The announcement Thursday that high school sporting events would throughout Gwinnett County and Georgia would be postponed until further notice as a precaution against the potential spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) was as much a disappointment to the county’s baseball players and coaches as it was to those in other spring sports.
But it was hardly unexpected, and at least some local figures found ways to spend the first day of their unexpected hiatus from the diamond, while keeping the reason for it in perspective.
“I wish we were playing baseball, but it is what it is right now,” said Parkview head coach Chan Brown. “(Friday) I went to play golf with my two boys and some friends just to get my mind off of it. This is uncharted territory for everybody, I think, no matter what level you’re at.
“Obviously, the importance of everything out there is to keep everybody safe. I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know enough about (the situation) to know what to do about it.”
In addition to the postponement of in-state games expected to last at least two weeks, Parkview and North Gwinnett, both consensus nationally-ranked teams, will also miss an important national showcase during spring break after USA Baseball announced late Thursday that the 2020 National High School Invitational tournament, scheduled for April 1-4 in Cary, N.C., had been cancelled.
The added disappointment was very much felt by both the Panthers and Bulldogs, though like Brown, North coach Ryan Moity and his team have tried to take the news in stride and look forward.
“We’ve never had the opportunity to participate in that tournament,” Moity said. “It something that we looked forward to for a long time, so it’s disappointing. But I don’t know that it’s going to disrupt anything. If anything, if we are able to get back playing, we can probably use that Spring Break (week), if we are playing again, to make up region game (missed in the interim).
“We talk about controlling things are are within our control. This is something out of our control. Obviously, the health of everybody is more way important right now than worrying about playing those four games. It’s disappointing, but it’s part of it.“
Of course, there are other issues Moity and Brown, and other coaches around Gwinnett County will have to confront with the uncertainty of when, or even if, their teams will be able to take the field again this season.
Some are more emotional than others, especially for the senior players whose high schools career may be over if play does not resume before the end of the school year.
“Your hate the baseball part taken away, especially for the seniors,” Brown said. “We did a makeshift Senior Night (on Thursday) night, … just in case that was it, and I hope it’s not. But you never know.”
Then there are more tangible concerns from coaches about what lies in the immediate future for teams throughout the state, namely, how long it takes teams to get back into playing shape, especially pitchers, when and if play resumes.
“Going into this year, we knew (pitching) was going to be our strong point,” Brown said. “We knew we were going to have to grow up on the other end some, and the pitching’s doing that.
“Honestly, we were just starting to get in the groove hitting a little bit. So I hate it for the kids from that standpoint. We’ve been working extremely hard to this point, but at the end of the day, it us about families being safe and kids being safe.”
Early momentum halted
Parkview is one of a handful of teams that will have to regain momentum built in the early stages of the 2020 campaign when and if the season continues.
As Brown mentioned, the Panthers’ (13-2, 4-0 in Region 7-AAAAAAA) pitching staff was particularly dominant during the first month of the season, having allowed just eight total runs (five earned) in its first 15 games behind starters Xander Stephens (3-0, 0.00 EAR, 29 K, 20 IP), Miles Garrett (2-1, 0.68 ERA, 27 K, 20 2/3 IP) and Mason Brown (3-0, 0.00 ERA, 25 K, 17 IP) and reliever Ryan Spikes (1-0, 2 saves, 0.00 ERA, 9 K, 5 1/3 IP).
But the Panthers were hardly the only teams to get off to a huge start before the season came to a halt.
On the offensive side of the equation, Mill Creek (14-1, 3-0 in Region 6-AAAAAAA) had broken out some particularly big bats, scoring 112 runs in 14 games (8 per game), including 10 games in which the Hawks scored seven runs or more behind a batting order buoyed by the likes of Alek Boychuk, Tim Simay and Keaton Anthony, among others.
Brookwood’s offense was even more explosive early on, with the Broncos (12-3, 6-0 in 7-AAAAAAA) pounding out 149 runs in 15 games (9.9 per game), with Wes Franklin, Josh Sharp and Josh Sosa among the most explosive hitters in the lineup.
Wesleyan heads into break on a high note
Wesleyan was another team sorry to see the season come to a halt after a torrid start.
The Wolves (12-0, 3-0 in 5-A) were Gwinnett’s hottest team, including being the county’s lone remaining unbeaten team, after a come-fron-behind 5-3 win over Hebron Christian (9-4) in a battle of Class A (Private) state powers Thursday at Donn Gaebelein Field.
They were also among the county’s more complete team, averaging 8.2 runs offensively behind several big hitters in the line-up like Druw Jones, Cooper Blauser and James McCoy, while the pitching staff had a streak of 28 straight shutouts ended in Thursday’s game, but has still been lights out all season, led by the likes of Holden Wilder, Jalen Fulwood and others.