Tag: What Might Have Been

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Young aces continue grind despite COVID-19 shutdown

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15.

After flashing ace potential as freshmen in 2019, Jim Ned’s Tate Yardley, Anson’s Trevor Miller and Winters’ J.P. Killough had big things planned for their respective sophomore campaigns.

The three hurlers, part of a young crop of Big Country pitching standouts that also includes fellow sophomores Brooks Gay of Wylie and Snyder’s Derek Dominguez, were hoping to take the next step in their development and further cement their places among the area’s top arms.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent suspension/cancellation of all spring sport seasons by the University Interscholastic League limited their mound time to a handful of early-season outings. But it hasn’t kept them from continuing their pursuit of excellence.

All three have remained active in their training through the shutdown, viewing this period as little more as a speed bump on the way to their ever-increasing goals.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: COVID-19 cost former Eastland star his first chance at the NFL

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

The sports cancellations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t just affect high school athletes from the Big Country. Brant Bailey, who grew up in Eastland and became a four-year starting tight end at Tarleton State University, lost his initial chance to sign with a NFL team as an undrafted free agent

Now back home stocking shelves and serving as a cashier at Brookshire’s Food & Pharmacy in Eastland, Bailey likely will need a Kurt Warner stroke of good fortune to get a chance in the NFL.

The COVID-19 pandemic first canceled the pro day at Tarleton scheduled for March 23. APEC, the Fort Worth fitness center where Bailey was training with other NFL prospects this past spring, had scheduled its own pro day March 20.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Jayton standouts may very well have reached state tennis tournament

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

For those who keep track of Big Country high school athletics, the names of Tye Scogin and Tripp Scott are likely to ring a bell. The Jayton High School standouts have become familiar to area fans as key elements in back-to-back trips to the state basketball tournament by JHS. 

What very few realize, however, is that they were about to form what was anticipated to be one of the area’s top boys doubles teams in tennis — one that may have had a shot at a regional title and trip to state. 

We’ll never know. 

With the University Interscholastic League’s mandatory lockdown of all school activities across Texas due to COVID-19 and the subsequent cancellation of all spring sporting events as a safety measure, the Scogin and Scott duo never had a chance to materialize.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Senior-heavy Brady baseball team was poised to make history

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

When Brady graduates Shay Easterwood and Rocky Bernal returned to their alma mater three years ago — the former as the head football coach and athletic director and the latter as the head baseball coach — both knew the sophomore class they were inheriting was destined for big things.

In just their second year on the BHS campus, that group formed the nucleus for virtually every boys program, giving both coaches a promising future to look forward to.

This fall, Easterwood got to see that potential realized as his senior-heavy squad went 4-1 through district to make its first playoff appearance since 2016. Unfortunately for Bernal, he never got that same opportunity in the spring.

After getting off to a 9-2 start, the Bulldogs were stopped in their tracks by the COVID-19 pandemic. And when the University Interscholastic League’s spring sport suspension became a full-on cancellation, Bernal and his players were left to imagine what the rest of the season might have held.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Womack excited to see return of Stephenville athletes

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Monday will carry the excitement and anticipation of Christmas morning for Stephenville athletic director Jerod Womack.

After not being able to see Yellow Jacket and Honeybee athletes in person for almost three months, Womack and his coaches anxiously await their arrival for the start of UIL-approved summer workouts.

“It’s going to be exciting just to see kids faces,” said Womack, who’s entering his third year running Stephenville’s athletics programs. “As much as you want to high five and hug them, that won’t be part of agenda. But to see their faces and start a new routine, we’re moving in the right direction.”

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Fanning talks about the spring he expected and dealing with COVID frustration

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Jim Ned football coach Matt Fanning is not only at the helm of one of the area’s fastest-growing football programs, but he’s also directing an overall athletic program that is on the rise. 

That comes with a downside, courtesy of COVID-19.

The Indians’ rapid ascent has made the program a point of interest for those paying attention throughout the area — creating a high potential for frustration on the part of Fanning whose hands have been tied by the pandemic.

