A quick look at Lackawanna Trail junior Liam Dougherty on the baseball field shows little of the journey the shortstop has been on over the past year.
A serious back injury last year threatened to halt his athletic career with the Lions, but with Dougherty providing quality defense and solid hitting for a team that won eight of its first 10 games, things couldn’t be much better.
“He’s one of our cornerstones, playing shortstop and hitting second or third in the batting order,” Lions head baseball coach Todd Peters said. “It’s nice to see.”
That’s a far cry from the events of last winter.
“It was last year, around February, and we were doing a lifting program,” Dougherty said. “I was doing a deadlift [a weight training exercise in which a loaded barbell is lifted off the ground to the hips, then lowered back to the ground], and severely injured my back.”
Dougherty had a fractured vertebrae, two discs out of place and a different vertebrae that slipped out of place.
“Essentially, he broke his back,” Peters said. “He knew it was going to be tough to come back.”
Still, Dougherty tried to get back for his sophomore baseball season, but that turned out to be a mistake.
“I took a couple of months trying to recover,” Dougherty said. “I thought I was back to normal, but on the third day of practice, I got into a squat position and aggravated it.”
Ultimately, the injury got the best of Dougherty, affecting him in countless ways.
“I couldn’t go to school, it hurt to put on my socks in the morning,” Dougherty said.
But he remained ambitious and hopeful that he could resume his athletic career with the Lions.
“I had surgery after the school year ended,” Dougherty said. “I wanted to get ready for football.”
But he had a harder path to go down than he first realized.
“I lost a lot of weight and it was hard to run,” Dougherty said. “Being homebound for school, I knew it would be difficult. I had to gain weight, I got into physical therapy and I had to teach myself how to run.”
The surgery and his hard work got Dougherty well enough to try football practice but he just saw how far he still had to go.
“In football summer practice, I tried to run, but it was a bizarre experience,” Dougherty said. “I was not 100 percent well and it took a while before my back felt back to strength.”
Naturally, the first hit he absorbed on the football field was a dicey proposition. To play football, one expects to get hit. As a wide receiver and cornerback, Dougherty knew it that he would get hit and didn’t know what to anticipate.
“The first time I got hit, I lay on the field for a while,” Dougherty said. “But I didn’t feel any pain and that was a good feeling.”
He got through the football season without hurting his back, giving him a positive outlook for his baseball season. In 2012, he was a freshman taking over at shortstop and he was eager to return to the team, knowing how long his missed sophomore season felt without being able to step on the field.
“I was excited to get back to baseball. It was really difficult to watch my friends and teammates play without me,” Dougherty said. “I know what Matt Flynn went through this year when he couldn’t play, I felt I could relate to how he had to watch us play without him.”
Dougherty also used his experience away from the diamond to mold his attitude for this season.
“I approached the baseball season with a lot of humility,” Dougherty said. “I’d been out for a full year and I was grateful to be able to play again. I want to enjoy it.”
Enjoyment aptly describes Dougherty’s spring as the Lions have gotten off to a strong start, creating a good vibe on the team. For Dougherty, who started at shortstop as a freshman two years ago when the Lions captured the District 2 Class A title, getting back to making plays on defense and batting high in the Lions’ batting order has given him a renewed sense of normalcy.
“I finally felt like it never happened, but I’m not going to deadlift any more,” he said.
He may be a little more careful around the weight room, but when it comes to guts and heart, Dougherty has shown plenty of both in his return to shortstop for the Lions.