Pearl City’s 2018 baseball season came to a close May 17 after a 3-1 loss to Orangeville in the East Dubuque Regional semifinals.
To make matters worse, one of the Wolves’ best players suffered an injury during the game that drastically altered his senior season with the Eastland-Pearl City
Drake Musser dove back into a base after being caught in a rundown, but jammed his left shoulder hard into the bag. The result was a complete tear of his left labrum.
“It popped right out of place, so I knew right away,” Musser said. “Just laying there, it was definitely one of the most painful things I’ve ever felt.”
The 6-foot-1, 210-
pounder had two options. Either give his shoulder time to heal on its own and try to work toward being ready for the start of his senior football season, or go under the knife to start the recovery
Musser opted for surgery, which he underwent
Doctors reattached labrum cartilage to his shoulder, using tiny anchors with sutures to get the job done. The sutures are looped through tiny holes that are drilled in the cartilage and labrum, and pulled back together. Specialized knots are then tied to hold the cartilage and labrum in place.
The looping of the sutures is repeated with as many anchors as needed to help secure the cartilage and labrum. Scar tissue develops in the months after the surgery, as the biological reattachment process begins.
“The doctors said it was one of the most serious labrum injuries they’d ever seen,” Musser said. “They said it usually takes three anchors, and mine took 11.”
He attended physical therapy for the next 6 weeks, but could not participate in offseason football workouts or summer basketball for Pearl City. Before EPC’s Week 3 game, doctors gave him a grim prognosis.
“The doctors said I’d be ready for basketball and baseball, but I probably wouldn’t be able to play football again,” Musser said. “It definitely hit home.”
Musser was previously a 3-year starter at center for the Wildcatz, and coaches believed he would be an all-conference performer as a senior. A constant determination to get back on the field and a switch medically aided in his season debut Week 9 against Polo – Senior Night.
“I was shooting to come back late in the season,” Musser said. “I kept doing my physical therapy and working hard. I saw a different doctor the next time I had to go in, and he told me I was cleared.”
Musser used to wear No. 53, but now dons the number 18 jersey. He serves as a replacement at linebacker and tight end, and is the backup long snapper.
“It’s definitely been a process and an emotional roller coaster,” Musser said. “Seeing the other guys play the first 8 weeks of the season was tough. I missed it.”
Instead of snapping the ball to quarterback Braden Smargiassi, Musser is now wreaking havoc in practice against the first-team offense.
“He’s one of our best scout-team players. He gives Braden fits because he reads quarterbacks so well,” EPC coach Jared McNutt said. “That’s because of his experience playing on varsity his first 3 years. He gives us a really good look, and I’ve been really impressed with him at practice.”
EPC’s defense has been dominant all season, as another of the Wildcatz’s 15 seniors – Collyn Kuberski – has stepped up his game in the postseason.
Kuberski blocked a Chicago Christian punt on the Knights’ second possession last Saturday in the 48-14 rout, and also recorded one of EPC’s nine tackles for loss.
“It’s just coming to me,” Kuberski said. “The first half of the season, I felt like I wasn’t doing that well. This second half, I’ve really picked it up.”
In EPC’s first-round playoff win over Chicago Harlan, the 5-foot-11, 165-pounder had two interceptions from his safety spot; he returned one 70 yards for a touchdown.
“He’s been lights-out. He’s the backbone of our defensive backfield,” McNutt said. “Our whole defensive backfield has been playing well all year, especially in the run game. Collyn comes up and makes plays in the backfield, and we’re pretty tough when he can do that.”
Two undefeated conference champions will meet Saturday in the 2A quarterfinals, when the Wildcatz from the NUIC West take on Three Rivers Rock champ Orion.
EPC is 2-5 versus Three Rivers teams in the last nine seasons, including a 31-24 loss to Orion in the first round of the 2012 playoffs as a top seed.
The Chargers are in the 2A quarterfinals for the second straight season, and were dominant during the season’s first 9 weeks. Orion’s defense pitched four shutouts and allowed just 65 points, while the offense averaged more than 43 points per game.
However, second-seeded Orion lost Iowa commit and two-way standout Logan Lee in Week 7 against Morrison, and have won by three and four points, respectively, in playoff wins over No. 15 seed Minonk Fieldcrest and No. 10 seed Rockridge.
“They’re very talented, and senior-led as well,” McNutt said of Orion. “They’ve got a lot of guys up front that can get the job done. Their skill guys are also really talented.”