Nonetheless, Fanning, who will carry a 16-7 mark into his third football season this fall, has managed to keep an even keel with a very simple approach. He now visits with Big Country Preps’ Evan Ren to talk about the spring that might have been in Tuscola and how he’s kept his cool while prepping for the fall. 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: COVID-19 was the last of Zant’s setbacks in 2019-2020  

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos by Chester Reynolds 

The cancellation of high school sports because of the COVID-19 pandemic was the last of three setbacks Hico senior Karson Zant faced during the 2019-2020 school year.

Zant rehabilitated through a football knee injury last fall and a baseball shoulder injury early this spring. But after returning to good health for Hico’s first two district baseball games, Zant ran into an obstacle he couldn’t rehab. On March 13, the COVID-19 pandemic initially suspended and eventually canceled all spring sports, including baseball.

“I thought for sure we were coming back when they first stopped everything,” said Zant, who continued to work out for baseball on his own. “I saw a quote on Twitter about the layoff that really motivated me. It said something like, ‘There are people who will not take this seriously. But six or seven of your teammates will work hard during the time off and come back and look completely different.’

“That kept me motivated to work harder to be better and help my team.”

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Gonzales’ breakout season halted by virus

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

With the Big Spring Lady Steers losing a number of key performers in 2020, a number of question marks existed about whether coach Chelsey Jordan’s team could find enough players to pull up the slack. 

Junior utility Jocelyn Gonzales answered many of them on her own. 

Gonzales, who entered the COVID-19 lockdown with a .500 batting average through 18 games, was well on her way to establishing herself as one of the top players in the Big Country.  

“Last year she was hitting in the sixth or seventh hole for us,” Jordan said. “But she was clearly our four-hole hitter this year. … She just steps up. She’s very clutch and if you have people on base, she’s going to score them. 

“We were just dying for someone to be a leader and we pulled her aside. She said, ‘Gotcha coach’ and ran with it.” 

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DANIEL YOUNGBLOOD: Region I-3A playoff race huge loss for this baseball junkie

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.

Continue reading “DANIEL YOUNGBLOOD: Region I-3A playoff race huge loss for this baseball junkie”

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Eastland football coach/AD James Morton talks about dealing with the lockdown

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

While preparing for his fifth season as the head football coach/athletic director at Eastland, James Morton was anticipating a productive overall spring from the EHS athletic program.

That is, until the COVID-19 lockdown and subsequent cancellation of all spring sports was imposed by the University Interscholastic League as a safety measure.

Morton, who has guided the Mavericks to a 34-14 record and four straight postseason appearances during his tenure, has since found himself stuck in wait-and-see mode with every other coach in Texas.

He has, however, been able to reflect on the pandemic, while drawing upon 28 seasons of head coaching experience to get him through it. He now sits with Big Country Preps’ Evan Ren to speak about his approach.

Here are a few excerpts from that conversation: 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Hamlin baseball keeping positive outlook despite shortened season

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

After watching a young team take a nice step forward last spring, Hamlin baseball coach Ryne Lucas had the 2020 season circled as the year his Pied Pipers would finally break through as a district title contender.

And with HHS sporting a top-10 ranking in Class 1A from txhighschoolbaseball.com at the time of the COVID-19 shutdown, it wasn’t just those within the Hamlin city limits that felt bullish about this year’s Pipers.

Unfortunately, Hamlin’s season was cut short by the global pandemic just six games in. But Lucas saw enough during that 3-3 start to believe that the 2020 campaign — truncated though it may have been — could still go down as a positive turning point for his program.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Loaded Clyde softball team halted in the midst of promising season

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

“Be Legendary.”

That’s the motto that Reagan Sewell’s Clyde softball program latched onto a couple years ago, cementing their legacy by winning a program-best 30 games.

This year’s Lady Bulldogs were prepared to make their own history. Led by seniors Kaitlyn Turner and Peyton Lee, Clyde was off to a 12-3-1 start against quality competition and highly ranked in the TGCA Class 3A poll.

Did the COVID-19 outbreak cost the Lady Bulldogs a trip to state? Clyde was certainly a Region I-3A favorite along with the likes of Brock and Bushland. 

“We had already accomplished so many goals personally and as a team,” Turner said. “Our chemistry on and off the field this year was astonishing. I believe we had the momentum and determination to be legendary this year.”

