The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

April 17, 2014

MSSU pitcher Hill overcomes cancer surgeries

Skylar Hill has progressed to become Missouri Southern’s mid-week starting pitcher.

He beat rival Pittsburg State for the second time this season on Tuesday night, improving his record to 4-1 with a 3.58 earned run average.

But a year ago Hill didn’t know if he wouldn’t be playing baseball. In fact, baseball was the furthest thing from his mind.

One year ago Wednesday, Hill underwent his first chemotherapy treatment for testicular cancer.

“I was playing ball at my junior college (Barton Community College in Great Bend, Kan.),” Hill said. “Obviously it brought a halt to that.

“I knew something was wrong. I was having a pain in my lower groin. I talked to our team doctor about it. He sent me to a family practitioner in Great Bend and said be sure and get a sonogram. A couple of days later I got a sonogram.

“I went to Kansas City that weekend and tried to pitch on that pain and couldn’t. A few days later I got a call from a urologist in Salina, and he said I needed to be there in the morning. I ended up having surgery that day, April 9 of last year.”

Hill’s left testicle was removed in the surgery, and he began chemo a week later.

“The reason they had to do chemo right away was the cancer had spread from my testicle to my lymph nodes and also got up to my lungs,” Hill said. “They were pretty adamant about getting that going.

“Obviously I was pretty much exhausted all summer. My chemo would go five days of the week for eight hours a day, then I would get two weeks off. I did four cycles of that, a total of 12 weeks.”

Hill, 6-foot-1, 185-pound junior right-hander, signed his letter of intent with the Lions in November 2012.

“Coach (Nick) Tuck found out about it from his junior college coach,” Lions coach Bryce Darnell said. “At that point I just called him to assure him that his money was good. He didn’t need to worry about any of that. He just needed to worry about trying to get healthy.”

“Coach Darnell and Coach Tuck kept up with me throughout the whole thing, through the spring and summer, seeing how I was doing,” Hill said. “Knowing that they had my back and didn’t really even know me as a player was pretty awesome.”

Hill came to Missouri Southern last fall and attempted to get right back into baseball. But at a scheduled doctor’s appointment, Hill learned the cancer had come back, and he underwent surgery again on Oct. 8 at the KU Medical Center.

“That surgery I had on my abdomen was one of the harder things I’ve done,” Hill said. “What they did is they cut from the bottom of my sternum to below my belly button. They took everything out and laid them out, took out 25 lymph nodes from the back of my belly, put everything back in and sewed me back up.

“They don’t do that surgery very often. Only a few doctors do it. The lymph nodes they took out were right behind the kidney. They are pretty cautious about messing around in that area.

“I didn’t think I’d be able to pitch any more because the scar tissue was so big. I couldn’t turn until about the middle of January. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to play this year or ever again. Now I feel pretty much healthy at this point.

“This year has been pretty special honestly. I feel great, feel healthy, just glad to be on the field for sure. My attitude is about 180 degrees what it used to be. I’ve always been a very competitive person. Losing was never accepted well with me — and it still isn’t. But now I know there are way more important things to me than it used to be ... taking every moment to the fullest for sure.”

“A person at that age, the last thing they are thinking about is life and death and serious situations most of the time,” Darnell said. “It’s hard as a coach to maybe grasp what he’s thinking because he’s thinking much differently probably than the rest of his teammates.”

Hill, from Little River, Kan., had another doctor’s appointment on Wednesday.

“I just found out that my scans are still clean,” he said. “I’m waiting on my blood work to get back this week. ... My doctor doesn’t expect anything to show up, so as of right now I’m still clean and good to go.”

“Obviously Skylar has shown a ton of maturity and a ton of toughness, being able to battle through adversity at his young age. It’s something to be admired. Skylar is pretty quiet, never really complained about any of that. He did the best he could to take it in stride.”

Hill’s next scheduled start is next Wednesday at Joe Becker Stadium against Drury.

“He’s steadily getting better,” Darnell said. “Obviously when he came back in the spring we didn’t really know because he was out of practice for obvious reasons. He’s pitched three consecutive mid-week games, and he’s done well in those starts. He’s gotten better in each start, and he gets better as the game goes along. Part of that is him trying to get his body back in sync with pitching.”

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