Bullard High senior Claire Stucker and El Diamante junior Rylee Pierce -- two of the Central Section's top softball sluggers -- have left knee injuries that threaten to keep them out for the 2014 season.
Stucker, The Bee's Outstanding Hitter of the Year in 2013, has a torn meniscus. Pierce, a reigning All-Bee pick, has a torn ACL. Both were named to the state All-Underclass team last season by CalHi-Sports.
The Mississippi State-bound Stucker faces surgery Thursday after repeating an injury she suffered as a freshman.
Stucker could be out a month or miss the season depending on what the surgery shows, Knights coach Jaime Maxey said Monday.
The first baseman/pitcher has a school-record 18 home runs, .440 average 30 doubles and 102 RBIs to go with 30 wins, a 1.28 ERA and 197 strikeouts in three varsity seasons. She set the school single-season record with nine home runs last year in the Knights' County/Metro Athletic Conference title-winning and section Division I runner-up season.
"Claire is a very special player, one of the top if not the top player in the Valley," Maxey said. "It's a huge loss for us. But she's the type of kid who is still here and leading our team in different ways.
"We hope she can make it back this season but she's got to do what's best for her and her future in the long run."
Pierce, committed to Missouri, was hurt playing basketball. Miners softball coach Brad Pendergast said Pierce is well ahead of schedule in her rehab from a surgery that saw a cadaver ligament implanted.
Pierce hasn't been completely ruled out this season, but her return is unlikely. The shortstop hit .511 with 14 home runs, eight doubles, 39 runs and 51 RBIs for a team that spent most of 2013 nationally ranked while winning the West Yosemite League title and earning the top playoff seed in D-I. Her 16 career home runs are halfway to the section record.
"You can't replace her, but it's a good thing she's still around at practice. She's like having another assistant," Pendergast said. "There's a thin ray of hope we may get her back as a DH if she can swing a bat in April. But that's thin. And I'd rather have her back 100% next year, plus her four years of college."
The Miners are hoping to have Virginia Tech commit Baylee Jensen back on the field soon. She was limited last season and has been held out this year with a back injury. But she is cleared to start practice.
"The doctor said if she can go hard and stand the pain, she can play," Pendergast said. "If not, she will have back surgery."
El Diamante and Bullard are scheduled to participate in the area's marquee early-season event -- the Buchanan Preseason Tournament, March 3, 5, and 7-8.
The 14-team D-I bracket also features defending section division champs Central (I), Hanford West (II) and Kingsburg (III).
The 15-team D-II bracket includes 2013 champs Liberty-Madera Ranchos (IV) and Exeter (V).
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