lufft and Anthony Gunn each had an RBI single; Barr had an RBI double; and Ray Paniagua scored on a wild pitch during the big inning.
“We have a new group of guys and the last time we played them didn’t go so well,” Outlaws manager Mark Bradford said. “In that last inning Jason was in there and he has not been in that situation. He really hasn’t pitched much. He was in a tough spot and didn’t get a couple of calls.”
In the bottom of the seventh, July worked around a single by inducing a fly out and a pair of strikeouts to close out the victory.
A’s manager Mike Rooney said July has been doing well so far given the circumstances.
“For his second time out, he threw a lot better this time than he did the previous time,” Rooney said. “A lot of it is up in the head and overcoming the fear of the injury. Some people might think, ‘Oh, you can just go back out there and be your old self.’ You really have to overcome a lot of physical and mental hurdles (after having Tommy John surgery).”
July isn’t the only welcome addition for the A’s as Zane Barr is playing his first season with the team. He showed why he was recruited by Lipscomb as he gave up two runs on five hits and struck out nine. He mixed four pitches – fastball, curveball, changeup and splitter – to keep the Outlaw hitters guessing.
“Since I will be far away from home when I got to Nashville for college, I decided I wanted to play close to home this summer,” Barr said. “Today, I came out a little bit slow. But I really wanted to mix in a little bit of everything and I was happy with the way I commanded all of those pitches. This is the first night I have used them all.”
Paniagua paced the A’s offense with a 3-for-4 night with two runs scored and an RBI; Lufft was 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run; Gunn was 2-for-4 with two RBIs and Spencer Patrick was 2-for-5 with an RBI.
“We have a very explosive team one through nine,” Rooney said. “Our No. 9 hitter could be a No. 3 hitter for most teams. Coming in, we had a .439 batting average. We can swing the bats.”
Jeremy Root, Key and Wyatt Urzendowski both led the Outlaws with two hits.