There was a point in Spencer Michaelis' junior season where his back injury was so bad that he was unable to stand back up after following through on a pitch.
The frustration of being unable to help Wauwatosa East on the mound made what he did for the Red Raiders as a senior even sweeter.
Michaelis became one of the better pitchers in the Greater Metro Conference and broke out at the plate to become the first Wauwatosa East player to earn Now Newspapers All Suburban honors since Jeff Donovan in 2006.
"Just being able to hit and pitch this year was fun in itself and really exciting for me," Michaelis said. "At the plate, I felt way better than I had in any other year of baseball. Something finally clicked with my mechanics."
After pitching 41⅓ innings as a sophomore, a tear caused a shift in his lower back.
Michaelis could hit and play the field, but the injury was most painful when he pitched. He threw just 5⅓ innings.
"It was tough," Michaelis said. "I really wanted to get on the mound. During the game, I was able to take swings and play the field fine. It wasn't a problem there, but if I tried to pitch, that was it. Against Sussex last year, I remember throwing a pitch, and I finished, followed through and couldn't stand back up. My back gave out, and I couldn't straighten back up.
"It was really frustrating. I wanted to pitch. I threw (nearly) 50 innings sophomore year. I was hoping I could help the team out a lot my junior year."
An injection helped the tear heal, and hours of physical therapy in the winter eventually moved Michaelis back into place.
Healthy again, Michaelis hit .409 with nine doubles, one triple and 23 RBIs. He went 5-3 with a 1.94 ERA in 50⅓ innings on the mound, including collecting a three-hit shutout over Greater Metro champion Oak Creek and a win over state champion Menomonee Falls.
"Spencer had an outstanding season for us and showed what it meant to be a leader in every part of the game," Tosa East interim coach Pete Schwichtenberg said. "In the field, he played some of the best shortstop that I have seen at the high school level. Anytime the ball was hit near short, we had full confidence the play would be made.
"On the mound, he was our ace. Anytime he stepped on the mound, we knew that we had a chance to win. At the plate, he was our leading run producer and came through in clutch situations."
The powerful Oak Creek offense scored at least three runs in each of its games, except for when it faced Michaelis on June 16.
"That was a game where in the bullpen, before all three of my pitches, I felt like I could throw them when I wanted to," Michaelis said. "Me and (catcher) Michael Lockhart were really on the same page that game. I don't think I shook him off once. Blake Kratzer made some great plays at shortstop.
"They hit into a lot of hard outs. I got four double plays. I wasn't shutting them down, but guys were making plays for me."
The Wisconsin Lutheran College commit threw a complete game in Wauwatosa East's 6-4 upset win over Menomonee Falls in the quarterfinals of the Greater Metro Conference tournament. He also went the distance in a 3-1 WIAA regional win over rival Wauwatosa West, the Red Raiders' first playoff win since 2007.
"They kept hitting every pitch I threw on the outside corner into right field," Michaelis said of Wauwatosa East. "It was pretty frustrating. No matter where I was spotting it, it seemed like they were getting hits to right. They scored that one run in the second. After that, my defense really stepped it up for me and made plays."
Program takes step forward
Michaelis and fellow seniors Sean Denny, Dan Scallon, Michael Lockhart, Konner Szohr, Brian Denny and Sean Murphy helped Wauwatosa East take a significant step forward in 2016.
The Red Raiders finished 16-16, the program's best overall mark since 2006.
"He was the definition of what we look for in a ballplayer," Schwichtenberg said of Michaelis. "He is determined and always wants the ball or to hit whenever we are in a big spot. He has been a workhorse in the program for the last three years of varsity, and this year he continued to lead through both his words and actions, helping others around him improve as well."
Sophomore pitcher Jeff Mason was named high honorable mention All Suburban, and Sean Denny was honorable mention. Schwichtenberg, who took over when Brian Karas resigned in early June, received high honorable mention honors.
"We had five or six sophomores my sophomore year on varsity," Michaelis said. "I think that was their hope that our class was going to be able to really help with that. It feels good to know we helped the program take a step forward. Hopefully it continues."