Southern Lee baseball coach David Lee knew from the end of last season that the 2020 Cavaliers had a chance to be special.

With 10 seniors returning from a third-round playoff team in 2019, the Cavaliers were in the conversation among the top 3A teams in the state. An offseason of hard work only solidified that sentiment.

The season got off to a strong start, with the team giving up just two unearned runs in convincing wins over three conference opponents — Western Harnett, Triton and Harnett Central.

Then, like much of life all over the world, the season came to a screeching halt. The COVID-19 Coronavirus crisis put the Cavs’ dreams of the school’s first state championship as well as the school year on ice, and in jeopardy of total cancellation.

“In 24 years of baseball at the high school and college level, this is the hardest working group of players I’ve ever had,” Coach Lee said on March 26. “It’s disappointing to say the least.”

Thomas Harrington, the team’s senior shortstop and pitcher who has signed to play next year at Campbell University, said the news that the season was on hold was a shock to all his teammates.

“We worked so hard this winter,” Harrington said. “We knew this year we had a chance to be special.”

His coach tempered the state title talk by saying it’s a tough feat to accomplish. But even he admits it was in his team’s sights.

“I would be lying if I said we never discussed (a state title),” Lee said. “That was certainly one of our goals, and I feel we had a not unrealistic chance to win it.”

Along with Harrington, three other senior Cavaliers plan to play in college. Luke Craig is headed to UNC-Wilmington, Caleb Cross will play for UNC-Asheville and Drew Bryan plans to play for the University of Chicago. Sophomore Brad Gregory has also verbally committed to play at North Carolina.

“We have great senior leadership,” Harrington said. “We have tons of pitching and our bats were coming around. We were built to make a run.”

“Our seniors were truly looking forward to just being together one more year,” Lee said.

Senior first baseman Carson Grant has a different take than some of his teammates. He said he may have played his last baseball game and didn’t even realize it.

“I’m not going to play in college,” he said. “I don’t want my career to end like that.”

“It’s guys like Carson that we really want to get back and play for,” Harrington added. “You only get a limited time to play this game. We don’t want it to end for him like that.”

The season has not totally been called off yet. The NCHSAA, which sanctions high school sports here, has left the door open, even though schools have been closed through May 15. For now, the Cavalier seniors are hanging out, waiting for the call to play ball again.

“We have a lot more free time now,” Cross joked.

“We try to read everything we can,” Harrington said. We watch (Gov.) Cooper’s press conferences and everything. We’re just trying to have hope.”

Lee said speculation among those he talks to in high school sports is that if a season occurs, it will be an abbreviated one. He’s holding out hope.

“It’s a disappointing set of circumstances,” Lee said, “but the season is not over yet. They haven’t canceled anything yet. Anything can happen.”

Statement from NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker on the suspension of high school sports:

“Having heard the updated information relative to schools remaining closed until the middle of May, NCHSAA interscholastic athletics will remain suspended until at least May 18. 

“The NCHSAA Board of Directors and staff will use the next few weeks to weigh our future decisions based on the new directions given by Governor Cooper, other government leaders, and organizations charged with public health and safety during this unprecedented time.  Such decisions will include the possible resumption of spring sports’ competition and the possibility of holding the state basketball championships.

“While we remain hopeful that we will be able to resume competition, particularly for our senior student-athletes, we also recognize the need to protect the health and safety of our students, coaches and the communities we serve.

— Jonathan Owens