Head Baseball Coach Clae Mathis got an email last Thursday as he was accompanying his team to play at Bleckley County in Cochran. The email said all high school sports events were going to be canceled as of Friday through March 27.
With the United States – indeed, the entire world -- fighting to stop the spread of the coronavirus, gatherings of crowds in schools or even in baseball dugouts were to be halted, at least in Georgia.
Mathis talked to his team about the email before the game. His players knew this game might be the last one this season, and for most of the seniors the last one ever.
“This group of seniors has meant so much to me and our program,” Mathis said. “There’s not a way to feel good about this, but we don’t want anybody to get sick from this so we’re going to follow all the rules. It’s no fun for anyone.”
Indeed, the plan was for this article to start off with the details of Mary Persons’ first region baseball game against Howard High School. Instead, it starts off with the news that the season is at best delayed, and at worst might be over before the first region game has even been played.
“I’m really bummed because this is one of the best baseball teams Mary Persons has ever had,” he said. “I think last year’s team was better than any team before it, and this team is better than that one.”
If the season resumes, the Bulldogs could prove that on the baseball diamond. If the season is over – many people fear that this initial two-week suspension of classes and athletic events may be extended -- it will be a season the members of this team may recall for the rest of their lives.
The answer on the season and the school year is still being debated and may not be known for several days or weeks, contingent on how the fight goes against the coronavirus. But, frankly, the number of cases being reported is expected to go much higher.
Until a decision is made, the players can think about that Bleckley County extra-inning game, which they won 15-4 by scoring 11 runs in the top of the ninth inning.
The game was to have been a tune-up for the Region 2-AAAA opener Monday. Instead, it became a chippy blowout that saw a Bleckley pitcher being ejected after hitting two MP batters in a row.
It was the fourth straight game in which the MP bats sizzled. The Bulldogs had 22 hits, including 10 in the last inning. Over the last four games MP had 75 hits and scored 47 runs, and boosted their season record to 11-4.
So, if this was the last game, the Bulldogs certainly went out with a bang.
The Bulldogs had Trippe Moore on the mound pitching, and they were facing two Bleckley pitchers who were doing a decent job of holding the MP batters at bay for most of the game.
Bleckley led 2-1 headed to the MP half of the sixth inning, when the Bulldogs put together a rally to go ahead. Thorn Anderson singled, stole second and went to third on a balk, then scored when Eric Snow singled to tie the game 2-2.
Then Moore teed off on a 1-1 pitch that went deep into center field and over the fence for his – and the team’s – first home run of the season. He and Snow scored to put the Bulldogs ahead 4-2.
After Moore’s pitching held the Royals scoreless in the bottom of the sixth, he needed just 3 more outs in the bottom of the seventh to earn the victory. However, he gave up 3 singles and a walk as Bleckley tied the game 4-4, forcing extra innings.
Neither team scored in the eighth, but in the top of the ninth the Royals brought in a new pitcher – one the Bulldogs ate up.
With MP scoring quickly and often, frustration set in on the Royals. Some players got a little mouthy. After the pitcher and catcher had a meeting on the mound, Jaden Bankston was hit by a pitch to load the bases. The next man up, Thomas Willingham, also got plunked to drive in a run, and with that the pitcher was ejected.
When the Bulldog blaze had finally been extinguished, a calculator was needed to count up all the offense.
Eric Snow was 4-for-6 with 4 RBIs, Conner Watson had 1 hit and 3 RBIs, Moore was 4-for-6 with 3 RBIs and that dinger, Nate Howard was 3-for-5, Bankston was 3-for-4 and scored 3 times, Thorn Anderson was 2-for-3, Willingham was 1-for-1 with 2 RBIs, and Caden Swancey, Jeramiah Andrews, Xavier Soule and Jalen Germany all had a single.
Moore pitched 7 innings, striking out 6 and giving up 12 hits and 4 runs, all earned. He was relieved by Watson, who got the win and struck out 4 of the 7 batters he faced in two innings of work.
Mathis said Monday it isn’t clear how the region standings will look if the season is allowed to continue.
“It would be up to the region to find your top 4 teams” to advance to the playoffs, which are scheduled to begin in mid-April.
At this point in the season, Snow has the most hits on the team at 27, Watson has the most RBIs with 18, Howard and Snow have the most walks at 7, Snow has 12 doubles and Watson has 11, Moore leads in stolen bases with 13, and Snow leads in runs scored with 16 and Anderson is next with 15.
Among players who have at least 15 at bats, Snow has the highest batting average at .519, while six players have an average over .400 – Watson, Howard, Moore, Anderson, Swancey and Soule. Among players who have pitched at least 14 innings, Watson has the lowest ERA at 1.56 runs per 7 innings, with Moore right behind at 1.65.
No formal team practices can be held while the team awaits a final decision on the season, though Mathis said the players may get together on their own and throw or bat however they wish.
Fighting the coronavirus takes precedence over everything, Mathis said, and at this date it isn’t yet clear if the battle is being won.
“We’re being extra careful. We won’t have any way of knowing in three months if we overreacted, but we will know if we underreacted,” he said.
“Even though this hurts pretty bad, I do know that I don’t want anyone to get sick.”
JV team’s tough season continues
The suspension of all games applies to all levels of school athletics, including junior varsity baseball. And for the JV team, this might be a season worth forgetting.
The team remained winless at 0-6 last week, with two losses to Upson-Lee and two losses to West Laurens.
Coach Delvin Jordan said Jake Causey, Thomas Brooks and Ryan Jenkins are pitching well, but the Bulldogs are having difficulty scoring runs.