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Keith Gorman could not have predicted this would be the way his first season as the head coach of the Barton College baseball program would have ended.
Just days after the Bulldogs (12-12) beat Mount Olive, then the No. 7-ranked team in the the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association NCAA Division II poll, in Conference Carolinas play, the NCAA announced the season was canceled.
That high point nearly midway through the season would become the pinnacle of a spring cut short by the coronavirus pandemic. After playing 24 games, the Bulldogs saw their final 23 in the regular season canceled. For a coach that was just getting his feet wet, the decision that cut short his team’s opportunity to reach its potential was disappointing.
“Obviously not the way I envisioned my first season going at Barton with the baseball program, but I was just really encouraged by where we were heading,” Gorman said. “We had one of the toughest schedules in the country the first 24 games out. I think 12 of those first 24 games were against top 10 teams and we’d had several wins against those teams.”
Though a moot point now, the Bulldogs eyed the back half of the schedule as an opportunity to “get rolling.” Gorman saw his team as hitting its stride.
Barton had won three in a row, with its last game coming at Nixon Field against California (Pa.) University on March 10.
Out of a tough situation, Gorman applauded the NCAA for extending another year of eligibility to athletes in spring sports at the Division II level.
“There’s a lot of things that we’re not considering yet,” Gorman said. “There’s going to be a lot of things that pop up, a lot of unique scenarios. But as a whole I’m very happy the NCAA made this decision. Obviously, there’s no playbook for this type of thing and who could have imagined something of this magnitude affecting education and athletics as a whole in this manner?”
Gorman continued: “I really have a lot of respect for the college presidents and the NCAA for coming together and trying to figure this out. They’re still in that process and they’re still going to be, I think, other clarifications and adjustments. But as a whole, these athletes getting their year back was the right thing to do.”
In his own program, the decision gives nine senior baseball players at Barton an opportunity to return to the field next spring.
While those sort of personnel decisions will take time to sort out, knowing careers didn’t have to end with the season was a positive development for Gorman.
A NEW SCHEDULE
The novel coronavirus shut down the normalcy of baseball season, its practices, games and workouts. But this time remains busy for Gorman and the coaching staff, though in different ways.
It has taken an adjustment to not seeing them in person and on campus, but Gorman and his staff are maintaining regular communication with players. With campus closed, the staff has turned its attention toward recruiting its 2020 class, though the Collegiate Commissioners Association has suspended the signing of all National Letters of Intent until April 15. The staff is still hard at work in the midst of what Gorman called “a holding pattern.”
“This is a really important time for us as recruiters and we’ve done a really good job up to this point,” Gorman said. “I’m really excited about our commitments that we have. But, you know, it’s like we’re all in a holding period. We can’t we can’t get face to face with the recruits, we can’t sign any more recruits until after April 15 as of right now.”
PREPARING FOR 2021
Preparation for year two for Gorman is already under way.
Among many things ahead, the head coach looks forward to when things can return to normal and when his team, which he said keeps him young, can return to the field.
Being without his players is among the hardest parts about how the shutdown has disrupted his schedule.
“It’s fun to be around them,” Gorman said. “They’ve got a great energy and and you know, they have a way of keeping coaches balanced as well. So I’m looking forward to when we can get back and go through our every day routine with these guys. Seeing them on campus, and then seeing them at practice and in the weight room; meet with them on an individual basis. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
And as for next season? The Bulldogs will be ready to return and bounce back after a long, unusual offseason.
“As a whole, I’m really excited about the group we have coming back and the group we have coming in,” Gorman said. “I’m ready to get to work with them and start preparing to play really well in Conference Carolinas next year.”