Lansing baseball reached the semifinals of the Section IV Class C tournament last season and was looking to take the next step after graduating just two seniors, albeit impactful ones. They will, of course, not get that opportunity due to the cancellation of high school spring sports in New York as a result of COVID-19.
It was a 13-6 finish for the Bobcats last season, coming up just short of an IAC division title after falling to Waverly in a tiebreaker. Four players from that team were set to enter their final season this year, and the outlook from head coach Brett Hotchkiss was very positive.
“We were optimistic this year,” Hotchkiss said. “We graduated two seniors in Griffin Nelson and Garrett Bell, who had great levels of contribution for us last year. But we were certainly looking forward to the group we’re bringing back. [The four seniors were going to be] the ones to carry the load with the pitching and obviously have a pretty heavy contribution in those top slots offensively.”
It’s difficult to not think about what could have been, especially when a relatively young team made a deep run in the postseason last year. That experience could have been a difference-maker down the stretch this year.
“Outside of a couple guys, we brought back the vast majority of our team,” Hotchkiss said. “So, I think that experience was hopefully going to be something that really benefited us. We had to interchange some players throughout the season, so we were bringing back a lot of contributors.”
One of the more difficult parts of this process for Hotchkiss has been not being able to see the growth of his players continue this year.
“We had some guys poised to take some steps forward,” Hotchkiss said. “That’s probably the biggest thing. You miss a year like this, and the development of a lot of our kids definitely is going to go by the wayside.”
Fortunately, the team did have a few practices before the season was scrapped. Even more fortunate was that most were outside, which Hotchkiss said he had never experienced as a player or a coach at Lansing. Ultimately, they found out the news during a practice.
“We did have an opportunity to sit down,” Hotchkiss said. “We were able to address it as a group, and the JV team was working with us. So, there was a little bit of closure, at least for that period of time, not really knowing what the future held for us. It was good. We had a lot of guys who were optimistic and pretty upbeat.”
That positive attitude has been maintained as the team has been meeting virtually to keep that camaraderie that makes high school sports so special. The Bobcats have been taking part in weekly workouts and bi-weekly Zoom meetings as well as individual phone calls with coach Hotchkiss.
“The demeanor of the guys has been pretty good,” Hotchkiss said. “Clearly, them not having to go to school has definitely been a plus for a lot of them. You look at our juniors and when you get a chance to cash out on four or five Regents Exams, it’s kind of a matter of just doing your work and taking care of your business. It lightened the load for a lot of those guys. They’ve been pretty positive and upbeat. They’re chomping at the bit. They’re active kids, and they want to get back to doing things.”
Things are a bit different for the seniors, who don’t have that next season to look forward to. They have taken these circumstances in stride, though.
“[When you] talk about the seniors, I think we had a pretty realistic group,” Hotchkiss said. “When we walked out the door on that Friday - we have some pretty astute young men in that group - I think they realized they might be walking out the door for the last time without an opportunity to really do much. They’ve handled it pretty well.”
Hotchkiss added that he’s glad they’re able to focus on academics and expects some of the seniors to move on and play at Tompkins Cortland Community College to further their playing careers. He discussed three of the seniors who had already spent two years at the varsity level.
“A lot of them had a fairly big impact,” Hotchkiss said. “Over the course of their time, they contributed quite a bit. Anthony Ruquet, he’s been with us since he was a sophomore, he was a very big contributor on the mound for us. You had Nick Ciaschi, who played in the outfield and stepped into a role as a shortstop last year and through a series of injuries ended up as our catcher. Sean O’Callaghan, he contributed a little bit as a sophomore and definitely made some strides last year battling through injury.”
Their contributions to the team will be made off the field this year. Hotchkiss stated that they’ll write their legacies through what they’re able to pass on to the players that will have an opportunity to step on the diamond in a Lansing uniform in the future.
“In the beginning of this, they showed good leadership throughout the early parts of the year,” Hotchkiss said. “They finally cleared their way from a lot of the great players that we’d had and viewed it as their time to go ahead and assert themselves and kind of write their own chapter of the book here in Lansing baseball.”
It will certainly be an interesting chapter, but those seniors have left their mark even if they did not get to have one last run. Lansing baseball has featured many great players, and it’s challenging to not feel excited about when they’ll finally be able to step on the field again.