HOPE MILLS — It was a “freak accident” coming at an ironic time and circumstance that changed Lucas Oxendine’s senior year at Purnell Swett.
A big senior year on the basketball court and the baseball field took a turn for the worst for Oxendine on Nov. 14. During a basketball drill that he had done hundreds of time before, going up for a layup in a back-door drill, things went bad when he came down from going to the rim and tweaked his knee, tearing his ACL in the process.
“I was trying to think positive, I was trying to think so positive that maybe I didn’t just tear my ACL,” he said. “If there was anything in the world I could’ve had right then it would’ve been the last 10 seconds before I jumped.”
The injury happened hours after Oxendine signed his letter of intent to play baseball for UNC Wilmington that morning alongside two teammates, and was months after Oxendine elected to skip playing football after being an all-county standout quarterback for the Rams as a junior. The reason was to focus more on baseball and make sure his body stayed healthy leading into the spring for his favorite sport.
He knows now he can look back and not take the irony of the situation to heart.
“It’s very ironic,” he said. “Irony catches up with you I guess.”
The injury forced him to miss his senior season of high school baseball, and from the outside there was hardly any rust in his game when he hit the field for the first time in several months with the Hope Mills Boosters. On the inside he is pleased where he is out, but Oxendine is still working to get himself back physically in the shape he wants to be in.
In his first start on the mound since the injury, Oxendine threw a seven-inning no-hitter with 10 strikeouts and did so by throwing 66 pitches against Jacksonville on Saturday. That number of pitches wasn’t the most he’s thrown in an outing, but the physical toll was still there.
“I threw 66 and my arm was telling me I threw 105,” he said. “I was just trying to pound the strike zone and later into the game I realized that my stuff was moving good and my defense was playing good behind me.”
Oxendine’s other position is catcher and while he will wait until the fall more than likely before he gets back behind the plate, his bat has been an asset for the Boosters as a designated hitter. He has already tallied four RBIs and two extra base hits in three games, including a home run in that span.
“This summer is just an opportunity to get better and you have to take every one of those you can get,” he said.
Playing with the Hope Mills American Legion team is a way for Oxendine to make up for lost time this season. He was there in the dugout as the Rams claimed their first Southeastern Conference baseball title and now has seven of the guys he grew up playing with him one last time the summer before they all go their separate ways to college.
That core group of seniors were the ones alongside Oxendine as he worked his way back to where he is now.
“I would be at practice and see somebody standing around not having anything to do at that moment in time and I’d have them come throw we me, or come long toss with me. There were some teammates that would stay after and hit off the tee with me and go to the cage with me. They were very supportive,” Oxendine said. “I played with most of them for 13 years and I was just so proud of them. I felt like it was one of the best teams I’ve ever been a part of.”
This summer is the first time Oxendine has played legion baseball and hopes that through this he can get himself ready for college baseball this fall.
While the prep on the field is being made this summer to play for UNCW next spring, the reassurance that he made the right choice in a program has came in the time since he went down with the torn ACL. Oxendine said the coaching staff and the baseball program in Wilmington has stayed in check, even after showing that he is capable of returning to his old form following the no-hitter over the weekend.
“They were just glad to see me back on the field. They went and read up on all the articles and they were happy with what happened. The first thing that Coach (Mark) Scalf said after he heard I had thrown a complete game was he wanted to know if I had been throwing enough bullpen,” Oxendine said. “They were asking if I wanted to go there to their surgeons or their athletic trainers and do rehab with them. They kept in touch through the whole process.
“When you look at the schools you want to commit to, that’s at the top of the list.”
Through this whole experience, a guiding force has been what now retired Purnell Swett baseball coach Bryan McDonald taught to his team that has stuck with Oxendine. That’s a positive, forward-looking mentality that has been in Oxendine’s head since the incident in the Purnell Swett gym in November.
“The mentally I had was a lot of the stuff that Coach McDonald instills in every baseball player he coaches,” Oxendine said. “It’s just looking forward to the next play. It’s already happened and you’ve got to go with the flow. My next step was to work out and get to the cage.”
Now that the biggest plays in his life since the injury have been overcame, Oxendine isn’t looking back, but forward to where he can go from here with a new lease on how he sees baseball.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.