Andrew Massey was beginning to wonder if he would ever realize his considerable potential as a high school pitcher.
His freshman season was ruined by a dangerous allergic reaction. He barely saw the mound as a sophomore because of a badly pulled hamstring. His junior year wasn't as consistent as it should've been, Massey believes, because he wasn't in good enough shape.
"It was frustrating," Massey recalled. "I was mad, I'll tell you."
Hard work, good health and the peace of mind that comes with knowing a college scholarship is already lined up, helped Massey finally live up to the potential that almost seemed to be his birthright.
The Liberty senior went 6-2 with a 1.35 ERA, striking out a county-best 78 in 57 innings while walking only nine in leading the Lions to the county championship and earning Times Player of the Year honors.
"When he was on, he was dominating," Liberty coach Erik Barnes said, noting that Massey was also a slick-fielding shortstop when he wasn't pitching as well as a clutch hitter who had a team-best four home runs and 26 RBIs. "His work ethic is what sets him apart."
Massey doesn't shy away from hard work. He cuts down trees for a summer job, when he's not practicing baseball, and down time doesn't mean sitting around reading or playing Xbox.
"I like being outside. I'm not much of a smarts kind of guy. I'm not dumb, but I'm not a books [person]," Massey said. "I'm not big on video games. I don't understand how people do that. I'd much rather be outside doing something hands-on."
In addition to his upbringing, there was a simple reason for the time Massey spent doing squats to strengthen his legs, doing exercises to strengthen his wrists and running to improve his conditioning.
"I wanted to be good," he said. "My dad always told me you have to work hard to be successful. Or get lucky."
Massey was leaving nothing to chance. Providing he could stay healthy, there was little doubt he would be good.
His father, Mark, was a Division I player who tried out for the Cincinnati Reds. The elder Massey instilled in Andrew not only strong fundamentals but a love for the game that didn't necessarily extend to other sports.
"He let me play any sport I wanted to," Massey said, referring to his father. "I quit soccer because I hated it so much. He was pretty happy about that."
Massey played youth ball in Sykesville, joined the Maryland Cardinals travel team in middle school - where he played with several future Liberty teammates as well as friend and rival Michael Austin, of Century - and after a stint with an Olney travel squad has been playing summer ball for an Under Armour-sponsored tournament team coached by former Baltimore Orioles slugger Larry Sheets.
Barnes saw Massey's potential during spring tryouts of the young player's freshman year.
"First groundball I ever saw him take at tryouts, he was different," Barnes recalled, noting that Massey simply carried himself and handled grounders unlike other ninth-graders.
Massey remembers that day.
"I was on third base and I was diving, catching everything," he said. "Coach Barnes was like, 'Uh, why don't you move over to short?'"
Massey has been carefully watched throughout most of his baseball career - by his father and by his father's omnipresent video camera.
Liberty catcher Bobby Conlon, Massey's teammate going back to their Maryland Cardinals days, said Massey used to complain about his dad taping him, making fun of it.
"I'm glad he did now because a lot of colleges that didn't see me saw me through videos. It's one of those things that you look back and you thank him for it," Massey said. "My dad cares a lot. He knows how to play the game. That helped me out a lot."
Still, it had been an unsatisfying high school baseball career, largely because of issues beyond his control.
His freshman season was over before it started when he took prescribed medication for a sinus infection and had an allergic reaction that caused his legs to swell significantly, worrying doctors and family members alike.
"They were kind of concerned that my bones would not form right because I was still growing," he said. "It took me about three months to recover."
Massey made the varsity team as a sophomore but suffered a bad hamstring pull and was able to pitch little.
Last year he was healthy, but wasn't always happy with his performance.
"I don't think I worked hard enough in the offseason," he said. "Before my senior season I squatted a lot, did a lot of leg exercises, got in good shape. I think that's why I pitched well this year."
By that time he had already earned a spot with Gardner-Webb, a D-I team that plays in the Big South Conference, after a strong performance at a showcase camp at the Boiling Springs, N.C., campus. Feeling no pressure, and feeling healthy, he got off to a great start by tossing a one-hitter in his first start.
Other highlights included beating 2011 county champion Westminster, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Century, and beating Century shortly thereafter with a home run.
Massey's pinpoint control with his 88-mph fastball, changeup and a hard curveball that's more like a slider helped him lead Liberty to a 14-5 record, the Lions' first county title since 2004, and the top seed in Class 2A West.
"He's got natural talent, but he works really hard at everything he does," Conlon said. "It's really great to see him play like he did [this year]. He led the way. We thought we could beat anybody with him on the mound, and we virtually could."
Liberty's run ended in the regional quarterfinals, when the Lions were upset by an eventual state champion Williamsport team on a mission after the death of a teammate. Still, Massey called it a fun and satisfying season.
After a summer of fishing at his grandparents' house, cutting down trees and playing baseball, he'll be matriculating to Gardner-Webb. He plans to major in business with an eye toward a marketing career.
Not surprisingly, he plans to work hard, in the classroom and on the field.
"I want to improve, get my fastball into the low 90s, maybe get drafted after four years, and get an education," he said. "I don't want to waste an opportunity like this."