Lake City slugger Williams overcomes serious back injury

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LOREN BENOIT/Press University of Montana softball commit Reilly Williams has been an anchor on Lake City High softball team as the Timberwolves pursue a state championship.

COEUR d’ALENE — Equipped with one of North Idaho’s purest swings, Lake City High junior Reilly Williams tattooed Lewiston ace Cheyenne Rose’s two-seam fastball in last week’s Region I tournament, her sixth home run of the spring.

Lake City (20-2), which opens the 5A state tournament Friday at 11 a.m. against Meridian (19-7) at Coeur d’Alene High’s Larry Schwenke Field, doesn’t boast overwhelming power as much as it does a near-spotless defense. When it does, though, it’s often Williams who’s trotting the basepaths.

The University of Montana commit steps into each pitch with vigor; the sort of cut that suggest she’s as able-bodied as anyone in the Timberwolves’ youthful lineup.

She is. But it wasn’t always this way.

Two years ago, Williams was confined to a bed for over a month following a series of back surgeries, wondering if her NCAA Division I recruiting window had closed.

A violent collision in a 2014 summer tournament in Denver — one Reilly’s mother, NIC softball coach Don Don Williams, described as flagrant — resulted in a fractured lumbar vertebrae.

The severity of the injury wasn’t immediately apparent, though. After an eventual diagnosis, Williams went under the knife in January of 2015, knowing she’d likely be shelved the duration of a highly-anticipated freshman season.

“Reilly had been in our plans for awhile,” Lake City coach Jesse Lenz said. “She has a skillset that doesn’t come around very often. Having her miss the season was a bummer.”

Two screws were placed in her L4 vertebrae, the lowest area of her back. While Lake City earned another 5A Inland Empire League title, Williams, who would have been in the power portion of the Timberwolves’ lineup, was relegated to team manager.

“That was hard,” she said. “But, in the back of my mind, I knew I would come back the following season.”

The healing process went awry, though, due to staph infections.

When the incisions became infected, it warranted another surgery, prolonging her recovery. The 15-year-old in a softball-crazy household went nearly a year without playing.

A nurse provided in-home visits to administer IVs three times day on a midnight, 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. schedule. To boot, the handful of high-major college softball programs who’d once shown interest had backed off.

“That was really tough on Reilly,” her mother said. “That took a lot of mental toughness. She really and to presevered with her rehab.”

Reilly admits that working through the physical setback was a deflating experience, though the physical pain was tolerable, she said, because of her meds.

“It was hard. It was hard for me to realize it was going it to end and that I was going to have to come back from that.” she said.

After ample rest and rest and physical therapy, Williams returned for a sophomore season in which she batted .367 with 33 hits, 27 RBI and three home runs. Those number were enough earn the 5A Inland Empire League Newcomer of the Year.

That forthcoming summer, the University of Montana and Seton Hall took notice at a summer tournament in Hillsboro, Ore. She committed the Grizzlies in November.

“She is looking like the old Reilly,” Don Don Williams said. “She just continues to improve. We’ve revamped her swing a little bit.”

This season, Williams leads Lake City in RBIs (30) doubles (9), home runs (6) and slugging percentage (.794).

Lenz, who uses Williams all over the diamond, primarily at first, third and catcher, believes she is scratching the surface of her potential.

“She has all the talent in the world and the skillset to grow,” he said. “We’re excited to see what kind of player she can develop into.”

So is she.

“I still have a lot more I can do,” Reilly said.

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