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MLC spring coaches respond to shortened season

NEW ULM — Martin Luther College baseball coach Randy Cox was encouraged after a Florida trip that saw his team go 2-6 and lose a couple of close games in early March.

The Knights had seven seniors and an impressive pitching staff armed for the upcoming season and they were ready to make a run for the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference playoffs.

However, the NCAA ended the spring season in late March, leaving the coaching staff and the six seniors wondering ‘what if?’.

“I told the guys there’s no doubt in my mind that we could’ve competed for a spot in the conference season, and I truly believe that knowing what the other schools had coming back,” Cox said. “You never know, you gotta play the games obviously, but what we’ve had, our defense was solid and our offense, we hit the ball well and we ran the bases. We had seven seniors and of the seven, five were four-year starters.

“Our record was deceiving, we went 2-6, but we lost three games by two or less runs, so it was a good outing,” Cox said. “Our strength this year was our pitching, four pitchers threw complete games and two of them got wins.”

MLC softball coach Matt Pearson was also encouraged by his team’s spring trip in Florida, which went from March 6-9 and the Knights went 4-6 down there.

“I think we were going to have a pretty good team this year, our bats were red-hot down in Florida, we had a ton of home runs and our batting average was strong,” Pearson said. “We were looking forward to the season, it was definitely a heart-breaker for the seniors in their last year.”

Once the news hit of the cancelation hit on March 30, Pearson and Cox, were stunned.

“That was crazy, if I remember right, we took our trip down to Fort Meyers, Florida and then we came back on Tuesday, March 10,” Pearson said. “By Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, things escalated so quickly with the Coronavirus so quickly with the schools and businesses and the governors making big-time decisions trying to be safe. Word was that we were doing distance learning and that our season would be temporarily suspended.

“I remember texting the group telling them that I had bad news regarding a pause on the season and best case scenario is we come back after Easter and we are back in the classroom with our academics and back on the softball field playing with probably an abbreviated or modified season, probably just focusing on the UMAC [Upper Midwest Athletic Conference] games,” Pearson said.

Cox was watching TV when he saw the beginnings of what was to come.

“We got back on March 10 and on Friday, March 13, I was eating lunch and I had ESPN on and I came across that NCAA Division 1 has canceled baseball,” Cox said. “I got the word that day that it trickled right down to DII and DIII, but as soon as I heard DI canceled, I knew right away. Of all the sports, with social distancing, I think baseball could be played. With the fans and players there are some unique occurences that can occur, but I was surprised that they pulled the plug that quick. It was disappointing, frustration, it’s heartbreaking really.”

But looking back, he knows the NCAA made the right decision.

“Definitely, to a point, because there a lot of uncertainties and unknowns with the virus,” Cox said. “Then we were hoping for a restart of the season, but that’s not going to happen.”

Once the season was canceled, both coaches had meetings online with their players.

“Communicating with them, some of them are working out and I have a Zoom meeting coming up and I sent out a letter to the team,” Cox said. “Right now, they’re focusing on finishing up with some of the classes. I’ve been texting some of the guys and they’re limited with what they can do, too. They can do work at home and they can do some throwing at home with brothers or relatives.”

“The coaches meet and and a week and a half ago, we finished up with our coach-player meetings and we did that online with the Google Meet,” Pearson said. “We just had each player check in for 20 minutes, the coaches like to be good listeners, we pride ourselves in our unity and our team-first attitude. We checked in with everyone and gave some underclassmen some encouragement going into the offseason, going into the next season.

“It just gave us a chance to aknowledge our seniors and thank them for their dedication and commitment to our program and for what they’ve done to help Knights softball,” Pearson said.

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