Prep Baseball Report

No 'Last Dance' For High School Seniors: Part One

Bruce Hefflinger
PBR Ohio Senior Writer

Follow on Twitter- @PrepBaseballOH
Follow on Instagram- @pbrohio

To view the Preseason All-State Teams, click below:

To view each of the parts to the No 'Last Dance' Series, click below:

No 'Last Dance' For High School Seniors: Part One

PART ONE: The following is the first of an in-depth six-part story looking at the 2020 high school baseball season in Ohio which was officially cancelled this week.

Hope springs eternal.

That was the case when it came to the 2020 Ohio high school baseball season. But it has turned out to only be a pipe dream after the Ohio High School Athletic Association announced the cancellation of all spring sports seasons due to COVID-19.

“As we have stated in our previous communications, today’s announcement by Governor (Mike) DeWine to close schools for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year also will now result in the cancellation of OHSAA-sponsored spring sports seasons including tournaments,” OHSAA Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass said in a press release on Monday.

“I’ve heard from so many people who have said, ‘You really need to understand what this means to our kids,’” Snodgrass said. “I’m a parent. I was a coach. I grew up every day as a player and a coach wanting to play high school sports and get to the state tournament. So I do think I understand that.

“I also have to go with the fact that my number one concern, over everything, is the health and safety of everyone involved. It’s not just our student-athletes. It’s the parents, coaches, umpires, officials, the scorekeepers. All those things enter into this. It’s a tough decision and it’s one that I and all the other executive directors of the other states never thought we would have to do. Never did I think this would be the case, but I’ve tried to be as prepared as I could every step of the way.”

In the high school baseball world, no season for the first time ever in Ohio brings heartbreak to so many.

There will be no regular season.

A league title is not in the cards.

An opportunity to impress college scouts no longer exists.

A season playing with friends, in so many cases companions since childhood, will not take place.

And of course, no Final Four at Akron’s Canal Park come June. Saint Ignatius, Chaminade-Julienne, Coldwater and Toronto will not have the chance to defend a state championship.

Saint Ignatius Dog Pile“Obviously I would’ve loved nothing more than to play my senior season of baseball, but it’s more than just baseball I am sad about,” related Saint Ignatius shortstop Michael McNamara. “Being able to put on the Saint Ignatius uniform means more to me than anyone will know. Being able to make memories with my brothers on the field and in the classroom is the part I’m going to miss out on the most.

“Being a senior during all of this makes it worse than any other class because we are all missing out on the last couple months of school with our classmates,” McNamara continued. “After winning the state championship last year, I would’ve loved to have the chance to defend our title, but not being able to be with my friends everyday for our last couple months together is the worst part.”


Cole ZakEveryone looks forward to one final go ‘round as Mayfield senior Cole Zak points out.

“The most disappointing part of not having a spring season is that all the hard work my guys and I have put in this year is not going to have the chance of getting rewarded,” Zak said. “Being a senior makes it worse because I don’t get that ‘last dance’ with my teammates and coaches and I know I won’t be able to get that back like the college players.”

Another senior, Wyatt Hudepohl of St. Xavier, is one of the many devastated with no final year on the high school diamond. 

“The most disappointing part of not being able to play this season is too hard just to say one thing,” the second-rated senior in Ohio said. “All the seniors will never get to represent the school they love and play the game we all love just one more time. We all put so much effort into this season knowing we had a special team and it is just super hard knowing you can never get this season back with your brothers.”

Hudepohl, even quit football for his senior year to focus on what he hoped was a baseball run to state.

“Being a senior makes this much worse because of all the countless hours spent working, being together over these last four years and creating bonds that will last a lifetime,” Hudepohl explained. “All of us are like a family and knowing that our senior season has been taken away from all of us is very hard. Being a senior you never think it will come until it does in a blink of an eye, and here you are wanting to represent your school just one more time alongside the teammates who you consider brothers.”

That last time to play organized ball with friends that grew up with you in the neighborhood certainly makes it difficult.

“The most disappointing part is not being able to play with the guys and my childhood friends again,” noted Sylvania Southview senior Logan Danzeisen, who led the Cougars to the regional finals a year ago before losing 7-4 to eventual state champion Saint Ignatius.

Caden KlineSenior Caden Kline has the same feelings at Defiance in a program that has been to state six times with four state championships, three in the past seven years.

“The most disappointing part of the season is not being able to play with my buddies again,” the left-handed pitcher said. “Being a senior, it’s tougher because I know it’s our last go at being a part of Defiance history.”

