All high school athletes hope for a special senior year, the culmination of four years of practicing, training and competing ideally leads to some great memories before the next chapter begins.
But for this year’s spring sports athletes, the memories will be of seasons suspended and, days later, schools shuttered.
The impact is even greater on Pahrump Valley High School’s two baseball seniors, Cyle Havel and Chase McDaniel. Unlike many other players, Havel and McDaniel do not play other sports for the Trojans and do not have a senior football season or a senior wrestling season to remember.
They’re baseball players. And that made learning the season might be over within hours of it starting difficult to take.
But that’s what Pahrump Valley baseball coach Brian Hayes had to tell them during the Route 66 Baseball Classic, played last weekend in Needles, California, and Mohave Valley, Arizona.
“We found out after the first game got rained out,” McDaniel said Saturday before the Trojans played the last of four games in the event at Arizona’s River Valley High School. “We played like two-and-a-third innings, and he told us when we got on the bus.”
“It was right after our first game on Thursday,” Havel added. “We just got rained out. Me and Chase were in the back and we didn’t really know how to feel about it, knowing our senior season was going to end so shortly.”
It was almost heartbreaking for Hayes, who knows well what these two players have meant for his program.
“We have two seniors who have worked really hard, and they’re not just two seniors but guys who have kind of built our program,” Hayes said. “They’re in their year, and you tell them you’re not sure if you’re going to be able to play your senior year. It’s tough for us to tell them, and it’s tough to watch the reaction from them.”
Hayes is not overstating the impact his seniors have had. McDaniel is a career .409 hitter with a .532 slugging percentage. As a junior, he led the team in hitting (.487), shared the team lead in runs (46) and doubles (13) and was second in RBIs (31). Havel started 9 games as a junior, going 6-2 with a 2.51 ERA and 2 shutouts. He struck out 49 while walking 17 while scoring 23 runs and driving in 22.
Both players were off to good starts this season, with Havel hitting 2 doubles and driving in 6 runs and McDaniel belting 3 triples and a double while driving in 8 runs as the Trojans won three out of four.
Not that it was easy to put thoughts of the season ending so quickly out of their heads while on the field.
“You’ve got to try,” McDaniel said. “It definitely has affected how we’ve been playing. You’ve got to get it our of your head and stop worrying about what they’re going to do and just worry about what you can control. That’s hard to do.”
“You can see them pressing,” Hayes said. “You can see Chase pressing.”
Despite graduating eight seniors from last year’s 26-10 team, this was supposed to be a good year for Pahrump Valley baseball, and the expectations were not far from anyone’s head.
“At the plate you’re just thinking this could be the last at-bat of my high school season,” McDaniel said. “It’s just hard, because we just can’t get it out of our heads but we have to in order to play well. It’s just a tough situation to be in.”
“This year was kind of hyped up,” Havel said. “We’re going to be a really good team. Hopefully, everything goes well and we’ll be able to play again.”
Havel showed how much he wants to play during the opening weekend.
“Cyle took a foul ball to the head, and normally we would keep him out,” Hayes recalled. “We’re having our meeting after the game, and it looks like he’s going to pass out from a concussion. … His parents took him and they couldn’t get him to a doctor. He’s out here today, and normally we’d be like, no, dude, we don’t want you to risk anything. But this might be it.
“I can’t tell a senior kid who wants to play, sorry I’m keeping you out for precautionary reasons. We’re just having somebody play defense for him and letting him hit. He’s asking if he can pitch again because the game he pitched got rained out.”
For the record, the answer was no.
Meanwhile, for McDaniel, as tough as losing his senior year of baseball is, there is an extra twist that makes potentially missing the rest of the season that much harder on him.
“The McDaniel brothers, who have grown up together, played travel ball together, and now they’re at the high school season,” assistant coach Drew Middleton said. “Chase is a senior and Kyle is a freshman, and they get to play together, and that might be cut short. It’s a tough pill to swallow.”
“Actually that’s probably the hardest part for me,” McDaniel admitted. “I was really looking forward to that.”
As was Kyle.
“Yeah, it definitely hurt because this season has been hyped up, me and him getting to play the middle,” the younger McDaniel said. “And we don’t get to do that any more.
“We’ve always played together, and it just (stinks) that we’re not going to be able to play together on the same field, because I feel like we’d be really good.”
That doesn’t mean the players don’t understand the potential gravity of the situation.
“It’s obviously to stop the spread of it, but from the emotional side of it it doesn’t really make sense,” McDaniel said. “We’re younger kids; we’re not going to die from it. It’s more for the older adults, I would imagine.”
Of course, it was older adults who made the decisions, first to stop sports locally, then statewide, then to close schools and then to close all “non-essential” businesses. But understanding doesn’t make it easier to accept, and all they can do now is hope the crisis passes before the time to have any kind of a season dries up.
“It was kind of devastating, but right now we have the mindset that they will bring it back on,” Chase McDaniel said. “It’s hard. If they don’t bring it back, this is our last game, right now. It’s kind of hard to handle that.”
“Out of every season to have this happen, spring is probably the worst,” Havel said. “But there’s nothing any of us can do about it except hope for the best.
“I’ve been playing baseball for as long as I can remember with Chase, and going out with him as the only two seniors would have been cool, but it doesn’t look that way.”
As for Hayes, the two Saturday games being one-sided routs didn’t help.
“My seniors are losing their year for precautionary reasons, and watching them play — and honestly we’re not seeing very high-level baseball here,” he said. “And this might be their senior season? It’s hard to swallow.”