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Goldthwaite’s Medina, Jernigan made the most of their final track races

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

— Photos by Brennan Medina, Anne Jernigan and Ashley Spradley

Goldthwaite seniors Callie Jernigan and Kylee Medina heard what seemed like a bizarre message from their coach prior to running the 300-meter hurdles and 1600 meters, respectively, March 12 at the Llano track meet.

“I jokingly — more or less — told them this could be their final races. I never thought at the time that it really would be,” said Blake Ashmore, Goldthwaite’s first-year head girls’ track coach.

“We knew the NCAA had just canceled their basketball tournaments (because of the COVID-19 pandemic). We thought the season might get pushed back a little, but I don’t think any of us knew the heaviness of the situation at that moment,” Ashmore said.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: AHS star Washington left quite an impression on coach, program

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Abilene High softball coach Jim Reese considers shortstop Alyssa Washington a once-in-a-career type player. 

And with a multi-decade coaching tenure that started on the baseball diamond and included a stretch with longtime major leaguer John Lackey, that’s no faint praise.

So to watch the future Texas Longhorn see her time at Abilene High cut short in the midst of a truly remarkable senior campaign was one of the tougher things Reese has had to do as a coach. And though he’s happy that Washington will get to continue her career in Austin and certain she’ll find success at the next level, he can’t help but wonder what the standout might have accomplished had her season not been derailed by the COVID-19 outbreak.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: De Leon softball may have broken new ground in 2020

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

While the De Leon softball program has developed a solid reputation in recent years as one of the Big Country’s consistent winners, the 2020 season may have represented a high-water mark. 

We’ll never know. 

In the wake of the University Interscholastic League’s COVID-19 lockdown and subsequent cancellation of all high school spring sports in the state of Texas, the Lady Cats will be left wondering what heights they may have reached this year for the rest of their lives.

With a talented corps of seniors — Micaela Miller, Kylea DeLaTorre, Coral Sparger and Brooke Stelter — and considerable early-season momentum, De Leon pushed through a difficult early season with a 9-4 overall record and a 2-0 start in District 9-2A. 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Young Jim Ned Indians look ahead to brighter future

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

With the way his team was playing at the time of the COVID-19 shutdown, Jim Ned baseball coach Ryan Lewis has every right be disappointed by the the abrupt and premature end to the Indians’ 2020 season.

Holding a 6-2 record with close losses to top-10 teams from Breckenridge (5-4) and Wall (5-3), Jim Ned was well on its way to building on the 20-10 mark and area-round playoff finish it achieved in 2019.

But rather than let that fact push him toward bitterness, Lewis has chosen to take a different — and perhaps surprising — posture. One of gratitude.

With no seniors on this year’s roster, the former Abilene High baseball coach was spared the types of heart-wrenching conversations many of his coaching friends have had to have with their veteran players. And though the Indians will never know just how good they might have been had this season continued uninterrupted, the horizon before them is every bit as bright as the one coronavirus put in the rearview.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Even Albany’s Faith is in uncharted territory during pandemic

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Albany’s Denney Faith is used to recognizing a challenge and then tackling that task head-on.

You don’t win 307 football games and get a field named in your honor without thriving in adverse situations.

But nothing in Faith’s first 33 years as the Lions’ head football coach could have prepared him for the uncertainty of leading an athletic program in the middle of a pandemic.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Ballinger senior saw dreams of state evaporate

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos courtesy of Ballinger ISD

Nearly every high school in America has at least one of them — an athlete with dreams of competing for a district, regional or state title that have come to a grinding halt in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ballinger is no different. 

Tucked away in the southwestern corner of the Big Country, some 56 miles south/southwest of Abilene, this quiet community of roughly 3,700 had high hopes for a productive athletic spring. 

Senior track standout Elyssa Korn-Flores was one of the top reasons why. 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Standouts Buck, Philipp leave lasting mark on Wylie softball program

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

After leading the Wylie softball team on a memorable ride to the Region I-5A semifinals a year ago as juniors, standouts Bailey Buck and Kaylee Philipp had big things planned for their final high school season.

And with their team sporting a 14-3 record and a top-20 statewide ranking in mid-March, they were well on their way to achieving those when the COVID-19 outbreak put an early end to their senior year.

