FIGHTING THROUGH IT: Hays Overcomes Thyroid, Back Problems to ProduceMay 28, 2014
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
After dealing with hyperthyroid and a herniated disc, Linsey Hays has to think that if it weren't for bad luck, she'd have no luck at all.
But if you're waiting for the Baylor redshirt sophomore to break out into the classic "Hee-Haw" song, "Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me," get comfortable.
"I don't think any of us know the pain that she's dealt with," Baylor head coach Glenn Moore said of Hays, who hasn't been able to play in the outfield much this season because of the severe back pain caused by a herniated L5-S1 disc.
"Over Christmas break, I was at home hitting and hurt it," said Hays, who is hitting .333 this season with a team-best 13 home runs, 48 RBI and a .643 slugging percentage. "When I came back and went to a scrimmage in Houston, that's when I think I herniated my disc. That was in January, so I've basically been dealing with it all season. I've been going to the doctor, getting steroid shots and cortisone shots and all that."
The hardest part for Hays has been not playing in left field, next to freshman center fielder Lindsey Cargill and junior right fielder Kaitlyn Thumann. While Hays has been primarily limited to DH duties, Christy Lisenby, Justine Young, Robin Landrith and lately Liz Paul have taken their turns in left.
But in postseason play, Hays has been out there for all but one game.
"I'm just trying to do what I can do, especially in the postseason," said Hays, who hasn't made an error in limited action. "We tried to be smart as far as which games to play out there and which ones not to. The girls that went out there were great, but I don't like just playing one side of the game. At first, I really struggled with just staying focused . . . but I got better throughout the season. It's good to be back in the outfield."
Moore said he has noticed glitches in her swing mechanics at different times this season, but "just having her name in the lineup forces pitchers to pitch better to those in front of her so they don't get to her."
That's connected, if not directly related, to the back issues. In addition to limiting the outfield play, she's only allowed to hit during practice.
"I'm usually hitting four to five times a week on my own. And I haven't done that all season," she said. "It was just timing issues, little mechanical things that you work on outside of practice, and I wasn't able to do that."
Still, she earned first-team all-region and second-team All-Big 12 honors and led the team in home runs and RBI for the second straight year, more than doubling her homers (6 to 13).
"I didn't hit a ton last year, but I've always been capable of hitting home runs," said Hays, a two-time all-state pick who hit .645 with 19 homers and 58 RBI as a senior at Brock (Texas) High School. "I think I've really just taken a different approach to the plate. I've stayed aggressive, but also been more patient in waiting on more of a hitter's pitch instead of a pitcher's pitch."
It was her two-run blast that gave the Lady Bears their first lead of the game in a 6-3 victory over Georgia on Saturday that completed a two-game sweep of the Super Regional.
"(Georgia pitcher Chelsea Wilkinson kept coming in on me, so I backed up off the plate a little bit," Hays said, "and I knew that if she did it again, I was going to take her deep. . . . Whenever a pitcher gives me a good pitch, even if it's the first pitch, I'm going to take it."
Hays has played a key role in Baylor setting a school single-season record with 71 homers, battling all year with Jordan Strickland (12) and Clare Hosack (11) for the team lead. The Lady Bears have six players in the lineup who have hit at least seven home runs.
"We were having fun with it, kind of teasing each other," Hays said of the good-natured competition. "It was kind of like, 'Well, it's your turn.'''
If she didn't have two more years of eligibility remaining, Hays would have postseason surgery to repair the herniated disc in her lumbar. Instead, she will stick with the cortisone shots, rehab and stay away from softball for 2-3 months this summer.
She's already been through this before. As a true freshman in 2011-12, Hays was in the outfield for practice one day when she started having trouble breathing.
"We hadn't even really done that much that day," she said. "But they checked my heart rate after we were done, and my resting heart rate was like 120, 130. So, I went to multiple doctors, heart doctors, everything. And then they finally did blood tests and found out it was hyperthyroid."
After playing in just eight games with six starts that season, Hays was done. She hit .250 and also had a win in the circle, but was sidelined for the remainder of the year and received a medical hardship along with pitcher Whitney Canion.
"It was definitely a struggle, because I had never sat out," she said. "I tore my ACL playing basketball, but I never had sat out in softball, because I was rehabbed by the time the softball season came around. My freshman year was really hard, because I couldn't do anything that got my heart rate up, even like walking up the stairs."
To get the hyperthyroid under control, Hays had radioactive iodine treatment that "basically killed off the bad part of my thyroid," and she now takes a medication called Synthroid every day.
"She's fought through so much adversity to be able to swing the bat and now be able to play outfield for us," Moore said. "Linsey Hays is one of the best hitters I've ever coached."
And while they won't need her in the circle for the World Series - Canion's got that - Hays said she would gladly do it "if they ever told me to start throwing bullpen again."
Baylor (47-14) begins its World Series run with a matchup against sixth-ranked and fifth-seeded Florida (50-11) at 11 a.m. Thursday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla. While the Lady Bears swept through the Super Regional in Athens, Ga., the Gators split the first two against 12th-seeded Washington before winning the decisive third game, 8-0.
"They're good. They've hit 80-something home runs, run like crazy," Moore said of the Gators. "They're solid, worthy of being there; we're going to have our work cut out for us. But we would with anybody at this time of the year."
The Baylor-Florida winner will play either top-seeded Oregon (54-7) or eighth-seeded Florida State (55-7) at 6 p.m. Friday, while the losers play at 11 a.m. Saturday in an elimination game.
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