TAMPA — She reached the twilight of her softball career with few physical tools to offer.
USF redshirt senior Mia Fung’s surgically repaired ACLs have long since precluded her from catching, and the fractured left wrist has kept her once-potent bat out of the lineup for months. These days, she’s limited to base-path cameos; a pinch-runner with two rehabbed knees.
“It sucks, nobody wants to go through that,” said Fung, absent from the Bulls’ batting order since Feb. 16. “It’s mentally tough, especially this being my senior year.”
Yet she’d sooner do sliding drills in a sand spur patch than walk away. At age 23, with neither power nor speed to offer, Fung is offering all she has remaining: her heart and soul.
“She’s one of those guys that never had torn heart-ilage,” Bulls coach Ken Eriksen said.
In the process, the Strawberry Crest alumnus might be creating a legacy that no power number could produce.
“That girl’s a warrior, that girl’s a fighter, and we’re lucky to have her on our team,” said first baseman Bethaney Keen, whose top-seeded club (39-17, 17-4) begins play Thursday in the American Athletic Conference tournament in Houston.
“Day-in and day-out, she shows up with a smile on her face during weights, in treatment, at practice, doing what she can to still provide for the team.”
A noble role to be sure, just not the one she envisioned at the outset of her final season. Initially, 2019 was to be the year in which Fung, whose lean 5-foot-6 frame belies her robust swing, finally would trade in rehab for redemption.
After a breakthrough sophomore season in 2016 (nine home runs, 29 RBI, .539 slugging percentage), Fung tore her left ACL in the fifth game of the ’17 season when she collided with Wisconsin’s shortstop on a pop-up slide into second base.
Though she needed assistance back to the dugout, she put on her gear and went behind the plate for the next inning, only to collapse in pain after making the warm-up throw to second.
“I’m hard-headed,” she said.
Ten months of rehab ensued, some of it excruciating. Fung recalls USF trainers applying all their body weight on the leg to force it straight. She also remembers lying on her stomach as a trainer grabbed her by the left ankle and tried pushing her heal to her backside.
“Honestly, it felt like my kneecap was gonna pop off,” she said.
Yet she returned in time for the ’18 opener, starting in right field and delivering a hit in a 3-0 win against Illinois State. Fung would start 45 contests, hitting .282 and leading the Bulls with nine multi-RBI games and ranking second with eight home runs.
But in an April 28 home contest against UCF, she felt a pop in her right knee as she dove back to second on a pick-off attempt. The right ACL had been torn, but only seven months of rehab were needed this time around.
“They say it’s because when you tear one you’re prone to tear the other,” Fung said. “So when they looked at it, it was such a clean tear. They said it was just fraying away little by little and I had no idea.”
Again, she returned in time for the next season opener. Nine games into ’19, in the bottom of the seventh of a tie game against Cal State Fullerton in Arizona, Fung —―playing right field — collided with a teammate while going for a ball in the gap.
The Bulls lost the game, and Fung essentially lost her final year. In the wake of the latest injury, she said she briefly contemplated walking away from the sport with which she’d been obsessed since being introduced to it at Mango’s East Point Little League at age 8.
In the end, she just couldn’t.
“Ball is life,” said Fung, who once played seven travel-ball games in a single day and posted a 1.107 slugging percentage as a Strawberry Crest junior. “I’d play for the rest of my life if I could.”
So she bides her time in the dugout these days, offering encouragement, counsel and a couple of patched-up wheels for pinch-running.
Giving all she has left to give.
“What you see is just a complete heart that goes out there,” Eriksen said.
“She’s just a guy that wants to play and contribute in any capacity she can for our team. I think she’s already set that legacy.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
AAC softball tournament
Where/when: Cougar Softball Stadium, Houston, Thursday-Saturday
Schedule (each game begins 37 minutes after preceding contest): Thursday ― No. 1 USF vs. No. 8 Memphis, 10:05; No. 4 Wichita State vs. No. 5 UCF; No. 2 Tulsa vs. No. 7 East Carolina; No. 3 Houston vs. No. 6 Connecticut; Friday ― semifinals, 2 and 4:30; Saturday ― championship, noon
TV: Thursday-Friday, American Digital Network; Saturday, ESPN2