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Hamburg senior Sabrina Schunk returns to softball after career-threatening surgery

Not even two years ago, Sabrina Schunk was told that she would never play softball again.

Surgery on her throwing arm was required 18 months ago. It was supposed to end her softball career, but not playing again was simply not an option for Schunk.

Two weeks ago, Hamburg’s senior pitcher was back in the circle and won the first game of her career to kickoff the season for the Lady Bulldogs.

Schunk, who is often called “Beanie” or “Beans” by those close to her, opened the season for Hamburg with a 7-1 win over West Seneca West on April 9.

She went the entire distance, striking out eight batters and allowing just four hits in the season opener.

“It feels good,” Schunk said after the game. “I feel accomplished. I think I’m slowly proving them wrong and I think I’m going to do well this season.”

The young pitcher hurt her rotator cuff during her freshman year on Hamburg’s junior varsity team.

She played through the pain until the ligaments in her right throwing arm were stretched out to the point where she needed surgical sutures.

Schunk and her family held back as long as they could, but ultimately they decided for her to undergo surgery when she was a sophomore in October 2012.

That was supposed to be the end of Schunk’s softball career, but she had other plans.

“I told them if I can’t pitch with my right arm then I’ll pitch with my left,” Schunk proposed when she received the bad news. “Not playing softball is not an option for me.”

Schunk stuck to a rigorous rehab routine and was back on the diamond eight months later, right before her travel season began.

She played that summer with her Team Nike travel team and kicked off her senior campaign at Hamburg with a starting on the mound and defeating the Lady Indians two weeks ago.

And she did not have to pitch with her left hand.

“Everyone doubts me because I came from surgery,” said Schunk. “Nobody knows what I can do and what I’m capable of. But I’m confident in what I can do.”

Hamburg head coach Lisa Palma has seen all that Schunk has gone through. She could not be more proud of how she battled through what was almost a career-threatening injury.

“Sabrina has worked really hard at rehabbing and regaining her strength and endurance,” said Palma. “Myself and coach Dave Vesneske are very proud of what she has accomplished so far.”

Palma always knew that Beanie had potential. Coach remembers the skill level that Schunk presented all the way back in middle school.

She was intrigued by the possibility of a one-two punch between Schunk and Bridget Hogan before surgery sidelined her young pitcher.

“Beans has had a hard road,” said Palma, who almost had the chance to toy with Hogan, a two time Pitcher of the Year who is now at Niagara University, and Schunk on the mound.

“[Schunk] was highly touted when she was coming up through the modified program. As coaches, we were ecstatic. Thinking we had two great pitchers, the lineup possibilities were endless.”

Schunk saw her first live action upon surgery with Team Nike in the summer of 2013. The travel team helped through her rehab process that spring.

“In addition to her play on the field, Sabrina has a great personality,” said Team Nike head coach Ken Newton. “The players on the team love her and she’s a great girl to coach.”

Newton is entering his third summer coaching Schunk and likes the game that she presents while on the hill.

“Sabrina Schunk is a very good pitcher who relies a lot on her off-speed pitches,” said Newton. “The bonus is she’s able to throw them for strikes and keep a lot of batters off-balance.”

She may not throw a 70 mile an hour fastball, but Newton said he likes the way that Schunk “can approach batters knowing that they are already worried about the incredible movement on her off-speed stuff that she can sneak her fastball by, throwing the batter off mentally.”

“She’ll tell you she’s a slow pitcher but that is untrue,” he said.

No matter what the speed of her fastballs are or how unique her changeup is, after being told that her softball career would be cut short not even two seasons ago, Schunk is just happy to be back on the diamond doing what she enjoys.

“The doctors told me that I would never play again, but that was not an option for me,” said Schunk.


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