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Miller weathers storm to play hero for Harrisburg

  • Lydia Miller (right) is mobbed by teammates after the junior drove in the winning two runs to beat Eldorado 8-7 in the Class 2A Regional Championship Friday in Harrisburg.

    Lydia Miller (right) is mobbed by teammates after the junior drove in the winning two runs to beat Eldorado 8-7 in the Class 2A Regional Championship Friday in Harrisburg.

By Spyder Dann
updated: 5/21/2019 10:20 AM

Sometimes you gotta go through some storms to get to the sunshine.
On Friday, no one resonated with that sentiment more than Harrisburg's Lydia Miller.
It was a running joke for the junior as she stood in the batter's circle prior to the seventh inning, already 0-for-2 with a pair of strikeouts and her team down by two runs with two on in the Class 2A Regional title game against Eldorado.
She took her customary cuts as she watched Emma Wargel throw to Kerrigan Payne at home plate and when Miller did step into the box and got her feet set, the storm was looming over her head, but as the wind blew, so it seemed did the clouds.
Miller took the first pitch for a ball, followed by a second pitch for a ball. Then Miller took a swing, which she fouled off, followed by another foul ball. She stared down the barrel of a 2-2 count and just one out. 
You could cut the tension at that moment with a knife and the last thing Miller wanted to do was strikeout. So she did the next best thing.
She got a pitch she could hit and sent a rocket into left center that found the gap, allowing two runs to score as the Bulldogs earned their first regional since 2014 and in true mascot fashion, a dog pile awaited Miller at third base after Ashlyn Hammond scored the winning run.
It was a moment that Miller will never forget, but one that is not lost on her. 
As much as she was celebrated for her heroics, she should also be commended for her determination that found her back on the softball field, where more than a year ago, she wasn't sure if she would ever be again.
In January of 2018, Miller tore her Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and her Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) causing her to miss all of last season.
Miller had surgery in February of that year and remembers those lonely days in the dugout, where all she wanted to be was on the diamond.
"Rehab was hard because of the MCL, I had to have my leg straight out of surgery and after that, I had to learn how to bend it again. That was really hard, Miller said of the process. "There are tests you have to pass when you tear your ACL and I couldn't pass it because we found that I couldn't bend my ankle. We found that my ankle, from a sprain that I had in eighth grade, had torn ligaments and a giant bone spur in it. We had to go and have that taken out and fixed. That was in October. Then I have had rehab for that. I finally passed my knee test the first actual day of softball tryouts this year. That was when I got released to play. It was really hard a lot of times. I was really down on myself and it was really painful. It's a lot of mental stuff."
Prior to her injury, Miller was Harrisburg's starting pitcher as a freshman. Now that's she's back, she's had to find a new role for herself on the team. Friday, that role was one of a game winner, but it was also one that reinforced all the long hours of rehab and support from family and friends to even be in that position.
"I remember sitting in the dugout, being injured and just being like 'Oh my gosh, I just want to play so much.' I just never gave up. My parents were driving me to the doctor and my teammates were driving me to games and practices. They all kept saying 'We have to have you back.' That really helped also especially when I was down."
Down -- but never out -- Miller's perseverance was on display Friday. The same way she fouled two balls off to stay alive was the same determination she displayed to get herself back on the field.
In the chaos of her hit in the bottom of the seventh inning, Miller doesn't remember much, except swinging with everything she had.
"I just remember thinking, run Ashlynn because she was right in front of me."
Someone else was running, Harrisburg first base coach Jake Stewart, who somehow found himself the first person to congratulate Miller at third base.
"Yeah, I don't know how that happened! It was all so crazy."
Further proof that there are always rainbows at the end of every storm.

Spyder Dann covers prep and college sports for the Southern Illinois Local Media News Group. Follow him on Twitter: @spydieshooter.