Hough’s Piedmonte navigates the road to recovery
by Staff Writer
by Cliff Mehrtens
Johnny Piedmonte is a valuable asset for the Hough High baseball team, although it’s not in the manner most envisioned for his senior season.
Piedmonte’s standout pitching career took a detour when he underwent “Tommy John” elbow surgery last September. He’s still recovering and rehabilitating, but has contributed mightily as the Huskies’ designated hitter.
Piedmonte has a .464 batting average (13 hits in 28 at-bats), with three doubles, a triple, four home runs, 12 RBIs and a 1.071 slugging percentage.
Hough, 11-6 overall, leads the I-MECK 4A conference with an 8-0 mark. The Huskies were scheduled to play at Mooresville on Wednesday, April 11, after the Herald’s press deadline, and will host Mooresville on Friday, April 13.
Last summer, Piedmonte verbally committed to pitch at N.C. State. About a week later, he injured his elbow and learned that surgery was necessary. It was a devastating blow mentally, Piedmonte said.
“I always had dreams of playing in college, possibly the majors,” he said. “When I heard about it (surgery), I thought my career was over. I broke down pretty bad that day.”
Piedmonte talked with, and visited, the coaches at N.C. State who’d recruited him, fearful that they’d no longer be interested. Don’t worry, the coaches said, we don’t release recruits because they’re injured.
“That was a huge relief,” Piedmonte said.
“Tommy John” surgery, named after the former major-league pitcher who underwent the procedure in 1974, is a surgical graft procedure in which the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body.
In Piedmonte’s case, the tendon came from his right wrist. He’s got five small scars from his wrist to his elbow, and a six-inch scar on the inside of his right elbow where his UCL was repaired.
The procedure is common among professional and college athletes, especially in baseball. John took 18 months to rehabilitate. These days, it takes about 12 months. Piedmonte wasn’t cleared to swing a bat in game conditions until March 15. He’s throwing long toss (120 feet) and said he’s “putting a little juice on the ball.” He’ll begin pitching from flat ground next week.
As a junior, Piedmonte struck out 45 batters in 36 innings, and had a 2.77 earned run average.
“He’s legit on the mound,” Hough coach Jimmy Cochran said. “So for us, it took away our No. 1 (pitcher). But, the good thing is we’ve got one senior and five underclassmen on our pitching staff, and those underclassmen have stepped in and done an outstanding job. I’d certainly rather have Johnny healthy, but it’s turned into an opportunity for our younger guys to step up and play a little bit.”
Cochran said Piedmonte spent plenty of time in the weight room as part of his rehabilitation. He reshaped his 6-foot-8 frame from 190 pounds to 225, all additional muscle.
That’s translated into more bat speed for Piedmonte, and he’s become a dangerous hitter that Hough can plug into the middle of its batting lineup.
He had a five-RBI game in a 9-5 victory against North Mecklenburg on April 8, and has consistently hit the ball hard.
Piedmonte has plowed through the physical work to return from the injury. Cochran said he hasn’t had to do much mental healing with Piedmonte.
“I don’t think he’s a guy who needs that,” Cochran said. “He’s very mature for his age and has handled the process much better than most other guys I’ve been around would.
He’s a guy who mentally is where he needs to be. I think he’ll go to N.C. State and do outstanding things. I think he’ll compete (for pitching time) right away.”
But first, Piedmonte is intent on helping second-year Hough continue to forge its baseball legacy. The Huskies are much-improved from their 10-14 debut season. Part of that is the natural maturation process. The other component, Cochran said, is the nine seniors who’ve taken ownership.
“The seniors we have are providing leadership that’s unmatched,”
Cochran said. “We can count on them to make sure we’re focused and ready to go. It’s been a huge blessing to be able to turn the program over to the seniors and let them lead. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the senior leadership. And we’ve got talent. Talent never hurts.”
It helps that Piedmonte’s senior season isn’t a complete washout. He misse dnearly all of Hough’s basketball season, but talked his way into making a cameo appearance.
Piedmonte’s doctors didn’t clear him to play basketball, fearing contact may hurt his newly-repaired elbow. But he got Hough coaches to let him jump center, and play five seconds, during senior night at the final game against Lake Norman.
“We won by 20, so it was a good night,” Piedmonte said, laughing. “I went out for the (opening) tap, and came out five seconds later.”
“Obviously my confidence is up. Baseball is all mental, and I feel like because my life went down so fast with baseball and now it’s great again, I can deal with the ups and downs.”