By John R. Schirmer
The Nashville Scrapper baseball season was off to a good start back in March.
Pre-season polls had picked the Scrappers to pull a four-peat by winning the Class 4A state baseball championship.
Community donors had provided artificial turf on the infield at Wilson Park.
The Scrappers came from behind in the season opener to defeat Magnet Cove and hand Coach Kyle Slayton his 500th career win.
Nashville won the Ralph Gross Memorial Tournament at Wilson Park.
The Scrappers were 6-0 heading into a tournament in Shreveport, including a conference victory over Malvern.
They didn’t fare as well in the tournament, falling to teams from Louisiana and Texas, but the rest of the season was waiting.
Things came to a screeching halt March 15 when Gov. Asa Hutchinson closed all public schools in Arkansas from March 17-30 because of the coronavirus outbreak worldwide.
The Arkansas Activities Association suspended all athletic events and practices during the closure.
Eventually, schools were closed to on-site instruction the remainder
of the academic year, and all sports activities were cancelled.
The Scrapper baseball season was over after 10 games.
“It was disappointing,” Slayton said. “I really hate it for those four seniors,” including Luke McBride, Cade McBride, Ryan Brown and Aaron Lott.
“There’s nothing we can do about it,” Slayton said. “We definitely won’t forget this 2020 class. They’ll go down in history.”
The McBride twins and Lott will move on to college baseball. All three signed with Northeast Texas Community College in Mt. Pleasant.
Brown was “expecting to play a bunch his senior year,” Slayton said.
Still, the Scrappers “were fortunate with only four seniors,” according to Slayton. Valley View had 15, Shiloh Christian 12 and Joe T. Robinson around 10.
After winning the state championship in 2017, 2018 and 2019, the Scrappers “had the make-up to make a run at number four,” Slayton said. “It would take some luck at the end of the season. Those other three teams were going to be really good.”
Nashville “played pretty well the first six games,” according to Slayton. “Then we went to Shreveport and got our heads beaten in. We looked tired. Our guys had played nine games in 10 days.”
Slayton said he wouldn’t have tried to play four games in three days in Shreveport, “but we felt like something was going to happen” with coronavirus closures and wanted to get the games in. “We were lucky to get there,” according to Slayton, because out-of-state travel was cancelled for Arkansas schools when the closure was announced.
“The kids like to go to the tournament,” Slayton said. “They get a T-shirt. The tournament fed us.”
Organizers offer three straight weekends of tournaments in March, according to Slayton. Nashville will go a week later next season and likely will play three games before spring break begins.
Slayton is also looking at returning to a tournament in Pittsburg, Texas, where the Scrappers have competed in past seasons.
Even though Scrappers played only 10 games, Slayton said there were a number of highlights. “The way Lott started was one of them. He was the Ralph Gross MVP. He was hitting .520 in eight games. He started off on fire.”
Lott missed two Shreveport games with an injury. “You realize how good he is” when he’s not in the lineup.
Underclassmen were turning in solid performances, Slayton said. “Will Pope was really good on the mound. He also hit a couple of home runs. He was on the verge of a big year. Cade and Luke were going to make a big difference on the mound.”
Defense and pitching were the Scrappers’ strength, according to Slayton, with underclassmen playing a big role.
“We have a lot coming back” next season, losing four seniors off a 25-man roster.
“The ninth graders will be a good bunch,” Slayton said, “and we’ll be senior-heavy next year.
“It will be a good mix” with returning starters and back-ups who logged playing time during the season. “We have a good nucleus coming back. That could be an advantage,” Slayton said.
Playing on turf was a big highlight, according to Slayton. “It was a game changer. When the game is over, we go home after picking up the dugouts. During the tournament, we weren’t getting the field ready for the next game. It would have been good in post-season. It lets you focus on ball a little more.”
Slayton said he “couldn’t thank the sponsors enough” for providing Wilson Park’s turf.
Picking up his 500th coaching win was another highlight for Slayton. “It was definitely a reflection of the teams and kids in the last 23 years.”
The milestone “came on opening day at our place, and we came from behind,” Slayton noted.
Sitting in his assistant principal’s office at Nashville Junior High School Tuesday morning, Slayton noted that the regular season would be wrapping up this week if things had gone as planned.
The Scrappers would be getting ready to host the Class 4A South Regional coming up late next week. From there, players and fans hoped, Nashville would move on to state at Morrilton.
“I wish we were playing today,” Slayton said.