The 2020 high school baseball team was to be a big year for Man High School.
The Hillbillies, coming off a successful 15-9-1 campaign from a year ago, were chomping at the bit back in March.
With a talented and deep team coming back, a blend of senior and veteran talent along with a young crop of promising incoming freshmen, Man was looking to make its move this spring.
It would be the last season for Man as a Double-A school. With the WVSSAC’s recent round of realignment all set to go, Man would be going back to Class A status in 2021.
But all that optimism came crashing down with things that were beyond anyone’s control.
First, the school year and baseball season was put on hold due to the nationwide COVID-19 crisis.
Then, the WVSSAC closed down the entire season before it was able to get started.
It was a big blow to the Billies, which were looking to have a big spring.
“It will always been known as the season of could-have-beens or the season of what ifs,” said Man’s fourth-year baseball coach Mike Crosby. “It’s pretty heart-breaking.This is definitely nothing that I’ve ever been through. Our seniors are devastated.”
Crosby said his Man team had the potential to be the best Billies have fielded since 2014 and 2015. The Billies’ 2014 team, under former coach Larry Vance, captured the Class A state championship. The following year’s team made it all the way to the Single-A state finals before falling and closing out the season as the state runner-ups.
Crosby said this year’s Man team had plenty of strengths and it’s sad the team was never able to take to the diamond.
“We had everything this year,” he said. “We had speed, power and pitching. On paper, we had was appeared to be a complete ball team for the first time since I’ve been at Man. We’ve had some really good players but this was across the board. I did not see us being weak at any position.”
Man had steadily improved in recent years, always having a young ball club.
“The last several years we had a very young ball club,” Crosby said. “You always knew that the future was going to be bright at every spot with depth but they were still young and still developing. We had a very good off-season. These guys really took the initiative to work hard during the off-season going into this spring. They knew from the previous few years that this was going to be the year that they felt that they could do something.”
Had the Billies played this year, Crosby was looking for leadership from is six-member senior class.
Brothers Sam Milton and Caleb Milton and Zach Frye, three of those seniors, were expected to start in Man’s outfield.
“My whole outfield was seniors,” Crosby said. “Essentially, I had a quarterback, a wide receiver and a tailback in the outfield. Caleb Milton would have been playing out there with his brother Sam Milton. Zach Frye, who played tailback on the football team, would have been the third outfielder. That’s what we were looking at from the early stages of practice until we were called off. Those guys were definitely leading the pack.”
Man’s other three seniors are Dylan McCormick, Jacob Frazier and Gary Plumley.
All three players have signed on to play at the next level — McCormick and Frazier with the Alice Lloyd College baseball program and Plumley with the Fairmont State University wrestling team.
“Dylan McCormick would have been our catcher this year,” Crosby said. “He’s a very good hitter and he had signed with Alice Lloyd College. Jacob Frazier, a middle infielder, is mainly a second baseman, but he would have played shortstop when Caleb Blevins pitched. He signed with Alice Lloyd also. Our sixth senior is Gary Plumley, who is a second baseman. He was also going to play some outfield. He’s going on to play at Fairmont State to wrestle.”
Heading into the season, Man had a lot of optimism.
The Billies went 1-2 in last year’s Class AA Region 4 Section 2 tournament, losing to Lincoln County (5-1), beating Mingo Central (5-3) and then falling to Logan (7-0) to get ousted from the post-season.
This was to be Man’s last go-round in the Class AA sectional, which also includes Scott and Chapmanville. Scott won last year’s sectional and went on to play in the state tournament.
With the talent in hand, Man was expected to challenge for this year’s sectional championship and possibly make another state tourney run.
“We were very happy going into the first day of practice,” Crosby said. “After the first week of practice we had some surprises that we thought would have been bonuses for our team. We were super excited about this team this year.”
Crosby said he’s especially disappointed for his senior sextet which started out as freshman back in 2017 when he took over as head coach.
“All of these boys started with me,” Crosby said.
Crosby said this year’s freshmen players would have made an impact as well.
“Some of the freshmen that I had this year are also very talented, guys like Drake Veres, Jace Adkins, Caden Dickerson, who were on the Man team that went deep into the Little League state tournament a year or two before that,” he said.
Man’s preseason attitude was very good, according to Crosby. His Billies were ready to go before everything got shut down.
“The most heartbreaking about all of this was that we had a team that had the right attitude and we had a team that had the right atmosphere,” Crosby said. “Everything was fun and they still put the work in. I had no complaints whatsoever. We had the camaraderie among these guys that was second to none. Having all of the talent that I had coming back I just hope that the younger guys saw enough of a glimpse of it that it will continue to carry over. “We had guys like Ryan Cozart, Josh Lambert, Caleb Blevins, Brady Hall, the list just goes on and on. They gelled with the seniors so well and the seniors were ready to steer the ship.”