With social distancing in place, the game of life has thrown curves at many high-profile Corps of Cadets traditions, like March to the Brazos. It also struck out the lesser-known tradition of Corps athletics.
The coronavirus cut short the Corps baseball season at a moment when seniors on the team said they were primed for a triumphant end to their college baseball careers. Lined up for a shot at the playoffs, construction science senior Harrison Wilson said players were optimistic and had a strong plan to rally until COVID-19 threw them a change up.
“It stinks it ended the way it did,” said Wilson. “We were really clicking and hitting our stride by the end.”
Wilson said he will always have fond memories of the guys he played with on the Corps baseball team. Wilson said he will be working in construction management starting in August. Baseball – as well as the Corps – has taught him how to work on teams, he added.
“I met great groups of guys through baseball, and that is the way it has always been, in college and in high school,” said Wilson.
Senior CJ Gonzalez said he can’t remember not playing baseball; it’s always been part of his life.
“I think it has affected who I am as a person and how I act,” Gonzalez said. “It has affected the friends I have had throughout life. I mean all the friends I had growing in elementary school, middle school and high school were all people I played baseball with.”
In May, Gonzalez will commission as an Army air defense officer. Although he is becoming an officer, Gonzalez said growing up, it was always baseball players he admired.
“The people I grew up looking up to were older kids on my team who played baseball as well,” said Gonzalez. “It has affected who I have aspired to be like, and probably other areas of my life I don’t even think about.”
Both Wilson and Gonzalez said they wanted to finish their senior season strong and provide their teammates with an example of excellence with a trip to the playoffs.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cadets played an important conference series against the University of Houston-Downtown Gators in a doubleheader. The teams play in the National Club Baseball Division II Great American Region in the South Conference.
The Cadets kept it close with the Gators in the first game, losing 4-3. Senior pitcher Clay Tillman started for the Cadets. He only gave up one run in the four innings he pitched before being relieved by freshman pitcher Joshua Coker in the 5th inning. Coker said he did not have a very good outing, giving up two runs.
“Generally, I didn’t think they were too good,” said Coker. “It was just mostly I couldn’t throw strikes.”
Hitting also hurt the Cadets in the first game. Jacob Arellano, catcher and infielder for the Cadets, said the team needed to be more aggressive and capitalize on what UHD was giving them.
“We could have got the clutch hits in the situations, and we could not have struck out as much,” said Arellano.
It did not get any easier for the Cadets in the second game. The Gators scored 13 runs in four innings. UHD run-ruled the Cadets after five innings. Freshman pitcher Daniel Pugh Jr. started for the Cadets and gave up seven runs. Coker said Pugh was pitching pretty well, putting balls on the ground, but he just did not have help from the infield.
“Fielding wasn’t great in the second game,” said Coker. “[The Gators] hit the ball a lot better in the second game than they did in the first one. They were making good contact.”
Although there were some plays the Cadets could have saved, the Gators were hard to beat, said Coker. Arellano said UHD warmed up with the first game while the Cadets were sluggish and tired heading into the second game.
“We were kind of still moping after the first loss,” said Arellano. “They had the momentum early in the game so we didn’t do anything after that. We kind of had lost after the first inning, honestly.”
After the second game, the Cadets fell to second place in the conference. As per the NCBA Division II rules, the first-place team from each conference and one at-large bid can advance to the region playoffs. The winner of each region advances to the world series, very similar to how the playoffs work in NCAA Division I baseball.
Since the season has ended, advancing to the playoffs this year will not happen. Gonzalez said that doesn’t take away from everything the team has accomplished.
“Our conference had three good teams – us, University of Houston and Lonestar – so it would have been interesting to see how it would have played out,” said Gonzalez. “We definitely would have had a grind ahead of us.”
Gonzalez said this group will always rise to the challenge, never giving up.
“Clearly I did not want the season to end because we had a good group of guys,” Gonzalez said. “We had a good team. We just got along really well, so it's just disappointing in that regard.
“You just never know, so you just got to go out there and have fun and enjoy every bit of it.”