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Underclassmen recruiting will be hit hardest if baseball, softball seasons are gone

  • Harrisburg junior Noah Boon is one of many area spring sport athletes who could miss out on a season that is critical for college recruiting.

    Harrisburg junior Noah Boon is one of many area spring sport athletes who could miss out on a season that is critical for college recruiting.
    Spyder Dann photo

By Spyder Dann
updated: 4/1/2020 3:55 PM

To borrow from Stevie Wonder, most -- if not all -- high school seniors who are hoping to play baseball and softball in college are already "signed, sealed and delivered."

And while the potential loss of a spring season would be hurtful for seniors, those most affected are actually the underclassmen (juniors and some sophomores) who were counting on these next three months to solidify their spots on college radars.

When colleges first announced they were closing down for the semester, thus halting all spring collegiate sports, Du Quoin head baseball coach Kyle Geiger thought this could be good news for high school athletes. College coaches who normally don't have time during the season to check out high school talent would be free to make scouting trips.

Geiger said that in baseball, the recruiting process is basically one year ahead of the current year. High School juniors and sophomores usually get more looks than seniors, most of whom are already committed.

But, as the number of COVID-19 cases in Illinois continues to ramp up exponentially, schools here remain shut, and the window for college coaches to get a good look at players is closing.

"I am still optimistic about having a spring season," Geiger said. "But now with the postponement of schools and sports this is looking to be detrimental to potential college athletes. This not only impacts the high school senior, but just as much, the high school juniors and underclassmen."

Colleges and universities, Geiger said, are being allowed to give college seniors an additional semester of eligibility, to improve their chances of being drafted by the pros. Obviously, this is impossible at the high school level.

"I feel absolutely horrible for (them), but I also wish the health and safety of all who this virus has affected."

Junior Noah Boon led the Harrisburg Bulldogs in innings pitched last year at 64, and was 9-2 on the mound with a 1.203 ERA. Boon allowed 41 hits against 272 batters, and allowed 21 runs (11 earned) while striking out a team-high 80 and giving up only 26 walks.

He is among a handful of Bulldogs without a scholarship and was looking to this -- his junior year -- as his best opportunity to land some offers.

"It will affect my recruiting in a lot of ways," Boon said. "I had a couple coaches coming to watch me this spring. The (loss of) a spring season hurts not only my chances of getting a scholarship, but many of my teammates too."

The Harrisburg baseball team has great potential at a state run. The Bulldogs are coming off a 30-9 record in 2019, with regional and sectional championships. Moreover, the entire nucleus of Jay Thompson's baseball team is back, including seven seniors, six of which have already committed to play college ball next season.

That's the good news.

The bad news is for the nine juniors, four of whom are returning starters.

Harrisburg has a couple of players with offers from Lincoln Trail Community College, while Du Quoin has a junior currently committed to John A. Logan College.

"The recruiting process really takes off when you are a junior because that's when college coaches can start contacting you and you can go on visits," Boon added.

Prior to the season, Boon emailed college coaches with the Bulldogs' game schedule.

"Not being able to know what offer I could get or what college is possibly interested me is tough," he says now. "All I can do is stay positive and hope for the best and that it will all get figured out soon and that we can just play some baseball."

Ryan Miller, Benton High School athletic director and head softball coach, is more hopeful.

He said he believes those players who were being scouted probably still are, despite no spring sports.

"I'm sure there are some kids still getting looked at or evaluated, but for the most part, those kids playing baseball or softball, if they were on someone's radar, they're still going to be on their radar," he said.

Miller, like Geiger, points out that colleges traditionally don't do a lot of scouting in March and April. Normally they are focused on their own seasons and not giving a lot of thought to recruiting, he said.

"I don't know if there will be any damage done or opportunity lost, but if those coaches were interested, they'll still be interested," Miller said. "Some of these kids may have to go to a summer camp, but as it stands right now, most colleges are outlawed from recruiting anyone, college campuses are closed down and everyone is at a standstill.

"I just feel bad for not only the seniors, but all these kids," Miller added. "Every kid is going to be short one year of competition and I don't foresee us being able to play this spring. I hope I'm wrong, but everyday that goes by, it's looking more and more that way."

• Spyder Dann covers prep and college sports for the Southern Illinois LOCAL Media News Group. Follow him on Twitter: @spydieshooter.