Matt Byrne treated a ground ball to the shortstop in February like any other at bat.
“I always run everything out,” he said.
So with two outs in the ninth inning of his Iona College team’s second game of the 2014 season, Byrne sprinted to first base. That play turned out to be the last one of his sophomore season for the NCAA Division I Gaels.
“It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life,” said Byrne, a Cary-Grove graduate whose right hamstring gave out. “I barely made it down the line.”
Although the injury led him to a redshirt year and months of rehab, Byrne is back at full speed again.
On Sunday, he was the starting second basemen in the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s All-Star Game in Holyoke, Massachusetts. As a top player for the Laconia (New Hampshire) Muskrats, Bryne ranks sixth in the NECBL with a .342 batting average.
Byrne’s North team won, 4-3, in front of nearly 2,700 fans.
“It’s nice to see all my hard work paying off,” he said.
Although he tried to get back on the field for Iona during the season, the severe hamstring strain never allowed him to return. Each time he tried to run at full speed, he felt “a tweak” and stopped.
“I just couldn’t sprint,” he said. “[Redshirting] turned out to be the best decision I could’ve made. Once I made that decision, I felt relieved.”
Byrne continued to get healthier as the Iona season progressed, but his summer season was in jeopardy throughout the spring.
“With about a week left in school, I still hadn’t been cleared to play,” he said.
He eventually got the OK to join the Laconia team and started the season healthy, albeit rusty.
“I did feel like I had a little more in the tank (than others who had played a full college season), but I was coming in completely cold,” he said.
The result was a summer that started with a .179 batting average.
“I’ve been through polar opposites,” Byrne said. “At one point, I was hitting a buck seventy nine. Now I’m batting [.342] and playing in the all-star game.”
Byrne ranks second on the team in batting average and third in RBIs (16) for the Muskrats (16-17). His 17 runs scored and 12 stolen bases also rank second on the team.
Byrne credits seeing pitches better this summer with his success at the plate.
“I’ve really been trying to let the ball get a little deeper,” he said. “I’ve tried to stay back and go to the opposite field more.”
Redbird strength: Illinois State volleyball player Ashley Rosch was recognized this summer by the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association as a nominee for the Hammer Strength All-American award.
Rosch, an outside hitter who will be a junior this fall, was nominated by ISU strength and conditioning coach Chris Winters. The award, which is given to one male and one female athlete annually, recognizes qualities such as intensity, work ethic, teamwork and consistency, along with work on the court and in the classroom.
A Cary-Grove graduate, Rosch was a first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference player for the Redbirds last season, leading the squad in points (441.5), kills (389) and kills per set (3.21).
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column and a blog about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at BarryOnCampus@hotmail.com, check out his On Campus blog at McHenryCountySports.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryOnCampus.