WOODHULL — At this time 12 months ago, the Ridgewood baseball squad was closing the book on a successful season and looking forward to this year's possibilities.
The Spartans' 2019 campaign ended with a 3-0 loss to LeRoy in the Class 1A Bloomington Sectional semifinals at Illinois Wesleyan University, but a strong returning nucleus fueled optimism for a potentially deeper playoff run this spring.
COVID-19 put the brakes on that optimism, bringing a stop to the 2020 season before it began and prematurely ending the prep careers of Ridgewood's four seniors. However, this year's group of seven juniors has the Spartans primed for more postseason success 12 months from now.
"We had four seniors who were a big part of last year's team, and two of them, Cade Franks and Michael Wiley, were going to head up our pitching staff this year," said Ridgewood coach Seth Spivey, whose program will also say goodbye to seniors Weston Brown (utility) and Kaiden Vinavinch (outfield), with the former coming off a season in which he stole 25 bases.
"But, we've got a strong class of seven juniors, and there's definitely some pieces there; they got a lot of experience being a part of last year's squad."
Among the top players that will be back for their senior season are the All-Lincoln Trail Conference middle-infield duo of Mitchell Brooks and Ganon Greenman, with the former also looking to pick up more innings on the mound and the latter set to transition to catcher next spring. Pitcher/outfielder Jarrett Lund is another player Spivey is counting on to be a key contributor moving forward.
All played key roles in 2019, helping the Spartans to a 25-7 record, including a 14-2 mark to win the LTC championship, as well as their first regional-title plaque in five years.
"The biggest thing for us this year is that we would have more of a committee approach with our pitching staff, with four to six guys getting an equal amount of innings," said Spivey. "We would have been a more balanced team, with more flexibility and a lot of guys doing good things."
Spivey feels that can still be the case next year, although replacing the innings Franks and Wiley would have put up will be key. For him, he feels this lost season will give his returning veterans extra incentive.
"I think the biggest thing for everyone, and we were talking about this at our last couple of practices before the shutdown, is to not take anything for granted," he said. "Nothing is promised. When they get back at it, I hope they relish the opportunity and try to make the most of it.
"Sometimes things happen that are beyond anybody's control, regardless of their talent or their opportunities."
Like all coaches in all sports, seeing his senior players lose their final season is a bitter pill for Spivey to swallow.
"I can't imagine being in their shoes. Being a senior, in general, is such a fun time," he stated. "All of our seniors are outstanding kids, and I feel terrible about the things they've been robbed of. But they way they've handled it, and continued to be positive, it's been incredible."
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