Now the pair, who are part of a six-player senior class that was instrumental in making the Lady Bulldogs’ transition to Class 5A a successful one, can only imagine how this season might have turned out had it not been cut short by a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

And their coach, Heather Collier, can’t help but be disappointed that two players who were so important to her program won’t get to finish their stellar careers in fitting fashion.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: New Dublin facilities and spring momentum will have to wait

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Bob Cervetto is patiently awaiting a return to normalcy.

Dublin’s athletic director and head football coach misses the hectic spring sports season. He misses watching his athletes competing and working out daily.  

“It scares me to death because you never know where your kids are going to be,” Cervetto said. “I’m just like every other coach in the state — I hope they are doing something.”

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Cooper seniors miss out on home game experience, chance at turnaround

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Sitting at 2-9 on March 10 after a 6-1 loss to Wichita Falls High in its district opener, the Cooper baseball team was off to a slower start than it was hoping for when play was halted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

But with the start of the Abilene ISD Tournament — and the Cougars’ first opportunity to play on their newly renovated home field — slated for March 12, there was a shared sense of optimism among coach Cody Salyers and his players.

The Coogs, who have typically finished stronger than they’ve started under Salyers, had all of their biggest games and goals ahead of them. And the chance to become the first CHS team to play its home games under lights and on a turf field had them riding a wave of excitement into the meat of their schedule.

Unfortunately for Salyers’ squad, that chance never came. And thanks to the global pandemic that forced the University Interscholastic League to suspend and later cancel all spring sporting events, it never will for the team’s five seniors.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Highly productive Cisco spring halted for first-year football coach

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

New Cisco football coach Kevin Stennett.

As if it weren’t tough enough for first-year Cisco football coach Kevin Stennett, he now has to sit patiently, waiting to be given the green light to get his players back into their offseason program. 

Since the COVID-19 lockdown imposed by the University Interscholastic League in March and subsequent cancellation of all spring sporting events announced last month, the man chosen to replace Big Country legend Brent West is stuck with his feet in UIL concrete until further notice. 

As one can imagine, he’s chomping at the bit. 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Experienced Bulldogs had high hopes for district

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos by Linda Moody 

Sitting at 7-1-1 when this season was stopped by the COVID-19 outbreak, the Coahoma baseball team’s record was almost identical to the 6-2-1 mark the Bulldogs had posted in nondistrict play the year before.

But first-year head coach Chris Arista and his players were convinced this group was different from the 2019 squad that closed its campaign with a 3-9 run through District 5-3A.

With nine seniors on its 17-player roster, Coahoma was the most experienced team in a league that also featured Clyde, Jim Ned, Anson and Merkel. And as such, the Bulldogs were determined to take a step forward after losing out to Merkel for the fourth playoff spot last spring.

Unfortunately, due to the University Scholastic League’s April 17 decision to cancel all spring sports, they never got that opportunity. And while Arista firmly believes his team was destined for success, he’ll never quite know just how things might have played out under different circumstances.   

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Bearcats never got to enjoy fruits of tough pre-district schedule

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos by Madisyn Stone

Judging solely by its record, it would be easy to underestimate the potential the De Leon baseball team possessed in 2020.

Sitting at 3-5 when the COVID-19 outbreak stopped their season in its tracks, the Bearcats hardly had the type of win-loss mark you’d expect from a two-time defending district champion that was gearing up for a run at its third in a row.

But records can be deceiving, and that was certainly the case for De Leon, which had played six of its first eight games against larger competition in preparation for its District 6-2A schedule. With pre-district matchups against Class 4A playoff teams from China Spring and Glen Rose, as well as Class 3A No. 1 Brock, the Bearcats were put through a ringer that first-year head coach Ricky Barrett was certain would pay off in time.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Young Ballinger team was hoping for prolific 2020 season

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos courtesy of  Chad McDufee, Dana Travis and Don Pena

Fantastic.

That one word is how Ballinger softball coach Missy Vaughn described the Lady Cats’ 2020 season before it was prematurely ended.

Vaughn’s seniors had thrived in their leadership positions. Even after junior pitcher Daniella Luna suffered a season-ending knee injury, freshman April Pena had stepped up admirably in her place. 

