“I guess when baseball gets taken away you realize how much you miss it,” said Willard senior Eli Stoops.
Walking through these gates no longer means playing at state. Understanding the depth of that loss for the Tigers starts with the number on their backs.
“Honestly it probably took three days for it to set in. And still at times it’s tough,” Willard baseball coach Scott McGee said.
Last season the Tigers were coping with the death of assistant coach Justin Atchison, a former Willard player they grew up watching. They played the 2019 season for him – making it all the way to the final four, with a strong start in the semifinals.
“We always bring up state last year, what we could have done. We’re always talking about it,” said Willard senior Ethan Thompson.
“You think about it a lot. When you’re one out away from going to the championship game. You think about it a lot,” Willard senior Garrett Rice said.
“The thing that helped that sting of losing was, we’ve got next year. We can come back and we can prove ourselves next year,” said Willard senior Grant Harris.
After a year of tough losses, Willard had everything lined up in their favor this season. They were nationally ranked with 15 seniors on the roster. And the Coronavirus gave the Tigers their first loss before the season even started.
“I think we had so much potential this season, and I’m just sad it couldn’t happen,” Stoops said.
Losing not only their senior season, but the chance to rewrite their ending.
“We don’t get to go out there and say, well, we did this. Now it’s, we were nationally ranked, projected to win state, but never got the chance,” said Thompson.
This May, the Tigers are walking out of US Ballpark empty handed. And while coping with all they’ve lost, they’ve realized just how much they’ve gained.
“I just want to say thank you to everyone involved. My coaches mainly, my teammates,” Harris said. “The last four years have been the best four years of my life, and I’ll remember them for the rest of my life.”