It was a routine practice drill on Feb. 13 that shook up what this Anna Coyotes baseball season was expected to look like.
Their First-Team All-State shortstop and ace pitcher Rawley Hector – who also swung a big bat – was back for his junior year and in possibly the best shape of his life. At 6-2, 194 pounds, the right-hander had packed on 20 pounds since September and seemed poised for another breakout season.
Now the Texas A&M-pledge and two-time USA Baseball National Team veteran, was down on the Anna Sports Complex turf in severe pain. It was his left knee. Rawley’s dad and head coach, Joey Hector, was right there to see - and hear - the knee buckle. He even noted the time: 5:27 p.m.
In the midst of a run-down drill, Rawley, working at third base, had reached to tag out the runner and was struck by pain unlike any he’d ever felt. “I planted [my foot] the wrong way and my knee just kept going with it,” Rawley recalled on March 3, just before the Coyotes’ non-district home game with Community. “I’d never had something like that happen to me. I’ve been through the full-body cramp and a few other things along the way, but nothing serious. That was probably the worst pain I’d ever felt. I knew something was up, right then and there.”
Said Coach Hector, “Actually, I ended up passing out – twice. I heard the pop so I knew it was bad. When my own kids get hurt, I don’t do very good with the stress of it. I told Coach [Jorge] Rubio, ‘I’ll be back in a minute,’ and passed out on the field. Then I tried to give it a few minutes to get practice going again … and ended up back on the ground.”
Rawley noted that Anna ISD trainer Brittany Fredrick had told him to hope for the best, but plan for the worst. “I was just hoping for the best at that point,” he said. “She’s done a really good job with my rehab. I credit her with being able to walk today and being able to be where I’m at right now.”
When Rawley was initially checked out, the knee’s ACL was thought to be intact and he began rehabbing the injury as a dislocation. He was throwing and hitting – and even belted a couple of homers in practice – but then initial MRI results came in. It was a report that Rawley and his dad had dreaded: The ACL appeared torn and Rawley was done for the season. But the next day, after further examination by another team of doctors, it was determined that no tear had occurred and, after plenty of rest, his situation would be revisited in April. That positive turn is where things stand at this writing.
“I just know, through God’s plan, this is what’s going to happen,” Rawley said. “I know if I keep my faith up every day, if I wake up every day with the mindset of ‘I’ve got to get better,’ everything is going to work out itself. I know that with the help of my teammates, coaches, family and friends, everything is going to work out the way it should be.
“It stinks right now but I’m just ready to watch my teammates compete out there. I have no doubt in my mind that they’re going to do just fine. … I reassured them yesterday that everything is going to be OK, that they’re still the really good ball club that I know they are. I’m excited just to be able to watch them play. Every time I’m with them I’m going to be the biggest supporter out there and you’re going hear me going crazy for them.”
Rawley was also the district’s Offensive MVP last year, posting a .621 batting average with a .734 on-base percentage.
“To act like it doesn’t have an impact is false,” Coach Hector said. “I mean, it’s got a huge impact, but you’ve got other kids that practice every day just like he does. Everybody in every school I know has the slogan, ‘Next Man Up’, and that’s what we’ll do.
“You feel bad for him from a coaching standpoint because you know how much work he’s put in. But at the end of the day, it’s part of the game. It happens. You hate it but you’ve got to get back to work. Nobody else cares. They don’t care that your guy’s gone. We’ll have another guy step up and do the best they can and we’ll just keep on competing the best we know how.”
The Coyotes did just that later that same evening, beating a good Community team, 2-1. Four Anna pitchers – junior Jacob Odom, freshman Collyn Swindell, sophomore Clayton McCaleb and junior Jaden Torres – combined for a 3-hitter and Swindell’s 2-out, 2-RBI single in the third inning provided the winning margin. Odom, an All-District catcher as well, started on the mound versus Community and struck-out the side in the first inning.
“Once we found out [Rawley] was out for a little bit we started trying to make people step up in their roles,” he said a day after the win. “He does a lot for the team whenever he’s playing. He gets everybody hyped up. Without him, we’re learning now to adjust. It’s a loss but we’re still going to play as hard as we can all season. … We’ve got one goal in mind, and that’s to make the playoffs and go deep.”
Junior shortstop Micaiah Ross was in on the run-down play when Rawley was injured.
“At first, I didn’t really know what to think,” Ross said. “I was just overwhelmed with everything. … Now we all know that we can’t take any shortcuts and we’ve all got to do our own part. We can’t rely on anybody to do it for us.”
Junior pitcher/outfielder Jaden Adams, an All-District utility man last season, added, “After the win [versus Community], I feel like we’re all pretty confident in what we can still do and accomplish this season.”
With district play starting March 24, the Coyotes - with Rawley cheering them on - appear to be on the right track.