Sophomore catcher Jenna Battle and her teammates were ripping the cover off the ball. Other underclassmen had emerged as Ballinger won nine of its first 13 games and was undefeated in district.

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EVAN REN: Virus may teach us some appreciation (for a while)

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”
— Voltaire 

There’s a barbeque place near my home that I don’t like. In fact, I seldom go there — deliberately bypassing it whenever the BBQ craving hits me in favor of better choices. 

But Friday, after two months of COVID-19 exile, I decided to make a quick run to bring home some brisket for the wife and I and elected to go to the very place I try to avoid because it was convenient. 

Funny how one’s perspective can change while in isolation.

Abilene’s worst barbeque was suddenly good. In fact, it was beyond good. It was like freakin’ nirvana. 

I suspect that’s the way it’s going to be with virtually everything I had taken for granted before the lockdown. And I’m already experiencing some of it.

Continue reading “EVAN REN: Virus may teach us some appreciation (for a while)”

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Sans seniors, No. 1 Brock baseball was still state threat

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

During a time when most coaches throughout the area, state and country are having to wish premature farewells to the seniors on their rosters, Brock’s Hart Hering is thankful to have dodged that most painful of bullets.

The only senior slated to return for the Eagles’ 2020 baseball team, pitcher/utility man Caleb Satterfield, transferred to Pecos for the spring, leaving Hering with a squad full of juniors, sophomores and freshmen.

But if you think that made it any easier to step away from the 8-1-1 start that had garnered Brock the No. 1 ranking in Class 3A from Txhighschoolbaseball.com, you would be mistaken. Ever the competitor, Hering was looking forward to putting his young bunch up against senior-led state hopefuls from Bushland (No. 2), Breckenridge (No. 3) and Wall (No. 7), and he shared those teams’ pain when the University Interscholastic League announced it would be canceling all spring sports in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Price forced to put football and promising spring on back burner

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

For much of his career, 39-year-old Daniel Price had been patiently waiting to get his shot. 

He had long wished to be the man on the headset, manning the sidelines in crucial situations and leading a football program of his very own.

In February, he was given that opportunity when Early ISD named him to replace athletic director and head football coach Blake Sandford, who resigned in December.

All the pieces were in place. All that was needed was to develop a plan and implement it.

Then it happened — a statewide lockdown of all high school spring sports implemented in by the University Interscholastic League in March as a safety measure against the COVID-19 outbreak. 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Middleton, Comanche boys golf team lose shot at state

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

This spring was supposed to be Kasey Middleton’s fourth trip to the state golf tournament as he hoped to bookend his high school career with a second title.

It was supposed to be Bryce Hermesmeyer’s triumphant return to golf after missing last year with a shoulder injury.

And with a couple freshmen helping step up and a low score of 316 despite playing in only three tournaments, it was supposed to end with a second state berth in three years for Comanche’s boys golf team.

But before the Indians could find a groove, their promising season came to an end after the COVID-19 pandemic altered the University Interscholastic League high school sports landscape. That’s hard for Comanche golf coach Richard Pringle to stomach.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Goldthwaite golfers lose chance to defend state title

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos by Mike Lee

Rance House was optimistic the solitary environment of high school golf eventually would give the Goldthwaite Eagles a chance to defend their Class 2A boys’ state championship.

“I know the UIL has lawsuits and all that legal stuff to deal with, but I was really pulling for golf,” said House, a Goldthwaite senior who also played baseball in the spring. “Golf is a sport where you don’t have to touch anybody. You use your own club and balls.

“You’re playing in small groups with two or three other people, and there are not a lot of people (spectators) around. There’s just a lot less interaction with other people in golf than in other sports. But I guess if you cancel one sport, you’ve got to cancel them all.”

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Loaded Ira Bulldogs felt this was their year

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

When you’ve been in coaching as long as Toby Goodwin has, you know what an elite team looks like. 

So when the Ira coach says this year’s Bulldogs had a baseball state tournament appearance in their sights, he’s not just blowing smoke.

