Pitching mask likely saves life of Hahnville player

Hahnville High School pitcher Laney Waguespack, after being hit with a line drive during a home game.

Avoided serious injury after taking hard-hit ball to forehead

Laney Waguespack has always worn a protective mask upon taking the mound to pitch. It’s a habit that may well have saved her life.

Waguespack, a pitcher for Hahnville High School, was pitching against Dominican in the Tigers’ softball tournament earlier this month when a ball rocketed off a hitter’s bat and into Waguespack’s forehead before she could react.

“I just remember letting go of the ball, and being on the ground the next second,” she said. “I tried to get my glove up but it was too fast.”

It was a frightening situation for all at the park that night. While Waguespack was not knocked unconscious, she was in a great deal of pain and the severity of her injuries weren’t known yet.

“My heart went into my throat,” said Hahnville head softball coach Jerry Nugent. “It was scary. Myself and coach Bonna, our pitching coach, probably were out there on the field before the play even ended. At that point, the game of softball means very, very little.”

Medical staff and trainers got to Waguespack and evaluated her, and Nugent said she was able to communicate clearly with them.

“She was shook up and crying … our job was to calm her down, get her to focus on her breathing and get her through it, let her know she was going to be okay,” Nugent said. “Our trainer, Sami Taylor, she was on the spot and gave the attention she needed. Her parents were there and thankfully the ER was able to take her quickly.”

Waguespack was able to walk off under her own power, which Nugent said eased some worries, but added that without confirmation of how Waguespack’s ER visit went as the game unfolded, the uncertainty did hang over both teams.

Though her face was badly bruised and swollen — while the mask absorbed the hit, the sheer impact of the ball that was hit pressed the mask into her face badly enough to cause that damage — it turned out Waguespack did not suffer a concussion or other significant brain injury, nor any fractures, and she and her family were able to return to the park before the game’s conclusion.

“I honestly thought she had a concussion, after a headshot like that … she wasn’t out of it, she was coherent, but we’re trained to treat it as a worst case scenario, while hoping for the best,” Nugent said. “When they got back to the park, it took a big load off our team and I know Dominican as well. Both teams feel horrible when something like that happens. It’s nobody’s fault.”

Waguespack, too, was very happy with the news.

“I love to play and I didn’t want to have to sit out for weeks,” Waguespack said. “I wanted to go back in the next day, but coach wouldn’t let me.”

Added Nugent, “She tried to talk me into it. She was ready, but coach wasn’t quite so ready.”

Doctors told the Waguespacks that the ball hit her in the hardest part of the head, a fortunate aspect of what was an unlucky instance of wrong place-wrong time.

A video of the play has been shared on social media numerous times.

“I’m going famous on Facebook right now,” she said.

Her facial bruising was still visible last week when Waguespack and her Hahnville teammates faced Destrehan in rivalry game action, though much improved from the initial incident.

“When it happened, it swelled up a lot … the swelling went down but all kinds of blood and colors were coming in under my eyes. It made me look like a zombie, as people like to call me now,” she said with a smile.

“I’ve been calling her ‘Balboa’ at practice,” quipped Nugent.

That light-hearted exchange might not be possible had she not worn the protective mask, as the result could have been so much worse.

“Everyone’s been saying it probably saved my life,” Waguespack said.

Waguespack has worn the mask since her days playing 10U ball, and all softball pitchers at Hahnville are required to wear one, a practice Nugent adopted during his time as coach at Mount Carmel.

“I’ve seen too many of these instances, to be honest,” he said. “Some in games I’ve been involved with, and several games I haven’t.  The kids are so strong and the bats are so live … 43 feet is not a lot of distance when the ball has that kind of exit velocity off the bat. I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”

Nugent said he believes that one day, the safety mask will be mandated for all teams.

“It usually starts at the national collegiate level and trickles down,” Nugent said. “I think it will be (mandated), but I just hope that it’s not from an unfortunate incident someone can’t recover from.

“I equate it to going to play football without a helmet. When it comes to face and head trauma, you have to protect the kids as much as possible. And, again, from, 43 feet, there’s not enough reaction time to avoid it completely.”

Softball injuries

  • The pitcher’s mound in high school softball is approximately 17 feet closer to home plate than in baseball, while the length between bases is shorter as well. This gives players less time to react to a line drive.
  • There is no state or national requirement for pitchers or infielders (non-catcher) to wear protective facemasks, the number of players optionally doing so is growing.
  • While softball has among the lowest injury rates among nine sports tracked by the National Federation of High School Associations, it has a relatively high proportion of head and neck injuries, in large part because of batted balls.
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1 Comment

  1. Two states have moved forward to making masks mandatory at the HS (and middle school) level. Kentucky requires pitcher and corners star a mask (HS and MS), while I believe Missouri requires pitchers wear masks. Hopefully more states follow.

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