BENTONVILLE (KFSM)--Payton Wildeman has been one of the most consistent softball players in Northwest Arkansas over the last four seasons. But it appeared as if her senior campaign would end a month early.
"She broke her hand on April the 11th, in a home conference game against West," coach Kent Early said.
"It kind of felt like my fingers were all jammed and everyone told me they were probably jammed, but I just kind of knew that something else was wrong," the senior shortstop said.
As Early remembered, "She actually broke it about the fourth or fifth inning. She played the rest of the game and made a couple plays at shortstop, even with the broken hand."
The doctors diagnosis was four to six weeks of recovery, but Payton was set on playing again this season. "The cast went all the way up to my fingers, well, like my knuckles. So I could move my fingers and I had to do that a lot."
"The doctor told her as much as she could move it, she will maintain some strength," Early said.
"She was always squeezing silly putty just trying to keep her fingers strong," said center fielder, Payton's sister Jenna Wildeman.
Wildeman had started and played in every game since her freshman year, until the stretch of time she missed in April. To prove how deep the Tigers are, in the seven games Wildeman was injured Bentonville still outscored opponents 69-3.
"Everyone on our team has a certain role, so her role changed but she definitely still fulfilled that," Jenna said.
Coach Early added, "She assumed a new role and she was more of the cheerleader and of course we used her to pinch run because she’s so talented running."
Remarkably, just 22 days later, Wildeman was cast-free and ready to play.
"I got my hopes up so I was really glad they told me I could get it off," Payton said.
"The day she got her cast off I know we played catch," said Jenna.
Bentonville faces North Little Rock on Friday morning at 10:00 AM at Bogle Park in Fayetteville, looking to repeat as 7A state champions. It's the third time in the past four seasons that the 7A championship game has featured the Tigers and Charging Wildcats. North Little Rock won in 2014 and Bentonville reclaimed the crown last season.