DOVER — Strawberry Crest baseball coach Eric Beattie and two of his pitchers, seniors Colby Fanning and Bryan Boully, stood on the Chargers’ field Thursday and recalled a date that remains etched in their minds: March 12, 2020.
“I remember it clearly,” Beattie said, " because it was quite a moment.”
That’s when Beattie answered his cell phone while standing in almost that exact spot. A school administrator told him that day’s practice was over and maybe the entire season. The country, the administrator said, had to take precautions against the coronavirus pandemic.
At the time, Strawberry Crest was 6-2 and had aspirations of returning to the Class 6A final four, a level the Chargers had reached the previous two seasons before falling in the state semifinals in 2018 and in the final in ’19, losing to Plant City 3-1.
“We were excited about our chances (for 2020), so it was more of a shock to hear the news that our season was ending,” said Fanning, who played on the 2018 and ’19 teams. “I really didn’t think our season was going to get shut down. It was really pretty sad, especially for the seniors on that team.”
Talented 2020 seniors included Tyson Hardin, Eli Garner, Brent May, Caleb Weaver and Austin Obergfell, players that Fanning and Boully were close to.
“They were a great group of seniors,” Boully said. “And they also had that experience of playing (deep into the state tournament). We were all ready for everything.”
Instead, what followed was a lot of down time and online learning (Fanning and Boully are eLearning), and trying to stay in some kind of shape individually.
There remained, however, an undercurrent of hope because the Chargers’ underclassmen from 2020 had tremendous potential.
“And once again (before the 2021 season), we felt good about our possibilities,” Beattie said. “We just keep working in whatever way we can every day.”
So far, so good.
Strawberry Crest is 8-1 and pumped up about playing in this week’s 40th annual Saladino Tournament, which like so many things was shut down last year because of the pandemic.
The Chargers are champing at the bit because they feel a sense of unfinished business. In recent years, they lost a few late-inning heartbreakers to get knocked out of the tournament, including a 4-3 loss to Durant in a 2019 quarterfinal.
This year, along with a strong pitching staff, Strawberry Crest features a strong lineup, including sophomores Arjun Nimmala (.480 average, 15 RBI, seven doubles) and Zach Redner (.375), in addition to Fanning (.485, 11 runs scored, five RBI).
The Chargers open this year’s tournament by hosting Newsome Saturday at 4 p.m.
Because of coronavirus concerns, the schedule is more spread out than in previous years, limited to no more than two games a day at any one site. The tournament is slated to last four days, ending Wednesday with a championship game at Brandon High.
“Once again we feel we have a chance,” Beattie said. “We are clicking right now.”