FRONT ROYAL – Before the start of softball practice on Tuesday afternoon, Warren County’s Savannah Haffer was clutching a piece of paper.
On that sheet, which Wildcats head coach Ted McDaniel handed to all his seniors as they arrived at the field, Haffer was to fill out information to be used during Warren County’s senior night ceremony next month.
That simple piece of paper is a symbol of Haffer’s determination.
After undergoing two hip surgeries over the last three years and missing out on two seasons of high school softball as a result, there was doubt – by “very many people,” she said – that Haffer would even be healthy enough to be on a softball diamond to celebrate her senior season with her Warren County teammates.
“My dad is my biggest believer and he even told me don’t be upset if you’re not out there your senior night,” Haffer, who has played in all 11 games for the Wildcats this spring, said on Tuesday. “But I’m determined to be out there.”
As the everyday first baseman for a Warren County team that has rolled to an 11-1 record to this point in 2019, Haffer is on her way to reaching that goal. But there was a point when achieving that didn’t seem so realistic.
Haffer, a catcher since since she was 9 years old, underwent her first hip surgery in March 2016 after suffering a labral tear during a catching exercise. As part of that first procedure, Haffer said, surgeons cut the iliopsoas tendon in her hip. A second procedure in November 2017, she said, included the severing of the iliotibial (IT) band that runs down the side of the leg from hip to knee.
“After that I was like ‘yeah, I’m done. It’s never going back to normal,’” Haffer recalled. “They told me if I put in the time and effort and I go back to them and I get all these injections and everything like that, I’d be able to play my senior year.”
Haffer’s first surgery caused her to miss her freshman softball season in 2016. She returned to the diamond as a sophomore, though Haffer’s father, Mike, said his daughter’s contributions that spring were limited to the defensive side because she couldn’t rotate her hips well enough to swing the bat productively.
The second surgery wiped out Haffer’s junior season last spring. When she finished physical therapy around late May or early June of 2018, Haffer said she was told by doctors that she’d be able to play softball in her final high school season but that her playing time would likely again be limited to just playing the field.
Her response, she recalled, was, “No. If not able to do everything, I’m not gonna do it.” So she went to work – running, fielding, hitting – to make sure she’d be able to contribute for Warren County in all facets in 2019.
“That was hard. I could only take so much of it,” Haffer said about getting in softball shape. “Like, once every month I could do a good round of hitting and that was it. But coming out for training I think in February, that’s when I really felt the pain. The constant doing it every day, that’s when I really felt the pain.”
That pain, though it’s lessened a bit since then, Haffer said, hasn’t stopped.
“It’s been well over three years now and it’s still hard to this day,” she said. “I have to tape my hip. I have to do all these injections still, have to put different creams and stuff on it, Icy Hot, constantly have to take ibuprofen. It’s rough. Even still being out here, as happy as I am to be out here, it takes a toll on you.”
Simple everyday activities like walking sometimes cause popping and clicking in Haffer’s hip, she said, which is often followed by “rapid-fire pain.” Jogging, going up and down stairs are also sometimes iffy, and sometimes rolling out of bed will cause her hip to pop and she’ll have to sit there because “I’ve got to give it time,” she said.
On most occasions on the diamond, Haffer said, her pain level hovers around a five and rarely tops a six on a 1-10 scale. Swinging a bat sometimes aggravates her hip, but stretching to receive a throw – particularly a low one – at first base is generally the source of the most pain.
“I kind of do a good job of pushing it off to the side,” Haffer said of playing through her injury. “I kind of do what’s best for the team, kind of just put my body out there so they can make the out.
“It’s definitely something you had to get used to after a while, because you have that mentality and the second the pain hits you’re like ‘ah, I shouldn’t have done that.’ But I know I have to put my body out there for the team.”
McDaniel, who said he checks with Haffer regularly during practice and games about her pain level and admires her willingness to tough it out, said Warren County’s coaching staff has been “more than pleased” with the way its first baseman has played this season.
After last Friday's 7-1 win over William Monroe, Haffer is batting .343 (12-for-35) with a home run, five doubles, a triple, five RBIs and 12 runs scored. She had the game-winning hit in a 1-0 win over James Wood on April 17, an RBI double in the bottom of the sixth inning off Ivy Rosenberry, whom McDaniel said is likely one of the best pitchers – if not the best – the Wildcats will see all season.
“She’s hit the ball really hard,” McDaniel said of Haffer. “That’s really been a pleasant surprise because in the past she’s been like an average hitter. She hasn’t really excelled in any offensive stuff, but she’s really hit the ball hard. A lot of her outs are real hard line drives right at the shortstop and third baseman.”
Defensively, despite her balky hip, Haffer is excelling as well, and McDaniel said she’s a big target at first base who stands about 5-foot-10.
“She’s a very good defensive first baseman,” McDaniel said. “… She really can go up and get (the ball). A lot of throws that would’ve gone over a lot of people’s heads, she’s been up on her tiptoes to grab it, pull it down. That’s a difference between an error and an out. She’s certainly added (to the team) in that area.”
Haffer plans to continue providing for the Wildcats until their season comes to an end, whenever that may be for a team that continues to gain steam and has won nine straight. Making it to senior night as a healthy contributor will be a milestone in itself for Haffer.
“It was definitely important,” Haffer said of getting the chance to play as a senior. “I’ve been playing softball my whole life and I always tell myself ‘you be out there on that senior night, you be one of those girls.’ I had to do that for myself.
“I’m probably gonna cry, honestly,” she added of senior night. “My dad’s probably gonna cry, because it’s been so long and after thinking I’ll never be able to do this again, finally coming out here and stepping on the field for senior night, it’s definitely something different.”