A highly challenging experiment is proving successful and could be a career enhancement for the future.
In August of 2013, Sierra Amundson
, a rising junior softball pitcher at Central Cass (Casselton, N.D.)
, underwent "Tommy John surgery." This surgery has become commonplace in baseball, but not nearly as common in softball - especially on such a young person.
During the three-hour surgery, performed by North Dakota State University team doctor Bruce Piatt, a tendon was taken from her right wrist and used to strengthen the existing weakened tendon in her right elbow.
Faced with the prospect of losing her entire junior season, Sierra vowed to try pitching left-handed.
Her father, Rich Amundson, told MaxPreps, "I was all for it. If she didn't try it, she would have gone nuts. It helped keep her mind off her right side."
Rich, who serves as the Squirrels' volunteer pitching coach, has played a prominent role in helping his daughter make the successful switch until her right arm regains full strength.
A highly competitive 5-foot-4 bundle of determination, Sierra noted, "From the beginning I was going to prove somebody wrong. My dad was the most important to me. He was always there (as her catcher during indoor sessions) - every step. Even if I threw it 20 feet away, he'd go get it. He always was my rock."
In the beginning, coach Scott Kost was not a believer in this radical experiment.
He readily admitted, "I was more skeptical than I should have been. Was she going to hurt her left arm?"
Here's the proof that the experiment is gradually working:
* She has pitched two-thirds of an inning for the varsity team, striking out two and hitting one batter.
* At the JV level, she has pitched six innings, striking out five, walking four, allowing two runs and two hits.
* She has started every game at first base and is batting .425 with four doubles and 10 runs batted in.
Now Kost says, "I am amazed. Honestly, I don't think I'll ever see it again. She's one of the most determined kids I've ever worked with - a 'Don't give up' attitude. She was bound and determined not to miss her junior year."
The cause of her injury is somewhat surprising. Rich explained, "Her elbow had been weakened and stretched over the years by overhand throwing. It's something that usually does not happen to softball players."
Sierra has been playing softball since age 5 and it remains her first love, even though she also is a setter in volleyball. She was one of three eighth-graders to make the Central Cass varsity and quickly admitted, "Honestly, I was scared, just shaking in my boots. But it was a good group of (older) girls ahead who encouraged me."
As a freshman she was one of the top two pitchers and made it onto the all-state team after helping the Squirrels finish second in the Class B state tournament. She pitched and won the state semifinal game.
She started 11 games that year and posted an 8-3 record with a 2.10 ERA, prompting Kost to exclaim, "I always have high expectations, but she surpassed my expectations. She was absolutely superb - a shut-down pitcher as a freshman."
In addition, she batted a lofty .475 and drove in 29 runs.
Sierra believes that the elbow pain probably began about midway through her freshman year.
"It (the pain) just kept digging at that tendon," she noted. "I played with it for about a year and a half."
With that pain still plaguing her as a sophomore, she defeated defending Class B state champion Enderlin-Maple Valley (Enderlin) 7-2 for the regional title. Then, hitting in the key No. 3 slot, she collected a double, single and walk as the Squirrels won the state title to complete a perfect 18-0 campaign.
Despite constant pain, she compiled a remarkable 8-0 record with a 1.61 earned run average as a sophomore. She also batted .481 with seven doubles and drove in 18 runs.
So far in her junior year, Sierra has developed a new philosophy.
She explained, "I don't want to overpower (batters). I want to throw strikes and have my defense pick up the grounders. I have a great defense. I can throw strikes with my eyes closed (right-handed). I think I do alright (left-handed), but it takes muscle memory to make it natural. I can throw hard, but I've got to build up my endurance."
Her father believes she still is throwing about 8 mph slower as a lefty. She also is swinging a lighter bat this spring.
Even though she is pitching with her off hand, Sierra still yearns to be the staff's ace.
She says, "I love to be in control of the game one pitch at a time. I just want to throw strikes, because I have 100 percent confidence in the girls behind me."
Despite her love for sports, Sierra is involved in many other activities.
* She is an honor student with a 3.5 GPA.
* She belongs to PAY, a philanthropy group that helps choose worthy causes to receive charitable funds each year.
* She coaches young softball players.
* She hopes to follow her mother, Renae, and teach children with Down syndrome.
Other than easing her through her junior year, what is the value of learning how to pitch left-handed? The experience actually could impact the remainder of her prep career and future in college.
Sierra is expected to began throwing right-handed again this summer.
But in the minds of her and her father, she may be a switch-pitcher in the future. Why not? There are plenty of switch-hitters.
Coach Kost also is in agreement.
He pointed out, "Her velocity and accuracy increase every week. I think she's got a shot at doing both arms next year."