December 21, 2014

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High school softball: Black River’s Dagmar Smith back in business after back injury

Dagmar Smith spent the first two years of her high school career proving she was one of the area’s top softball players. As a junior, she proved she was one of the toughest.

Now, as she embarks on her senior season, Smith is hoping it will all pay off with another chance to guide Black River to its first trip to the state tournament.

“I’ve been ready for this season to begin for a long time,” she said. “This season means so much to me, I’m hoping we can take the next step. As a team we just have to focus on what is in front of us.”

Last season, Smith missed the final 12 games of the regular season with a back injury before returning and pitching the Pirates to within one game of the Division III state tournament.

Shortly after that heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Warren Champion in the regional finals, Smith was dealing with another fracture. A postseason MRI and CAT scan revealed that Smith’s back pain was caused by a crack in her L5 vertebra. In other words, Smith pitched in five tournament games with a broken bone in her back.

“I was really freaked out when I first got the diagnosis,” Smith said. “But the doctors assured me for my age it was a fairly common injury because I was not done growing yet. They told me I could be back to full strength within a year.”

Although Smith was in a brace that covered her entire torso for 6½ months — a brace she only took off to shower — she was back in the pitchers circle within seven weeks, finishing the travel ball season with MC Madness.

“It was a challenge to pitch with a back brace on at first,” Smith said. “It was something to get used to because I couldn’t bend in it. The only thing I could do was slide.”

Smith posted a 16-3 record with a 1.04 ERA, striking out 144 batters in 108 innings a year ago, but she’s not just a pitcher. She was also one of the Pirates’ top offensive players, batting over .400 and stealing 18 bases, numbers that earned her first-team All-Ohio honors for the second year in a row.

Smith said the offensive part of her game is just as important to her as her time in the circle.

“Dagmar is a great pitcher,” first-year Black River coach Lauren Toth said. “She has great movement on her ball. Overall she’s an exceptional athlete. She’s also an excellent hitter … she could play anywhere on the field she wanted to but, most importantly, she’s a great leader on this team. She takes everything very seriously.”

Toth will be Smith’s third coach in her four years at Black River.

“It’s not like I haven’t gotten used to change since I’ve been here,” Smith said. “Lauren is a great coach and she’s doing a great job getting us ready, but I definitely still miss Coach Merle (Simmons).”

Simmons was not brought back as coach despite posting a 41-14 record in his two years on the job. The only explanation the school gave was that it wanted to go in a “different direction.”

Smith burst onto the scene by tossing two no-hitters her freshman season. As a sophomore, she struck out 245 and walked just 33. She threw her first perfect game that season against conference rival Buckeye.

Smith said she doesn’t regret her decision to return to the field last year with what was originally diagnosed as a pinched nerve.

“I look back and think, ‘What was I doing?’ It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to go out there and pitch in the pain I was in,” Smith said. “However, it was worth it to me and I would do it again to have that experience with my team.”

Smith was able to shed the back brace Dec. 28 and shortly after she accepted a scholarship from Ursuline College, a Division II school in Pepper Pike, 30 minutes east of Cleveland.

“I loved the school when I first saw it and it’s good academically,” said Smith, who will major in sports management. “It’s everything I’m looking for in a college. I also wanted to stay relatively close to home and the campus is like an hour away so it was just a perfect fit.”

Even though Black River will be a young team this season, Toth is confident that with a healthy Smith the Pirates will be ready to challenge in the always-tough Patriot Athletic Conference.

“Having a pitcher like Dagmar is a key to success,” said Toth, who was a star pitcher at Walsh Jesuit High School. “We’re also going to field an excellent defense behind her. It’s exciting to have the chance to coach Dagmar because she works so hard that it motivates everyone else on the team.”

Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.