Unfortunately, neither he, his players or the Ira community will ever get a chance to find out just how good this year’s squad was. And instead of being remembered as the group that finally broke through for an Ira program that has been knocking at the door for years, the 2020 Bulldogs will be the one that (only) COVID-19 took down.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Young Merkel Badgers see progress halted by COVID-19

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Unlike many of the teams asking themselves, “What might have been?” after the University Interscholastic League’s decision to cancel the remainder of the spring sports season due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Merkel baseball squad will feature a very similar roster when play returns next year.

The Badgers lose just one senior, outfielder Hunter Barnes, from this year’s group, which was off to an 7-2-1 start when play was halted.

But for a program on the rise, that was hoping to build on last year’s 9-14 record and bi-district playoff appearance, the effects of this stoppage will still be felt in a major way. Instead of getting to use the District 5-3A season to show how much they’ve grown and the playoffs to take the next step in their development, the Badgers will be spending their spring and summer at home, hoping the lost time won’t have cost them too much when they finally get back on the field next year.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Was this the best Eastland softball team ever? We will never know

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

For four years, Eastland softball coach Tera Davis has been quietly cultivating a powerhouse.

This year was to be the culmination of her hard work, with a roster loaded with talented seniors and one of the top pitchers in the Big Country, coming off a 29-6 season that saw them reach the Region I-3A quarterfinals.

If Eastland softball was ever to go to the state tournament, 2020 in the minds of many, would have represented the best opportunity the Lady Mavericks had seen in decades. 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Hawley powerlifters see state meet dreams unfulfilled

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Hawley’s powerlifting program produces state champions seemingly every year.

While nothing is ever guaranteed in the sport, juniors Kolter Willeford and Bo Thompson were ready for their chance to continue the Bearcats’ winning tradition.

Thompson had won the 275-pound weight class at regionals by 125 pounds after totaling 1,675 pounds in his three lifts. Willeford’s super heavyweight total of 1,775 pounds included an 800-pound squat and was 150 clear of second place.

But their dreams of gold will have to wait another year after the Texas High School Powerlifting Association’s state meet was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Stamford’s Gutierrez was expected to become Big Country ace

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

At age 15, virtually ever key stat produced by Stamford sophomore pitcher Citlaly Gutierrez exhibits potential. 

While most Division I college pitchers are pegging the radar gun between 64-68 mph, Gutierrez has already topped out at 67 before her third year of high school. While many high school pitchers would be happy to strikeout 382 batters in their varsity career, Gutierrez did it in a single season — as a freshman. And while many coaches would be content to have a pitcher with an ERA under 3.00, Gutierrez charted a 1.51 last season, and was at 0.69 this year before the University Interscholastic League cancelled all spring sports last week due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With a career varsity record of 30-2, Gutierrez was, in the view of many, the top pitching prospect in the Big Country at the time of the shutdown. This season, if all went well, was to be the year every softball fan in the Big Country would learn exactly who she is. 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Roscoe track joins long list of promising teams crushed by UIL cancellation

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

March 7 was a banner day for Roscoe’s boys track team.

The Plowboys captured gold in all three relays, while Jaythan Coale won the 200 and nearly matched the school record in the pole vault.

After beating bigger schools like Wall and Bangs, Roscoe celebrated its team title from the Bluebonnet Relays by dining at Brownwood barbeque staple Underwood’s before enjoying a jubilant bus ride home.

That would be the last time the Plowboys competed in 2020. While Friday’s UIL announcement officially ended any hopes of spring high school sports occurring, Roscoe coach Ryan Dillon said he told his guys on March 17 their season was all but over.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Bartley’s hopes for Buckaroos dashed with final announcement

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Throughout the statewide COVID-19 interscholastic lockdown, Breckenridge baseball coach Kevin Bartley quietly waited and tried to maintain a positive frame of mind. 

It was important for him to do so, in order for him to convince his players to do the exact same thing. 

Then the other shoe dropped. 

With Friday’s announcement by the University Interscholastic League that all spring sports seasons have been cancelled due to the pandemic, Bartley was faced with the fact that what may have been the best Breckenridge baseball team in 30 years would never have the chance to prove it. 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: C-City, Kern had banner season interrupted

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15 or until the UIL rules that high school athletics statewide may resume. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Coming off a freshman season that saw her earn first-team All-Big Country Preps honors, Colorado City’s Mallory Kern was expected to earn a considerable amount of the area spotlight in 2020. 

