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Etta Express disappointed season cut short

Under normal circumstances, the Marietta College baseball team would have played its home opener Wednesday on the brand new playing surface at Don and Sue Schaly Field at Pioneer Park.

COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, has made for not so normal circumstances as the Etta Express had its season cut short, as did every collegiate athletic program in the country, due to the pandemic.

The Pioneers were off to a hot start in the 2020 campaign, sporting a 9-3 record and a No. 18 Division III national ranking. Midweek of last week, toward the end of their Snowbird Classic spring trip in Port Charlotte, Fla., the players and coaches learned that their seasons would soon be taken from them.

“There was obviously some disappointment involved, and it was pretty emotional,” said veteran Marietta skipper Brian Brewer, whose squad was allowed to finish its spring trip. “I think we learned about midweek, and over the course of that day or two-day span, we agreed to proceed with the remainder of the week as scheduled. The guys did a great job of taking the approach of, with only three or four days left, to make the most of it and enjoy it as much as possible.”

The news clearly shook the program, which won nine of its first 10 games before dropping the final two contests of the trip. The season ended with an 11-2 loss to Susquehanna.

“The closer we got to Sunday, the more reality set in,” Brewer said. “I don’t know if it weighed on us, but it certainly affected the guys a little bit. They did a great job of rallying around each other.”

Affected most by the news were the team’s two seniors, catcher Brady Cottom and outfielder Seamus Keneally, who weren’t sure if this meant the end of their careers.

“It was actually really tough,” Cottom said. “It all happened on our off day, so we were kind of spread out, with our families at the beach or eating or doing whatever. We thought something was going to happen because everything else had kind of been suspended, but at most a two-week suspension and then reevaluate or something. When they said it was canceled, it was kind of like, ‘Oh wow, it’s really done. That’s it.’ There’s not really words to describe it. It’s just like this empty feeling where you don’t know what to do. It’s just like, ‘How did this happen?'”

On playing the last couple games of the season, Cottom said “It was almost like you know you’re about to get fired from a job, and they’re like ‘Keep coming to work for three days.’ But it was a little different, because we all love each other like brothers out there. It was almost like, ‘We just gotta go have fun.’ It wasn’t so much about winning or losing, it was just getting the opportunity to play.”

It also gave the team some closure as opposed to the abrupt end that college basketball teams around the country had to deal with.

“It was certainly helpful and we’re appreciative of (Marietta College) President (Bill) Ruud and his administration group to allow us to do that,” Brewer said. “It gave us a chance to have a senior day and recognize those players and their families.

After spring sports were canceled, the NCAA announced it would grant athletes an extra year of eligibility. It’s not as simple as just showing up on campus, though. There’s a lot that goes into it financially and academically, but Cottom said he’s going to try to make it work.

“It is doable,” said Cottom, who currently is taking online courses at his family’s home in Matthews, N.C. “I want to keep playing. I’ve had some exchange of emails with the AD Larry Hiser, the SID (Jeff Schaly), coach Brewer and one of the professors. I’ve got a couple different options. I think it’s going to happen.”

“We’re going to do everything we can to help them,” Brewer added.

Cottom and Brewer both agreed the future is bright for the program. After a less than stellar 2019 season, the Pioneers appeared to be righting the ship this spring.

“It was just special,” Cottom said. “You could tell right away after that first weekend in Baltimore.”

While big things may have been ahead for the Etta Express, Brewer isn’t viewing this season as a lost opportunity.

“I choose to look at it in a more positive perspective,” he said. “Coming off the year we had last year, playing as well as we did this year is very encouraging. Our biggest goal was to start gaining some confidence. Despite the fact that it was an incredibly short window, I think the confidence is there and we’re at a point where we’ll continue to move forward in the direction of competing for a national championship.”

One thing Brewer regrets is not getting to honor the people who contributed to the field upgrades. That originally was scheduled to take place on Saturday, March 28, before the team’s double-header against Capital.

“We’re not going to have the opportunity to move forward with the dedication and recognize the people who made out recent upgrades possible,” Brewer said. “I’m looking forward to rescheduling that and giving them a first class thank you. We appreciate the way the NCAA, Marietta College and our leadership on campus, how great they’ve been handling this and how supportive they’ve been of our student athletes.”

Added Cottom, “There’s so many people who truly care about the program. To not be able to recognize them for what they’re doing — the new field makes such a huge difference for us, getting there earlier, playing in the rain and all the things that come with having a turf field.

“I didn’t even realize when everything first got canceled that we hadn’t played a game on it yet. One of the guys mentioned it to me and it hit me like, ‘Oh wow, that’s right.'”

Despite how things have transpired, Brewer believes the program will come out on the other end of it stronger.

“It’s tough, but there are bigger things and more important things going on outside of playing games, so we have a pretty good perspective on it,” he said. “Our focus as a program and institution is to do what we have to do to get beyond this.”

Jordan Holland can be reached at jholland@mariettatimes.com.

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