Sports

Saturday marks Stilley’s last stand

CK’s David Stilley hopes to go out on a high note on Saturday - Photo by Jesse Beals
CK’s David Stilley hopes to go out on a high note on Saturday
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

David Stilley has always been one to give his all.

After this Saturday, Stilley will have given everything he had to offer to the Central Kitsap baseball program.

Stilley, a senior lefty who’s been at the forefront of the Cougars’ back-to-back Narrows League title runs, will undergo Tommy John surgery on May 16 to replace a torn ligament in his throwing elbow.

“I hate not being 100 percent,” Stilley said after his team won the 2007 NL crown with a 15-3 drubbing of North Kitsap last Saturday. “Because I want to give 100 percent.”

On July 4, 2006, while pitching in a summer league game, Stilley fired a pitch just like he always had. Except this time something went wrong.

“It wasn’t too painful,” Stilley, a Washington State University commitment, said. “It just felt like I got hit in the funny bone incredibly hard. I thought, ‘This doesn’t feel good.’ I tried to throw another pitch. It didn’t really work.

“Wazzu was actually there when I did it,” he continued. “That really stressed me out. The next day was when I made my verbal commitment to them.”

Unsure of the extent of his injury, his first instincts were just to push through it.

“I wasn’t really sure. I’m the type of person that goes, ‘That won’t happen to me. I’m invincible,’” Stilley said. “When that happened, I realized I’m not so invincible anymore.”

Complicating matters, Stilley was never able to gauge a clear idea of what initially happened.

“I went to the first doctor and it wasn’t ever clear cut,” he said. “That’s the only reason I didn’t get the surgery done before. It felt good. It felt really good so I just kept throwing.”

Ultimately, Stilley would findthat the ligament was completely torn thanks to an evaluation by Seattle Mariners Medical Director Dr. Larry Pedegana.

“He pretty much said, ‘Yeah, it’s torn.’ So we said we don’t want to injure anything else,” Stilley said. “I thought he was gonna shut me down for good. I was so scared. But he said there’s no risk of injury to anything else.”

Able to pitch up until the date, Stilley said he’s noticed the difference even if his opponents can’t.

“I can totally feel and can even see the decline in velocity,” Stilley said. “But I can still throw like nothing’s wrong. The coaches and players are all, ‘You don’t even need surgery.’ They don’t realize what I could have done if I had been 100 percent.”

While Stilley was relieved he’d be able to pitch during his senior season, the day ultimately came where he was forced to choose: Surgery sooner and miss a potential CK state run, or surgery in late June and possibly miss out on some of his sophomore season at WSU.

“It was tough to make the decision, but it was either now or in about two months,” he said. “Of course I want to help the team out, but I really need to get this done. It’s just lingering. I need to get it done with.”

But no one is slighting Stilley for his decision.

“I’m disappointed he’s not going to be around,” CK coach Bill Baxter said. “But that’s not my decision. That’s between him and his family. It’s definitely going to be a big loss for us. But I support his decision.”

Stilley said support has come across the board from his own teammates and family right on up to WSU.

“It was stressful for them too,” Stilley said of his future Cougar squad. “They realized they were losing a good left-handed pitcher. They were just shooting out ideas of what to do this year.”

Ultimately, WSU and Stilley have decided that after the surgery, he’ll begin his educational career and scholarship in the second semester of his freshman year. Understandable considering the time frame for return from Tommy John surgery.

Stilley said his arm will be in a brace for four weeks after the surgery. He can’t run for another three months.

“After that, I’ll start working up from whiffle balls to tennis balls to baseballs,” he said.

Optimistic about recovering, Stilley said he’s now looking forward to the surgery after witnessing a season of himself with lower velocity on his pitches.

“I’m actually incredibly excited for this full recovery,” he said. “I’ve heard so much about people getting their velocity back after Tommy John surgery. It’s just amazing.”

One of the people he’s been able to learn about the process from is friend Brandon Rohde of Gig Harbor. A year younger than Stilley, Rohde too had to undergo Tommy John surgery last year, forcing him to miss his junior season.

“He was saying how it sucks for about the first month because you’re really incapacitated,” Stilley said. “Now, he feels like his arm is really, really strong. It’s kind of comforting to know that.”

In his eighth month of recovery, Stilley said Rohde told him he’s at about 75 percent strength. But what Stilley likes is that Rohde said it feels like 100.

“That’s a good feeling. I like knowing,” he said. “That eases my mind a lot. I kind of want it now, you know? I’ve heard so many great things from people who got the surgery.”

While he does look forward to getting back in action after the surgery, Stilley said he was grateful the injury didn’t prevent him from once again being CK’s top pitcher.

“It helped that I could actually pitch with CK still,” Stilley said. “I didn’t have a chance to do it before the season or during the season.”

And while he didn’t have to watch CK’s season from the bench so far, he’s anticipating that will be tougher than the surgery itself, especially after playing such a key role in the team’s success the past two seasons.

“That’s gonna be awesome. I know I might not be in the best mood, but I can see ourselves going far into state,” Stilley said. “The big games, they just keep getting bigger from now on. It makes me want to get out and pitch every game.”

That’s what hurts far more than his elbow. But he knows the team has the remedy as well.

“It hurts, but I have so much confidence in my team that we can keep winning without me,” Stilley said. “I’m confident in KJ (McLean) and Nate (Roberts) and Casey (Bohlman) and Andrew Duke. I’m confident in all these guys. And our bats are so good. We don’t even need a pitcher out there.”

Baxter too said while the loss is tough, the team has been prepared for this moment.

“We’re gonna go to war with the guys we’ve got,” Baxter said.

Regardless of what happens this postseason, Stilley said he’s felt honored to be a part of CK’s baseball program.

“I love living in the back-to-back legacy,” he said. “It feels great being a part of this team.”

And as Stilley said, it’s a ride that’s not over yet.

“I don’t want to jinx us, but I know we have the skill to do it,” he said.

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