Blythewood Baseball: What Might Have Been

Bengal seniors are: Colton Harman, Colin Jones, Jansen Stokes, Michael Gregory, Landon Lucas, Muluken Hass, Jake Ladd and Brady Beasley.

It was no secret among Blythewood players as well as coaches, players and reporters from around the state that 2020 was poised to be the year of the Bengals.

Instead, because of the precautions taken because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 will go down as the season that might have been.  

Coming off a 2019 season that saw Blythewood pounce into the postseason and claw its way into the 5A state championship series against Dutch Fork, it is little wonder. The Silver Foxes claimed a 2-1 victory in the best-of-3 series, but the heartbroken Bengals hit the weight room and the practice fields in the offseason, ready to push their way toward the elusive state championship.

The team breezed through the preseason and was 5-1 with its only loss to Mauldin in a game played at Fluor Field in Greenville March 14. The next day, Gov. Henry McMaster, ordered all schools closed until March 31. On Wednesday, that order was renewed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 year.

“It just sort of hit us really quick. We didn’t really see it coming,” Blythewood head coach Banks Faulkner said. “I could see where we might be headed (a temporary school cancellation). We would be playing our best ball right now going into the stretch run of the season. We were starting to get better offensively and had a lot of potential on the mound, but unfortunately that isn’t what happened.”

Faulkner agreed that the precaution was warranted, as the novel coronavirus has no cure, spreads easily, and infected persons range from coughing and chest congestion to pneumonia and ultimately death. Post-infection issues can range from joint aches to decreased lung function, and no one knows yet if the virus can alter child development after it has infected them.

“There are a lot more questions than answers right now,” he said of the pandemic. “We just don’t know what can happen.”

The Bengals have eight seniors on the team, Landon Lucas, Colton Harman, Jake Ladd, Brady Beasley, Jansen Stokes, Michael Gregory, Colin Jones, and Muluken Hass. All eight either started or had significant playing time in 2019 and were going to be a solid anchor for a team driven to going all the way in 2020.

Lucas, a pitcher and infielder for the Bengals, signed to play for Clemson this fall.

“Landon is the best two-way player I’ve coached in my 17 years,” Faulkner tweeted in his appreciation. “He is an incredibly gifted player who has an opportunity to play baseball for a long time. I am very proud of his maturation. He has become a team-first and complete baseball player.”

Ladd has signed to play for USC-Sumter. Harman and Beasley are set to attend USC, and Hass will attend Winthrop. Jones is set to attend The Citadel and may walk on with the team. Gregory and Stokes are undecided as of yet but Faulkner said Gregory is leaning to play for USC-Sumter, and Stokes may find a good fit at North Greenville.

“Colton is a perfect example of a patient player,” Faulkner said. “He didn’t play a ton last year, but he’s a really good athlete and really developed as a player. He got off to a good start this year and he would have been a kid who had some opportunities to play, and that’s what you hate about this, he didn’t get to play this thing out.

“Colin’s been really patient,” Faulkner continued. “He’s such a good leader and he was going to have a good year. I feel bad for all of them though. I think they were all going to have good years and that’s hard. There’s nothing fair about it.”

For the time being, the team is practicing off the field, whether in backyards or garages, to observe the social distance, just like any other team that is off the field.

“We’ve been doing some workouts as far as just trying to keep our bodies in shape more than anything,” Faulkner said. “It’s a consistency challenge. I don’t care how well you set it up, it’s a lot different from being face-to-face.”

Faulkner said he’s glad his kids are separated and protecting themselves from exposure to the coronavirus, but he knows that in the long run, he doesn’t know how his team will fare.

“Every kid in the program has lost a year in development. That’s obviously a concern the longer this continues to drag on,” he said. “When or if we get back together in the fall it’ll be a little different. We’re going to have to make up for lost time.”

While the Bengals’ state championship hopes were dashed this year, Faulkner said he has to remain positive about his team. He added that it’s easy to do when he really looks at the players on the rise.

Underclassmen Camden Watts, Ben Blackwell, Zac Cowen, Davis Wright, and Kevin Steelman will build upon their experience in 2019 and put it to good use in the 2021 baseball season.

“They’ve been in big games and we can build around them,” Faulkner said. “The challenge is going to be figuring out our offense. We’re losing a big part of the team offensively and we’re going to be working on that part. We’re losing a lot of leadership, but we’ve got sophomores and juniors with potential.”

#1 – Brandon Hucks, #2 – Colton Harman, #3 – Ty Dooley, #5 – Muluken Hass, #6 – Connor Weathers, #8 – Zac Cowan, #9 – Landon Lucas, #10 – Colin Jones, #11 – Brady Beasley, #12 – Michael Gregory, #13 – Alex Nevils, #14 – Watson Saunders, #16 – Jansen Stokes, #17 – Davis Wright, #18 – Caleb McCants, #19 – Khaleel El-Amin, #22 – Jake Ladd, #23 – Justin White, #24 – Kevin Steelman, #25 – Ryan Hunter, Camden Watts, Ben Blackwell, Stephen Spittler, Jacob Hardy