Those who know me well know that I’m a “baseball guy” at heart.
I love football and basketball, but baseball’s my sport. It’s the one I played the longest and the one I follow most diligently now.
As a sportswriter, I enjoy covering all sports, but come springtime, there’s one I look forward to more than any other. And the baseball playoffs, in particular, have always held a special place in my heart.
So I had little trouble empathizing with our area players and coaches about the premature ending of the 2020 season as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. I was almost as heartbroken as they were when the University Interscholastic League pulled the plug on the season just a few weeks in.
There were so many things I was looking forward to watching and never got to see play out. And perhaps nothing climbed higher on that list than a Region I-3A playoff race that was shaping up to be one for the ages.
With five of the top seven teams in the txhighschoolbaseball.com Class 3A rankings and a sixth cracking the top 12, the Region I bracket was going to be flush with legitimate state title contenders. And with three of those six teams hailing from the Big Country Preps coverage area — and a number of other quality area squads nipping at that group’s heels — my partner Evan Ren and I were already running through different scenarios and expecting to follow someone all the way to Round Rock.
Sadly, though, it didn’t work out that way. Instead, the most intriguing regional race I can remember in 13 years of covering high school sports was over before it began with no resolution whatsoever.
So all the many questions Evan and I had thrown out there when discussing that bracket were left unanswered.
• Was this the year for a loaded and senior-laden Breckenridge team to break through with its first state tournament appearance?
• Could the pitching-rich Wall Hawks repeat as state champions despite the many graduation hits their lineup took?
• Could a Brock squad with no seniors win this epic game of “king of the hill” to represent Region I in Round Rock?
• What role would talented teams from Jim Ned, Cisco, Clyde, Brady, Anson, Early and Bangs play in shaping a bracket headlined by No. 1 Brock, No. 2 Bushland, No. 3 Breckenridge, No. 6 Holliday, No. 7 Wall and No. 11 Boyd?
We’ll never know the answers to any of those questions unfortunately. And worse, neither will the players and coaches involved.
That’s especially sad for a team like Breckenridge, which may well have had its best and most experienced team ever. Coach Kevin Bartley and Co. returned almost all of their talent from a region semifinalist squad a year ago and had pitching depth some 6A programs would envy.
Having talked to just about all of our area 3A coaches for What Might Have Been features, the consensus was that Breckenridge was a team to beat in the race for I-3A’s sate bid, if not the outright favorite.
Wall coach Jason Schniers even compared the 2020 Buckaroos to his team last year — high praise from a guy who watched his Hawks to a 39-1 and claim their first state title.
But as good as Breckenridge was, and the Bucks’ 8-2 record at the shutdown may have even undersold their abilities, nothing was guaranteed for them in the playoffs. That was the best thing about this race. As many as half a dozen teams could have emerged from that bracket as champion without raising eyebrows.
Wall (9-3-1) and Brock (8-1-1), last year’s region finalists, were sure to be in the mix once again. And Bushland (9-2), Holliday (9-4) and Boyd (11-2) were all playing excellent ball when play was stopped.
Add in a 6-2 Jim Ned team that had suffered its only losses by narrow margins to Breckenridge (5-4) and Wall (5-3), and always tough clubs from Cisco (2-2) and Clyde (7-4-1), and you were looking at a truly wide-open race come playoff time.
As a baseball junkie, it’s the stuff dreams are made of. But like dreams, it will only be played out in our heads thanks to COVID-19.
That we’ll never know how this thing might have ended makes it the ultimate “What might have been” story of the 2020 spring in my book.
And thinking about all those unanswered questions and heartbroken kids will only make the long wait for next season even harder.