And she was well on her way to doing it — helping the Lady Wolves to a 12-4 start before the COVID-19 lockdown that saw the University Interscholastic League postpone all sanctioned activities indefinitely. But Kern being unable to showcase her ability is just one of the disappointments for a burgeoning team that is now filled with them. 

That has left coach Kara Leleux in the position of trying to get her club to think positively while her players wait out the frustration with every other athlete in the state. 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: COVID-19 delay may give Brownwood’s McCarty a chance to compete at state

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15 or until the UIL rules that high school athletics statewide may resume. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

A.J. McCarty was already injured and out of action when COVID-19 stopped UIL spring sports on March 10. He’s also one of the few athletes who could actually benefit from a lengthy delay — if spring sports do return for the 2019-2020 school year.

A four-sport athlete for Brownwood, McCarty was late joining the Lions’ track and field team this spring because he was helping the basketball team win 28 games and advance to the second round of the Class 4A playoffs. On March 4 during his first week with the track team, McCarty fell while practicing handoffs for the 4×100-meter relay and suffered a broken wrist.

“We weren’t going full speed, and I ran up on the other guy too quick,” McCarty said. “I got too close to him, and I stepped on his heel. I couldn’t control myself and fell.”

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Jim Ned softballers, new coach felt Lady Indians were turning corner

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15 or until the UIL rules that high school athletics statewide may resume. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Aside from winning, first-year Jim Ned softball coach Erica Jones is well known for her over-the-top enthusiasm and her efforts to bring her teams into the same mindset.

Most recently, Jones, who has had successful stints at Clyde and Anson that included deep playoff runs at CHS, seemed on the verge of a breakthrough in Tuscola. That is, before the COVID-19 outbreak forced the UIL to suspend all athletic activity statewide.

She is now sitting things out with every other coach in Texas, hoping to hear that an all-clear has been given, allowing her and her players to return to work. But for Jones, who isn’t bashful about wearing her emotions on her sleeve, talking about the effect the crisis is having on her team brings her to tears.

“Once our basketball players came in, all the pieces to the puzzle were in place,” said Jones, who had guided Jim Ned program to a 10-5 mark at the time of the lockdown. “We weren’t very many games in (to the season) but we were rolling.”

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Four Coahoma seniors were on quest for redemption

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15 or until the UIL rules that high school athletics statewide may resume. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Coahoma’s softball team has been out for vengeance ever since last May when it lost to Henrietta in the area round for the second straight season.

Senior outfielders Caitlyn Corley, Macee Grant and Sidney Rinard plus second baseman Alex Bailey were tasked with making sure the Bulldogettes stayed hungry in 2020.

The early results had been positive as Coahoma started 15-5-1 before the coronavirus pandemic brought its season to a halt just as District 5-3A action had begun.

Now the Bulldogettes’ four seniors are forced to wait and see if they’ll be able to finish their high school careers on their own terms.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Forsan’s Smith was on the verge of breakout season

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15 or until the UIL rules that high school athletics statewide may resume. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos courtesy of  Jodi Mims 

Tucked away in a quiet corner of West Texas, roughly 14 miles southwest of Big Spring, an unheralded Forsan sophomore was poised to make a splash. 

At age 16, Aubrie Smith remains relatively unknown in Big Country circles. But at the time of the COVID-19 lockdown, her 2.64 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 42 innings were beginning to make a sizable blip on the area radar. 

“This year we were better,” coach Shanna Taylor said. “Our record was 12-3-1 and we were beating some bigger schools. And honestly, Aubrie was one of the top pitchers that I’ve seen this season. 

“It was looking like we were going to have a really good year, so this is extremely frustrating for us on all fronts.” 

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Anson sophomore Miller was to spearhead young, improving Tiger squad

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15 or until the UIL rules that high school athletics statewide may resume. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Photos courtesy of Daril Gonzales, Anson Tigers Sports Pics

Anson’s Trevor Miller is a sophomore so the suspension of UIL spring sports because of the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t interrupted his final high school season. But baseball is Miller’s only sport so the timing of the stoppage cut just as deep.

