Note: This story appears in the Wednesday, April 15 newspaper on Page B1.
I wrote two stories after the 2018-19 school year ended about how excited I was for the spring of 2020 to get here.
With the talent returning in the area among the four local teams on the spring scene, I had my notepad, bucket hat and camera all geared up and ready for action.
And then of course it all had to be ruined by this wonderful, delightful pandemic known as the coronavirus, and we all know the story from here.
No spring sports, no school, no nothing. Not even suppose to leave the house, but it is what it is at this point.
The OHSAA did recently give some hope that it still plans to continue with a shortened spring season beginning on May 9 with a two-week regular season before diving directly into tournament play, pending Governor Mike DeWine not closing school for the rest of the year.
Unorthodox, but hey, I’ll take anything at this point as I’m sure the area’s student athletes would as well.
My personal belief is that DeWine ultimately will close school as the number of cases continue to rise in the state, but nonetheless I figured I’d keep things local and dive into how I think each team would have shaped had a full schedule been played.
I’ll dive into softball this week followed by baseball next week.
Let’s start with the team who went the farthest in the tournament last year, which happened to be Wellston.
The Golden Rockets claimed their first TVC title since 2015 and their first sectional title since 2014 before bowing out in extra innings against Fairfield, who ultimately went to a regional final.
This season would have looked vastly different compared to last year’s 21-4 campaign.
Six seniors graduated, including both starting pitchers in Ashley Compston and Molly Smith. Additionally, injuries had taken away the season for Sydney Spencer and quite possibly Jenna Johnston, who was the TVC Offensive Player of the Year after batting .494.
Being that there were going to be a lot of unknowns and inexperience with this team, 21-4 probably wasn’t going to happen. Do I think the Golden Rockets could have gone .500 playing a full 22 game season? Absolutely.
Let’s stay in Division III and move to the team Wellston beat for that sectional title last year, Oak Hill.
The Oaks finished 16-10 last season and returned everybody to the lineup this season except for Baleigh McNerlin. Needless to say, they were primed for a huge season.
Kailey Adkins returned to the circle with a year of experience under her belt, and the SOC II Player of the Year, Caitlyn Brisker returned as well.
Playing inside of a tough SOC II with Waverly, Minford and Wheelersburg, who probably would have won the 2020 state championship, was only going to make the Oaks better.
To me, Oak Hill had/has the elements to rattle off going 17-5 or 18-4 this season. Maybe a little overzealous, but it was my ‘sleeper’ pick to make a run at a district championship, similar to girls basketball.
Staying in the Jackson county area, Jackson, similar to Oak Hill, had/has the chance to do something special after what was considered a ‘down year’ for the Ironladies.
But even that down year still won them a conference title and play in a sectional final before falling by one run to Unioto.
The Ironladies returned seven of their nine starters this year, including Kylee Bako, Leah Alford, Gabby Webb and Taylor Evans, who was named FAC Player of the Year.
Because of the returning experience and a stronger schedule with matchups against Westfall, Wheelersburg and Ironton, who all were in district finals last season with Ironton beating Westfall, and games against Logan Elm and Fairfield Union, this was going to be the ‘challenge accepted’ year.
To me, Jackson was/is an under-the-radar team to make a district appearance, especially with Unioto losing some keys pieces.
And last, but certainly not least, Vinton County was also prepared for a massive season with seven of its nine starters from last year returning to the fold.
The Vikings saw their youth catch up with them down the stretch as they started 9-3, but ended 14-10 and losing in their opening tournament game.
One bright spot for this season outside of having a year of experience is that four of its top five batters; Breanna Sexton, Kerrigan Ward, Abby Faught and Rylee Ousley were back.
And with a schedule similar to last season, that tail spin towards the end probably wouldn’t happen this year. The Vikings had/have a solid chance to win potentially win the TVC as long as they remained healthy.
Would that have turned into making a run towards a district appearance? Quite possibly, but they would have to get by Jackson, Unioto or Waverly, who was in a district final last year to do so. Tough task, but not impossible.
Because I was waiting a nearly a whole year for this spring season to get here, I think that adds an extra element as to why this pandemic is the absolute worst.
I can only speak from my position as a sports writer, and for me, getting to see the student athletes perform on the field and watching their growth throughout the season is just half of the fun for me.
The other half is getting to know them, talking with them and forming that relationship with them to where they don’t feel as nervous talking to me after a game.
There’s so much potential in the area on the softball scene, and I hate that it can’t be shown because of something completely out of our control.
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: thanks a lot, coronavirus.
Side note: I’m not sure why some kids feel nervous talking with me after a game anyway, I’m not that intimidating. Or at least I didn’t think so.