PALMYRA, Mo. -- A simple shift in direction gave Jacob Kroeger confidence in his right knee.
The senior for the Palmyra baseball team was rounding second base during Tuesday's Class 3 District 7 championship game against Macon, and quickly had to retreat back to the bag. He had to plant on his right foot and pivot, putting strain on the surgically repaired knee.
He did so effortlessly.
"It feels good," Kroeger said. "The only thing right now is I haven't slid. So I'm looking forward to that. But it's stable. This was my first full seven-inning game where I had to work."
He's lucky to be in the lineup. Last September, while quarterbacking the Palmyra football team in a Week 6 game against Kirksville, Kroeger tore the anterior cruciate ligament in that right knee.
At the time, his return for baseball was doubtful and could have been a significant blow for the Panthers. A left-handed pitcher and center fielder, Kroeger hit .464 with 24 RBIs and scored 28 runs as a junior. On the mound, he went 3-2 and logged 321/3 innings, posting a 3.46 earned run average while striking out 45.
His numbers and his potential earned him a scholarship to Maryville, an NCAA Division II program in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, but it might have been his leadership the Panthers expected to miss most.
With the desire to return at some point this spring, Kroeger and Panthers coach Mark Loman put together a progression sheet that detailed certain benchmarks Kroeger needed to reach before he could play. On May 6, a week before district play began, Kroeger was medically cleared to return.
"I felt really good," Kroeger said. "Everything just worked out timing wise. Sometimes it's hard to show how excited I am because I've been playing for a long time."
It couldn't have come at a better time as Palmyra is trying to make a run toward the Class 3 state tournament.
The Panthers (22-4) face South Callaway at 5 p.m. Monday at Flower City Park in the Class 3 sectionals.
"He just brings experience," Loman said. "It gets us a lefty in the lineup that can drive the ball. Everyone here wanted to see him back after all the work he's put in in his rehab so he could contribute."
Kroeger has played in four games for the Panthers. His first action was a victory against South Shelby in which Palmyra wrapped up the Clarence Cannon Conference championship. He went 1 for 3 with a double and drove in three runs.
So far, Kroeger has five hits in 11 at-bats and has eight RBIs.
"I don't have any expectations right now," he said. "Whatever I do, I'm going to do with a smile on my face. I'm just glad to be back."
There are no expectations because Kroeger didn't anticipate he'd be on the field again as a high school player.
"There was a chance," Kroeger said. "But since I'm playing in college, I wasn't going to push it."
Since he's back, he's going to enjoy it as much as he can.