“I just play baseball so it’s disappointing. It’s good to have my brother to practice with,” Miller said of his freshman brother, Nick. “He and I throw to each other and take swings. We have a batting cage at home so we can hit in the cage.

“We’re doing all we can to stay in shape and be ready in the hope that we can get back to playing.”

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Co-aces West, Neve had Albany poised for state tournament return

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15 or until the UIL rules that high school athletics statewide may resume. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

After leading the Albany baseball program to its second state tournament appearance in a three-year span last season, Lions coach David Fairchild didn’t have to squint too hard to envision a similar run this spring.

The 27-year coaching veteran had graduated just three seniors from last year’s 23-8 squad and was returning a pair of pitching aces in senior Ben West and junior Cade Neve.

Those realities — and the 7-0 start to which they heavily contributed — have only made things more difficult for Fairchild and his Lions since their season was halted in its tracks by the COVID-19 outbreak and the University Interscholastic League’s related decision to suspend all sanctioned activities in mid March.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Merkel’s Pursley sees potential state title put on hold indefinitely

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15 or until the UIL rules that high school athletics statewide may resume. If you have a suggested story for the “What might have been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Kaydi Pursley held the highest of expectations for her final high school track season.

After finishing second in the UIL 3A 100 hurdles in 2019, a state title was on the Merkel senior’s mind. Pursley also wanted to medal in the pole vault, too.

But those goals are in limbo right now with the coronavirus pandemic shuttling UIL athletic activities for at least another month and maybe longer.

Pursley has spent the past couple weeks working on staying in shape. Even if she has represented Merkel for the last time, Pursley knows she must be ready in the fall when she joins Abilene Christian’s track program.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: For Brock’s Tonips and Kizer, more than a game has been taken away

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15 or until the UIL rules that high school athletics statewide may resume. If you have a suggested story for the “What might have been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Kelsi Tonips missed much of last season and part of this season with a separated shoulder. Then just as the Brock senior third baseman and pitcher was working her way back into the lineup, the 2020 softball season was suspended indefinitely by the UIL because of the COVID-19, or coronavirus, pandemic.

The earliest athletic contests can return is May 4. The spring sports seasons may not restart at all.

“Softball is not just a game for me. It’s a big part of my life that was taken away abruptly,” said Tonips, who has played since she was 6 years old.

At least Tonips, who signed to play collegiately with Tyler Junior College, plans to play softball again. Lauren Kizer, a Brock senior pitcher and outfielder, plans to attend Texas A&M University and major in public health. This was going to be her final season of competitive softball.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Wall baseball’s title defense put on hold

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15 or until the UIL rules that high school athletics statewide may resume. If you have a suggested story for the “What might have been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Coming off its first state championship in program history, the Wall baseball team entered this season eager to defend its title.

With eight key seniors graduating off that 39-1 squad, a repeat run through the Class 3A bracket would not be easy, but the Hawks returned a pair of all-state pitchers in Caleb Heuertz and Luke Young and viewed this as more of a reloading job than a rebuild.

Sitting at 9-3-1 on March 12 with the start of District 4-3A play on the horizon, everything was going according to plan for coach Jason Schniers and his players — until, that is, the COVID-19 outbreak and University Interscholastic League’s subsequent shutdown intervened.

In a matter of days, the Hawks went from gearing up for the district season and another strong playoff push to wondering if they’d get to take the field again at all in 2020. And three weeks later, with school suspended indefinitely and the players and coaches separated, little has changed to ease their uncertainty.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Freeman, Comanche softball see breakout season halted by virus

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15 or until the UIL rules that high school athletics statewide may resume.  If you have a suggested story for the “What might have been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Tucked away in their homes in Comanche County, a group of teenagers and their coach are waiting to see if they’ll have the chance to finish something special. 

The Comanche softball team (15-2), off to its best start since its 2015 state semifinalist club, is sidelined with every other program in Texas by the COVID-19 lockdown until further notice. 

The objective in the Comanche camp is to remain positive. But the numbers aren’t making that easy, with 226,374 confirmed cases of COVID-19 nationwide and 5,316 deaths at the time of this writing. 

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