The typical March is crunch time for high school baseball teams.
Area titles are won, playoff tickets are punched and the contenders prepare for a postseason run.
This isn’t the typical March. Far from it.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) has postponed all spring sports until Monday, April 6 with the acknowledgement that health and safety of the student athletes comes first.
The baseball playoffs are scheduled to begin on April 17. If students are able to return early next month, that date and the playoff-format itself would likely be changed.
The Daily Mountain Eagle reached out to three baseball coaches recently to get their outlook on the situation.
Corner’s Josh Hoyle
Corner is enjoying a banner season on the diamond. Earlier this week the Yellow Jackets jumped to the No. 2 spot in Class 5A behind a 14-1 record.
Now the Jackets are hoping to continue what they started.
“I just want to get back out there and be around the guys,” Corner coach Josh Hoyle said.
“I think that’s where everybody is right now. I’m hoping on April 6th we get some good news. I hope we get a chance to play some games going forward. What format that is — we will have to wait and see. Some type of closure for the seniors is one thing I want to see. Just for their sake.”
Corner boasts an experienced roster, with eight seniors — Chandler Brakefield, Jadyn Cagle, Tyler McNiese, Brayden Rowe, Cole Burkett, Andrew Baker, Tanner Hayes and Justin Cummings.
“There are very few times when you have a certain feeling about a group of kids. I definitely have it with this group. There is something special about them. They never feel like they are out of any game. They thrive under pressure and make bit plays in big moments,” he said.
Hoyle commends AHSAA executive director Steve Savarese for his wait-and-see approach to the season.
“I try to stay optimistic and echo that to the team. From what I’ve seen, Coach Savarese wants to finish it. Until I hear otherwise, I have to go with that. I’m keeping the faith that on April 6th everything will be OK. I’m thankful we’ve got a little buffer to let the dust settle and see where we are,” Hoyle said.
Sumiton Christian’s Lance Blair
Sumiton Christian’s baseball team is a staple in the state playoffs. Lance Blair’s Eagles have missed the postseason just once since 2001.
With the NCAA canceling spring sports and professional leagues pushing back games, the trickle-down effect could eventually claim high school sports.
“It doesn’t look very favorable. I know they are trying to give it a chance. I appreciate the AHSAA for not just killing it all together. We’ve got to get the kids back in school first before we worry about sports,” Blair said.
Sumiton Christian’s last game came on Saturday when the Eagles split a double header with Oak Grove.
Blair has four seniors on this year’s team — Jace Barrentine, Corbin Hicks, Sam Shumate and Isaiah Wright.
“We played Saturday and we were supposed to play Monday and Tuesday. So we just thought we were going to play. We didn’t really get to wrap it up. Obviously it affects the seniors the most. We had some kids that transferred in who sat out a year. Now that could be two years,” Blair said.
“My hope is that we get back and have an opportunity to play the playoffs — or at the very least we get to play some games. It would nice to get back on the field and have a little bit of closure.”
The AHSAA shut down spring sports on Sunday.
“I wasn’t surprised. You can’t expose kids to something that’s potentially deadly.
You can’t do that no matter how you look at it. It’s sad, but you want to have a positive outlook ”
Jasper’s Patrick Ware
Jasper entered the baseball season looking to usher in a new synthetic field at Valley Park.
Initially planned to be ready for the season opener, consistent rain continually pushed the home opener back several times before finally settling on Thursday of this week.
Unfortunately for Jasper, the team fell just days short of the inaugural game on the field.
Jasper head coach Patrick Ware is optimistic the his group of eight seniors will get to play a home game this season.
“I’m praying that we are able to (play),” Ware said. “I don’t know the answer, but I know the plan is to come back April 6th and go from there. Everybody is in the same boat. We just hope we get to finish it on the field — whether we get to play area games or just regular-season games.”
The Vikings, ranked No. 5 in Class 5A, are 11-5 despite playing a difficult schedule entirely on the road. Their lone “home” game was an area matchup against Hayden held at Corner High School.
Jasper seniors are Cade Mitchell, Nick Keeton, John Michael Crump, Kaden Shelton, Tyler Thomasson, Luke Hood, Jon Burton and Topher Wilson.
Like other area teams, Jasper initially had games scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, only to have the decision to halt the season come down on Sunday.
“We thought we would get Monday and Tuesday and have that as the stopping point. Then as Monday got here that was changed. It’s just the unknown right now. Everybody wants to be on the field, but the main thing is everyone’s health and safety,” Ware said.