March 20, 2018 10:23:19 AM
Blayze Berry is back with a vengeance.
If you ever wondered what it was like to miss something you loved, just ask the Heritage Academy sophomore infielder/pitcher what it was like last year to suffer a season-ending medial patellofemoral ligament injury.
"It was tough," Berry said. "I didn't really want to let the guys down like that. You have to have everybody, but it was tough sitting on the bench and watching. That is the worst."
After suffering the first serious injury of his athletic career, Berry is back and wreaking havoc on the diamond. He did a little bit of everything last week to help Heritage Academy (10-3) win the Golden Triangle Spring Break tournament. Heritage Academy defeated Starkville Academy 15-11 to win the title.
For his accomplishments, Berry is The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week.
"If something happens like that, you just have to come back even stronger. That is what I told myself," Berry said. "You have to come back better than you ever were, and that's what I did."
Berry said he hurt his knee in practice a month before a game against Pickens Academy in which he said his knee popped out again after a swing. He immediately knew he was going to need surgery.
Berry was out four to five months. He still has a scar on his knee to show where he had surgery to repair a torn MPFL. As part of the patellar tendon, there are slips of ligamentous fibers that help hold the patella in place and keep it from moving too far to one side or the other. On the inside of the kneecap is the MPFL. On the outside is the lateral patellofemoral ligament.
Berry started the week by getting three hits and having three RBIs in an 8-6 victory against Pillow Academy. Following a 12-3 loss to Eupora on March 13, Berry struck out eight in five strong innings in a 6-5 victory against Kirk Academy later that day. He added two hits in the final game of the day, an 8-2 victory against Leake Academy.
On March 14, Berry had four RBIs in an 8-5 victory against Oak Hill Academy.
In the next game, Heritage Academy rallied for 10 runs in the fifth inning and four more in the sixth to beat Starkville Academy. The Patriots had 17 hits in the victory.
"It has been great," Berry said. "It has been a lot more than I thought. I have been hitting well and pitching well and playing the field pretty well. The season has been great, too. It is a bunch of guys having fun. That's what it is all about. If you're not having fun, you're not going to play well."
For the season, Berry leads the Patriots with a .545 average. Through 12 games, he paced Heritage Academy with 23 hits and six doubles. He was tied with Seth Harris for the team lead with two home runs, and was second in runs (14) and RBIs (13).
On the mound, Berry has logged 12 innings (four games) and has a 2.33 earned run average. He has walked seven and struck out 27.
"He was kind of like a caged animal that somebody pulled the cage door back on," Heritage Academy coach Justin Flake said when asked to describe Berry's return from the injury. "At times, we would have to reel him back in and tell him to take it easy. He is just doing what he loves, and when you love doing something, he's going to do it to the fullest of his ability. He sets the tone for everybody else."
Flake said he has seen other players come back from injuries and be timid, but he said Berry knows one speed, which is "full speed." He said that doesn't change if Berry is on the mound or at shortstop.
On the mound, Berry, who is 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, is part of a group with Carter Putt, Banks Hyde, Harris, JR Lott, and Reid Huskison that Flake said figures to see most of the innings in district play.
"I think the team is doing the great," Flake said. "The best characteristic they have is they don't quit. I told somebody the other night that they would have to take our last breath and kill us. We have been down five times where we were down three or four runs and fought back to get wins, so half of our wins are comeback wins. That is a good trait to have. That will help you down the road."
Heritage Academy will play at 7 p.m. Thursday against Tupelo Christian Prep in Tupelo. It will open Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA, District 2 play Tuesday with a doubleheader at Starkville Academy. The teams will play the third game of the series Thursday in Columbus.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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