Cavaliers weren’t able to finish season
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
There was nothing Callaway baseball coach Dusty Hubbard could say to soften the blow.
More than a month ago, the Cavaliers found out that their season was put on hold as schools across the state closed down because of the threat of the coronavirus.
Then last week the players and coaches got the news that the season was officially canceled, with governor Brian Kemp closing schools for the remainder of the school year.
“It breaks your heart,” Hubbard said. “That’s the first thing they say to you when you talk to them is I can’t believe this has happened, and I can’t either. I would have never ever guessed something like this would happen. It’s just unprecedented.”
The news was particularly painful for the seniors, who won’t get an opportunity to finish their season as high-school baseball players.
That group includes Jackson Huckleberry, Luke Swann, Ayden Brooks, Dawson Wright, Wesley Marchman and Jabari Smith.
Swann is going to play college baseball at Coastal Alabama Community College, while Marchman is still weighing his options. Also for Callaway, Jabari Smith is headed to Faulkner University to play football.
The seniors helped Callaway make back-to-back appearances in the state semifinals in 2018 and 2019 while winning region championships in 2017 and 2018.
“It’s been a good group (of seniors),” Hubbard said. “For so many of those seniors, they were program guys. They played junior varsity their ninth and 10th-grade year, and then it became their chance to play. That’s what I hate for them. They bided their time, they stuck with it, and a lot of them were getting a chance to play a little bit. Ayden Brooks hadn’t played much for us, but he’s a guy that we trusted on the mound and was starting to throw more innings, and you could see his confidence coming along. And then all the sudden it’s over with.”
Callaway (5-8 overall) was 2-1 in Region 5-AA play when the season was suspended, and Hubbard felt everything was trending in the right direction.
It was a team composed mostly of first-year starters, and those players were settling into their roles.
“A lot of these guys just needed a chance to play, and they’d started to do that,” Hubbard said. “We were starting to get a little rhythm with the weather, and I felt like our best baseball was definitely ahead of us. Our non-region schedule was tough. And I felt like we kind of got through the meat of that, and once you get into region play, you get that rhythm where you play Tuesday and you play Friday, and everybody knows it. You practice Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, and you get into a routine of how everything goes. It gets easier to get into a rhythm. All the rain that we had early on, I felt like that set us back a little bit from being where we needed to be. I really felt like we were getting close. Some of these young guys were starting to feel comfortable. You could tell they weren’t pressing as much. Sometimes that just takes time.”
The good news for the Cavaliers is that many of the key players will return next season.
“We’re excited,” Hubbard said. “A lot of our pitching’s coming back, and we feel like on our infield we’re going to be solid. We’re going to have to find a catcher. That’s the glaring hole in our program is we really don’t have a young catcher right now that we feel like is ready.”
As for how this season would have gone, that will remain a history.
If history is an indicator, the Cavaliers likely would have been a team to watch when the state playoffs rolled around.
The Cavaliers tend to play their best baseball at the right time, as evidenced by their back-to-back appearances in the state semifinals.
“You try to play a tough schedule to get you prepared for region play, you play a lot of bigger schools, and you compete against them,” Hubbard said. “There have been a lot of times where we won those games, and there have been times when we haven’t. At the end of the year, it makes you better, and I felt like that’s where this group was going, too.”
Hubbard added that “you want closure on everything, but I guess sometimes you don’t get it.”