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Freeport's Smith recovers from knee injury to help team

| Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 1:36 a.m.
Matt Grubba | Leader Times
Freeport senior center fielder Damon Smith jogs onto the field in his team's game against Apollo-Ridge on Monday, April 15, 2013, in Freeport. Smith missed the final month of Freeport's football season with a knee injury but has started every game of the baseball season to help the Yellowjackets to a 5-1 start.
Matt Grubba | Leader Times
Freeport center fielder Damon Smith takes an inside pitch in the Yellowjackets' game against Apollo-Ridge on Monday, April 15, 2013, in Freeport. Smith, a senior, has started every game for the 5-1 Freeport baseball team after missing the final month of football season with a knee injury.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher James McDonald delivers against the Cardinals on Monday, April 15, 2013, at PNC Park.

When Freeport took the field in the WPIAL football playoffs, a knee injury forced senior Damon Smith to watch from sideline.

Now that he's healthy again, Smith is working to experience the playoffs — and a playoff win — on the baseball diamond instead.

Smith, a center fielder and one of the captains for the Yellowjackets, has played in every game this spring since rehabbing his injured knee over the winter, and he has been part of a team effort that has Freeport (5-1, 3-1) on a five-game winning streak after defeating Apollo-Ridge, 3-1, on Monday.

“We started off with some bad weather, but since we've been outside, we've been playing some good baseball,” Smith said. “We're having a blast.”

Smith, an all-conference running back and defensive back for Freeport's football team, went down during the first half of his team's win over Burrell on Oct. 5. Doctors determined that Smith had torn both the lateral collateral ligament and biceps femoris, a muscle in the back of the thigh, in his left leg.

While still a serious injury, Smith was fortunate that no more damage was done to his knee, and he was only kept out of action for about six weeks.

“When he first got injured, we didn't know what would be the extent of it, and I don't think he knew, either,” Freeport baseball coach Chris Graczyk said.

“We're just glad to have him out there. He's such a hard worker. I know he was with football, and he definitely is with us.”

The down time between football and baseball season gave Smith plenty of time to work his way back into game shape. Once he had his full range of motion back, his biggest challenge was getting comfortable with the type of sprinting needed to roam center field.

“I went to physical therapy, and I'd go into the back gym to take a couple of cuts every day,” Smith said.

“Sprinting full-speed, when I would get up to the top end, (the knee) started getting a little weak. It would hurt a lot after that, so we rehabbed it at Keystone Rehabilitation, and now I'm feeling good.”

Smith showed off his knee and his arm against Apollo-Ridge when he started a game-ending double play.

With the bases loaded and one out, Smith turned and ran to track down a fly ball off the bat of Apollo-Ridge's Ryan Ferguson for the second out. While the runner tagging from third scored on the play, Smith fired a strike back to shortstop Robbie Miller, whose relay throw was in time to get the runner advancing to third.

“He's got a really strong arm, and he makes good decisions,” Graczyk said. “He's fast and can track balls down, and that's a big asset for us out there.”

That play capped a day on which Smith had a four-game hit streak snapped, but he still reached base twice and scored the eventual winning run on a two-run double by Dustin Koedel.

The Yellowjackets are in second place in a competitive Section 3-AA race, which puts them in position to grab a fourth straight postseason berth. But after losing their first playoff game in each of the past three seasons, Smith hopes to experience the postseason as a senior and make his final playoff experience at Freeport a winning one.

“I'd love to get a playoff win here. I don't think Coach Graczyk has gotten one since he's been here, and neither have I,” Smith said.

“I want to get a baseball win in the playoffs, and maybe two or three. If we keep having fun and playing good baseball, good things should happen.”

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mgrubba@tribweb.com.

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