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Facing family cancer diagnosis, Kahok pitcher finds teamsmanship extends beyond the field

In this photo Bryce Lemp pitches against Salem on March 15 at GCS Stadium. Lemp, who recently learned both his mother and grandmother are battling breast cancer, has found comfort and support from his teammates. (Photo courtesy of Joe Halbrooks)

By Mark Jurgena


Some say it reveals character others say it builds character.

Regardless of which side of that coin you fall on, adversity is never easy.

Just ask Collinsville pitcher/outfielder Bryce Lemp.

The Kahok junior is attempting to navigate this spring baseball season with his mom (Tracy Lemp) and his grandma (Jo Younger) dealing with breast cancer.

“When there’s adversity, I can’t just roll up,” he said. “I have to fight through it and I have to find ways to get around it. I can’t let that take over my entire life right now. I still have a job to do with both my team and my family.”

He is definitely doing his job with the Kahok baseball team so far this spring.

Offensively he is hitting an even .300 with a hefty .833 slugging percentage. He has two triples and three home runs to his credit with a team-leading 14 RBI.

That slugging percentage was ranked #24 in the entire St. Louis Metropolitan Area after this weekend’s games.

On the mound, he has four appearances with three starts. In 11.2 innings he has given up a total of nine hits while striking out 17. Lemp has given up five runs this year with only one of them being earned which leaves him with a sparkling 0.60 ERA.

The 52 hitters who have faced the left-hander are hitting only .205 against his mid to upper-80s fastball and effective changeup.

That production has helped lead to a 7-3 start for Collinsville.

While those stats are eye-popping, Lemp wanted to credit his teammates first and foremost for the Kahoks success.

“There’s not a single soft spot in our lineup or our organization at all,” he said about his teammates. “When the ball is handed to them or they get a job, they will do their job.”

But when the day’s work is done on the field, Lemp faces the job of helping fight against the scourge of cancer.

His grandma Jo has just gone through her treatments while his mom Tracy had surgery last Friday and is recovering.

“My grandma is completely done with it and my Mom had her surgery on the seventh of April,” he said. “She’s still in recovery from it right now but she’s feeling pretty good for the situation.”

While Tracy has been battling through chemotherapy she still supports her son’s efforts on the baseball diamond.

“She really enjoys it, she really likes me playing,” said Lemp about his Mom’s view on continuing to play this spring. “It really gets the whole situation off my mind and it gives me an exit from it.

“It hasn’t affected my season much, but it’s always in the back of my head. I’m never not thinking about it.”

While baseball provides for that escape from the battle against cancer, there are times when time away on the field just isn’t enough.

It’s on those days when he realizes how tight-knit this Kahok team has become.

“The team is the best, most comforting team I could’ve asked for,” Lemp said. “They make sure to let me know that they are always here for me. On rough days, we’ll all go hit or go do something just to get my mind off everything. We are always together.”

That togetherness both on and off the field has been nurtured by third-year coach Brett Swip. The team-first approach to rebuilding the Kahok baseball program has helped Lemp through his time of need.

“Bryce is a very talented baseball player, but when life throws you some of the health curveballs that it has his family you just never know how that will affect a young man physically and mentally,” Swip said. “Bryce has handled it very well! He has great family and friend support along with our team of players and coaches. I couldn’t be prouder of Bryce for maintaining his academic and athletic success while also being there for his family.”

Lemp and his teammates will need to shift their thoughts on the field to the opening of Southwestern Conference play this week.

Collinsville opens with a series against Belleville West. Both squads are listed as “On the Bubble,” of breaking into the top ten in the large school baseball rankings.

Fellow conference schools Edwardsville, Belleville East, and O’Fallon all appear in this week’s ten best teams according to the poll.

Not only will the Kahoks navigate those schools in the regular season but due to the demographics of the state of Illinois, the postseason becomes two de facto conference tournaments (Granite City and Quincy also join the fray). That means the most important games of the year always involve a fellow SWC opponent.

“Our team’s goal right now is to win regionals,” Lemp said. “We play in one of the best conferences Illinois has. It would really mean a lot to win regional and put us on the map.”


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