The Bismarck State College baseball team was on a bus headed south when everything suddenly changed.
The Mystics were en route to Tucson, Ariz., where they were scheduled to play 10 games over a week. By the time they arrived, the games were off due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“It’s really unfortunate,” Mystics coach Michael Keeran said. “It’s been really crazy this week. We were on a bus for 30 hours going down and in that stretch everything changed quickly. We got there, the guys had been on their phones the whole time.
“We thought maybe the NJCAA would give us a week, then it was off and we have that grueling drive back.”
The Mystics were slated to play games against Douglas College, the White Rock Titans, Bryant & Stratton College, Anoka-Ramsey CC, the Coquitlam Reds and Western Oklahoma State in Tucson beginning March 14. Instead, the NJCAA suspended all spring competition beginning March 14 through April 3.
On March 16, the NJCAA cancelled all spring sports competition for the remainder of the school year.
“It’s been crazy,” Keeran said. “I feel for the kids, especially the sophomores. They went through a coaching change with Corby (McGlauflin) going to Briar Cliff, then another one, and as soon as we started to feel comfortable, we won a couple of games, and it gets cut.
“It’s just weird how it’s changed. We played in early March, it was feeling good and now we can’t even see anyone.”
The Mystics, who were set to field a veteran lineup this spring, finished the season at 2-0, having swept a pair of games from Dakota College-Bottineau on March 3 in Minot.
“What’s tough is, our sophomore class was so good,” Keeran said. “We looked so good, especially in that second game after we got the first-game jitters out. We were going to have seven sophomore starters. I was looking forward to watching them play.
“We were expecting a lot out of the sophomore class. Pitching-wise, I think Ryan Bourassa was going to be an All-American. I really think he was going to be one of the best pitchers in the Midwest, if not the entire country.”
The end of the season came abruptly, and with online classes and social distancing, it’s been difficult for the coaches and players in the program.
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“It’s so weird right now,” Keeran said. “We have to get some guys signed. We feel good about our recruiting class. We have to help get the sophomores into four-years. There’s a chance of another year of eligibility but academically it doesn’t make sense to come back when they get their associates.”
With the early end to the 2020 season, Keeran is looking ahead.
“We’re going to try to look forward,” he said. “We think we’ll have a good program moving forward. We’ll be really young next year but I think really talented.”
With the possibility of players coming back for another year of eligibility as well as possible added scholarships to adjust for the missed spring season, along with the ongoing uncertainty over the outbreak, things figure to be a lot different next spring.
“It’s going to be interesting. The college baseball landscape may be down for a year if everybody misses the spring and if they miss summer ball, too,” Keeran said.
“I’m hoping to see some of the 2020 kids play, but do they even have a high school or Legion season? I think high school season is unlikely. I’m hoping after this eight weeks, if it’s positive, if there’s a little curve flattened, we could see Legion baseball and summer collegiate baseball.”
If not, it could take its toll on college baseball in the spring.
“I’m hoping we can see that happen,” Keeran said. “If not, baseball is going to take a big hit. Freshmen will come in not playing their senior year. Pitchers might be OK, but hitters -- the best you can do is a machine or bullpens, but with social distancing, that’s not even possible.
“Training for pitchers is a little better with rest involved, but it’s tough for a hitter not to see live pitching for months.”
A summer return to the diamonds could bring a renewed energy.
“I'm confident summer ball and Legion baseball can take place,” Keeran said. “It could be a cool dynamic. We could see some real competitive baseball in the summer. Kids will come back and they won’t take the games for granted.”
Keeran is looking forward to 2021.
“I think we’ll be good,” he said. “We’ve got some good recruits, some key pieces coming back. Every coach in America is thinking, what’s next? With scholarships, how many will there be? They’ll figure that out at the Division I level and then it will trickle down. We’re going to keep acting like it’s going to be 24, but if it increases, we’ll use that to our advantage.”
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