By Brian Paglia
Through five weeks and 10 games, through nine wins and one loss, through a customary stretch of dominating baseball, Ola got the necessary and expected results without its unofficial No. 1 starting pitcher.
While the Mustangs won and won and climbed the Class AAAA rankings through the month of March, senior Darryl Dickey tended to his right elbow with sufficient ice and persistence. He ceased throwing. During games, he was no more a player than those in the bleachers.
"When you sit on the bench you just don't feel like part of the game," Dickey said.
With 32 pitches in three innings of work, Dickey restored balance to Ola's pitching staff in the Mustangs' 14-1 win in five innings over Griffin in a Region 4-AAAA game Wednesday.
He allowed just one hit and one earned run, striking out two, and afterward felt little affect from his first significant time on the mound since early March.
"It felt good," Dickey said. "No real pain. Just glad to be back out here playing with everybody."
"It was real good," Ola coach Ryan Parejko said. "You could tell he was a little rusty in the first inning, you know, getting the ball up a little bit. It's just getting that comfort level. That's why we put him out there for a few innings.
"We're just glad to see him back on the mound. We've got depth in pitching, and when you lose one, that depth goes away. So to get him back is good."
The pain in his elbow crept up on Dickey, though he was suspicious. With a subtle grin, Dickey acknowledged the pain first surfaced during a game of handball. His next start the pain grew. His next start it became unbearable.
On March 6, Dickey lasted five innings against Effingham County. For whatever amounts to a disabled list in high school baseball, Dickey then went on it. The next five weeks were spent with ice packs and resistance bands.
Dickey said in the five weeks away from pitching he got out of his normal standard of physical condition. So each time Ola (15-2, 8-1) embarked on one of its lengthy innings Wednesday -- the Mustangs sent at least eight batters to the plate in each of the first three innings -- Dickey had to work harder while warming up to get ready for the next inning.
"Usually (big innings are) good. It gives you a chance to rest your legs," Dickey said. "But with the way my arm was I had to re-loosen everything back up every time I got back on the mound. I'm hoping that should go away.
"I'm just not in shape like I would be for normal pitching, because I've taken off so long. Once I get back in shape, the big innings will be a good thing."
Indeed, Dickey won't mind sitting through innings like the first in which the Mustangs produced three runs, the first on a RBI double from Bobby Woodall. Or the second, when Dacota Cole, Brad Blount and Cameron Lewis drove in runs as part of a four-run inning.
Or certainly the third inning. After Dickey struck out the final two batters he faced in the top half, Ola sent 13 batters to the plate in a dizzying display of offense. So dizzying that Cody Adkins and Neal Gandee were 2-for-2 in the inning. So dizzying that by the time it was over, Griffin starting pitcher Tyler Powell had allowed 13 hits and 12 runs, though he was betrayed by four errors.
"It was good to see us actually hit the ball," Parejko said. "We weren't exactly in a slump, but we weren't playing our best baseball. I kind of challenged the kids today to come out and play good baseball, and I think they did that."