SHINER - Cece Darilek received a visit from Dr. Jeffrey Wood after having surgery at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital.
Shiner pitcher Cece Darilek delivers to the plate against Windthorst in the UIL Class 2A State Championship in Austin.
[ click on any photo to enlarge ]
photos by Travis Harsch, special to the Advocate
Wood informed Darilek the surgery was successful and she could expect to fully recover.
"When he actually came in and talked to me, he said, 'I don't know how you did it. There's no possible position you could have been in without pain because it was so encased in your spinal cord,'" Darilek said. "He was like, 'I don't know how you did it.'"
The surgery to remove one of two herniated discs occurred a week from the day Darilek's pitching and hitting helped lift Shiner to its second consecutive UIL Class 2A state softball title and she was named the MVP of the championship game.
But few at Red & Charline McCombs Field in Austin were aware Darilek played the entire season with the herniated discs.
"I knew the team we had, I knew the coaches we had and I knew what we lost and I knew what we had," Darilek said. "I knew if we worked hard, we had a chance to go back. I wasn't going to let this ruin my chance."
The 18-year-old Darilek was walking two hours after the surgery and drove for the first time last week.
Doctors are hopeful the other disc will heal on its own.
She is almost completely pain free and about a week away from beginning physical therapy, which should allow her to participate in fall drills at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.
Darilek was recently named the Texas Girls Coaches Association's softball Athlete of the Year for Classes 1A through 4A, and a member of the 1A through 4A softball Legacy Team.
The chance to repeat as state champion and the opportunity to earn statewide recognition seemed remote in November when the pain in Darilek's lower back and legs became intolerable.
"I doubt that she was ever out of pain," said Helen Darilek, Cece's mother. "They told her to try and stretch it out and she would get down on the floor and we had to get her up off the floor. She was that miserable and the pain was so severe."
The Darileks visited Wood in Sugar Land and an MRI revealed the damaged discs.
Cece suspects she may have suffered the injury doing squats in the weight room in the eighth grade and it worsened over time.
"It's just something I had to kind of deal with," Cece said. "After three seasons, I didn't want my senior year to go out like that."
Wood told the Darileks surgery was inevitable, but Cece wanted to put it off until after the season.
She had spinal injections in February and March, which helped her to manage the pain.
Texas Girls Coaches Association Selections
CLASS 1A-4A SOFTBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Cece Darilek, sr., Shiner
CLASS 1A-4A SOFTBALL LEGACY TEAM
Cece Darilek, sr., Shiner
Hunter Ervin, sr., Weimar
CLASS 1A-4A SOFTBALL ALL-STARS
Blue: Lauren Schuette, jr., Shiner
Red: Emma Holland, jr., Weimar
"She's a very determined young lady," Helen said. "She was determined that she was going to do her part to go back to state. That has been her dream since probably sixth or seventh grade. She got to the point where it was tolerable. We did a lot of ice baths and things to do as much as we could to deal with the inflammation."
Helen told Shiner coach Steven Cerny about Cece's injury, and he worked with trainer Brandon Roberts to create a practice routine that would not further inflame the condition.
"Basically what we did is followed the doctor's orders," Cerny said. "He gave her the OK to pitch. We just had to limit any kind of jogging, didn't want her hitting (in practice), and really didn't want her fielding ground balls. I know it was kind of frustrating to a lot of her teammates. They were wondering why she wasn't doing this and they were, but she had a legit reason. It was just something that I had to keep quiet."
Cece altered her pitching motion slightly and continued to improve throughout the season.
"Normally I end up completely closed, but I stayed open more so I didn't have to torque my back as much," she said. "It always kind of hurt. I think by the middle of the season, I had hurt for so long that I kind of got used to it."
Cece suspects opponents began picking up on her injury, especially during Shiner's playoff run.
But she elected not to have a third and final injection and continued to pitch and bat through the state tournament.
"She didn't complain," Helen said. "But just living with her I could tell by her demeanor that she was hurting. It was just a matter of each day if it was more severe than the day before. I could tell during the playoffs that it was getting worse. She was just to the point that, 'I'm going to do this.'"
Cece went 3-for-4 with two doubles and three RBIs and pitched a four-hitter in Shiner's 13-2 semifinal win over Harleton.
She pitched a perfect game and went 1-for-3 with three RBIs in the Lady Comanches' 13-0 win over Windthorst in the state final.
"It was everybody's hard work," Cece said. "Everyday we did the same things trying to make everything perfect even though you're never going to be perfect."
Darilek finished the season with a 22-3 pitching record with a 1.66 ERA and 141 strikeouts in 1351/3 innings.
She hit .379 with eight doubles and 25 RBIs.
Darilek's success came as no surprise to Cerny, who was amazed by her ability to persevere through the pain.
"We just had to hope that she could get through it," he said. "When it became crunch time, that's when we decided to let it go and see what would happen and it worked out. The bigger the game, the bigger she played."
Mike Forman is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or firstname.lastname@example.org