BARNESVILLE, GA – After a 1-4 start to the 2020 season, the Gordon State College baseball team didn't flinch.
Instead, this edition of Highlanders' Baseball kept its collective nose to the grindstone and reeled off five straight wins and then 10 of its next 11 to surge to a 16-5 record after a doubleheader sweep of the Oglethorpe University junior varsity on March 10.
But then it happened.
Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) began to make headlines around the world, including the Gordon State College campus.
So when a scheduled doubleheader at LaGrange College on March 11 was cancelled, it was the beginning of the end to the 2020 baseball season and, for that matter, the end of all intercollegiate athletics at GSC and throughout the nation.
But while we will look back on the 2020 season as one of what could've been, we can highlight what did take place in the 21 games that were played – both from a team standpoint as well as some of the individual accomplishments.
It was also be a season that interim head coach Justin Huff will never forget, considering it was his first year at the helm for the GSC Baseball program after serving for three seasons as an assistant coach for the Highlanders.
"I thought it would be a season I'd never forget because of many firsts in my career," Huff said. "However, it turns out this season and time will always be remembered everywhere for the unique situations created by the great pandemic of 2020. The team was definitely disappointed that we could not pursue the many goals we had in our sights, however, the cancellation provided us an opportunity to reflect on the things that matter most."
After a season-opening 13-1 home win over Central Alabama Community College on February 1, the first career win for Huff, GSC dropped the next four games to fall to 1-4. That included two losses in Panama City, Fla., to St. Johns River State College (Fla.) and Gulf Coast State College (Fla.).
But GSC regrouped to take the final game of the weekend in Panama City as the Highlanders pulled out a 5-4 14-inning win over No. 11 Chattahoochee Valley Community College (Ala.).
That win seemed to kick start GSC as the Highlanders swept Cleveland State Community College (Tenn.) 12-5 and 14-2 in a doubleheader six days later, then headed back to the west coast of Florida where they defeated No. 26 Dyersburg State Community College (Tenn.) 9-4 and Columbia State Community College (Tenn.) 5-3.
After a 5-0 loss to No. 5 Wabash Valley College (Ill.), GSC wrapped up the trip to Mariana, Fla., as the Highlanders knocked off No. 1 Chipola College (Fla.) 6-4, which ultimately was the beginning of a 10-game winning streak.
But no one knew at the time that those 10 wins would be the final games of the season.
After the 14-2, 12-1 sweep of Oglethorpe, the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association (GCAA) came down with the decision to suspend all athletics activity from March 13-30. Then the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) extended the suspension to April 3 before eventually cancelling all remaining intercollegiate athletic activities in the spring season.
"The 2020 team seemed to be finding its identity and playing quality baseball in all phases of the game just in time for conference play," Huff said. "We faced adversity early and found ways to overcome. We won games in a lot of different ways and that's what I like to see as a coach. We didn't have to rely on just one phase of the game to always carry the weight. The players started to buy into and thrive in their respective roles."
So let's take a look back at what the Highlanders did achieve in 2020:
- 16-5 record, including a 10-game win streak to finish the season
- 9-0 home record
- 5-2 record vs. NJCAA ranked opponents
- Career win No. 1 for head coach Justin Huff – a 13-1 victory over Central Alabama Community College on Feb. 1
- Averaged 7.5 runs-per-game
- Pair of walk-off wins over Lincoln Trail College (Ill.) and Chattahoochee Valley Community College (Ala.) on consecutive days (7-6 over LTC on Feb. 28 and 6-5 over CVCC on Feb. 29) with the winning hit coming from sophomore shortstop Gavin Patel (Moultrie, Ga. / Colquitt Co. HS) each game.
- Ranked 19th in the NJCAA with a team earned-run average of 3.12
- Sophomore left fielder Derek Wylie (Warner Robins, Ga. / Veterans HS) finished tied for 20th in the NJCAA with 29 runs batted in
- Wylie ranked 23rd in home runs in the NJCAA with six
- Sophomore shortstop Jesse Sherrill (Pensacola, Fla. / Tate HS) ranked 27th in the NJCAA with 14 stolen bases
- Sherrill led all Highlanders with a .405 batting average (32 hits), had a team-best on-base percentage of .466 and scored a team-high 28 runs
- Sophomore right fielder Cole Phillips (Trion, Ga. / Trion HS) led GSC with nine doubles and slugged a team-high .684
- Sophomore right-hander Cory Newsome (Moultrie, Ga. / Colquitt Co. HS) led the GSC pitching staff with four wins while striking out 19 and walking just four
- Four GSC pitchers struck out 20 or more batters, including a team-high 27 by freshman right-hander Thomas Ross (Watkinsville, Ga. / Prince Avenue Christian)
- GSC pitchers combined to average nearly 11 strikeouts-per-game (190 in 21 games)
"This team exhibited what being a Highlander is all about," Director of Athletics Steve Argo said. "They didn't get down after a slow start and started winning games in a lot of different ways with a variety of heroes each day. That's what I enjoyed the most. If you ever wanted to put the 'team' label on any group, this 2020 GSC baseball squad would get the honor. I think we'll be able to look back one day and recognize this group of guys as something special."
The Gordon State College Department of Athletics is a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) and Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association (GCAA). Gordon State College competes in NJCAA Division I in the sports of Women's Soccer (Fall), Men's Basketball (Fall/Spring), Softball (Spring) and Baseball (Spring). Gordon State College is located in Barnesville, Ga., approximately 60 miles south of Atlanta and 35 miles northwest of Macon. Gordon State College offers both two-year and four-year degree programs and believes that our Athletics program provides student-athletes with the opportunity to be successful academically, athletically and in life after their time as a Highlander. Follow GSC Athletics at www.gscathletics.com, on Facebook (@GordonStateCollege #GSCHighlandersForward), on Twitter (@GordonState) and Instagram (gordon_state).