The chance to make a statement for a program you love is no longer there for players all across the state.

“The most disappointing part of our season being cancelled is not being able to at least get the chance to go after our team goals,” pointed out Zach Maxey, a senior at St. Edward. “As a team, we’ve been looking toward playing this year for a long time and now it’s taken away from us. It especially hurts knowing that this year’s team would’ve absolutely competed for a state championship and would’ve had a lot of fun along the way.”

Teammate Jordan Stevens was also looking forward to one last go as a member of the Eagles.

“The most disappointing part is just not being able to play baseball and just having fun on the field and off the field during my last year of high school ball with my teammates,” Stevens said. “All that, with having the goal of winning a state championship in mind. It’s just baseball and there’s obviously a health crisis going on, but it’s unfortunate because high school baseball is over now, and it stopped without warning.”

The camaraderie is something so many will miss.

Kade Kern mobbed at home after HR“The most disappointing part of all this is not getting to play with your friends and brothers and also the unknown of what you may have been able to accomplish,” noted Archbold senior Kade Kern.

Jack Sokol, a senior at New Albany committed to Auburn, also has sadness with the realization high school baseball has come to an end.

“Not being able to play my last year is very heartbreaking,” the four-rated senior in Ohio related. “The class of seniors are a group of guys that I have played with since Little League. They mean a lot to me and knowing that I won’t be able to play with them again makes me sad.

“Not being able to pitch for my high school one last time and going out there wanting to beat records and help out my team for one last year is very disappointing. The coaches at New Albany are amazing, too. I speak of them highly because they have been with me every step of the way and they’re the best coaches I could’ve asked for. I’m going to miss them.”

For nearly all, being a senior is also when you are at the top of your game when it comes to high school athletics.

“It’s something I looked forward to,” Mason’s Jack Steibel said of his 12th-grade season. “I remember as a freshman I looked up to the seniors. Now I’m a senior. It’s the pinnacle of your high school years. You want to bring back a title to the school with the guys you’ve been playing with. It’s terrible to miss senior year.”

The underclassmen understand the situation as well.

Gabe Nard“The most heartbreaking thing about it is the fact that I have built such a good and close relationship with each and every senior on the team, and I feel for them,” explained sophomore Gabe Nard, the starting pitcher for Saint Ignatius in last year’s state championship game. “The fact that they can't go out and prove to people what they're made of is also a very disappointing part.” 

Like Nard, Luke Krouse was also at state last year, helping Antwerp to its first Final Four appearance in school history.

“I think the most disappointing thing about not playing baseball is not being able to play with the seniors this year,” said the third-rated uncommitted sophomore left-handed pitcher in Ohio. “I’m going to miss every one of them. Most of the seniors can at least say they played their last spring season game at state, that’s pretty special.”


It is not just players that are left heartbroken.

“Without a doubt, the most disappointing part of missing the 2020 season is the seniors not getting on the field again,” Defiance coach Tom Held said. “I can’t imagine this happening to me when I was in high school. What is really sad about this entire situation is we didn’t get to sit down with them face to face and talk about it. Fortunately, for our four seniors, they are three-sport athletes and at least got to compete in their senior years. I really think it will sting more later in life, losing that final season.”

Perrysburg veteran coach Dave Hall is another dealing with the ordeal.

“The biggest disappointment is not being able to be together as a team,” noted Hall. “I think this group was really getting close and liked being around each other. We had six seniors who were great with the young kids. They accepted the several sophomores and freshmen who were going to see varsity action. I think everyone loses by not  being teammates of our seniors.”

Crestwood’s John Bakalar is another coach going through the difficult times of no spring season.

“Having an entire season cancelled has been surreal,” admitted Bakalar, president of the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association. “I don't think anyone ever thought something like this could happen. Personally, we felt we would have a solid team and had some unfinished business this year but we are left to wonder just how good we could have been.”

But the sadness always goes back to this year’s senior class.

“I’m just extremely disappointed for the seniors,” Bakalar said. “When senior year rolls around it is ‘your team’ and these players have paid their dues and are ready to lead and put together their best season. We had a couple seniors who didn't have the type of junior season they wanted and had worked incredibly hard this off-season and preseason to earn a larger role and be more productive on a consistent basis. As a coach you could see they were due to have a solid senior year and them not being able to see their persistence pay off is tough. It would have also been a great lesson to other players in the program.”

There is more lost with no opportunity to have one final year on the diamond.

“We have a tradition on Senior Night with seniors playing catch with their fathers at the final home game,” Bakalar noted. “A senior clap out and senior reflections at the final team meal before post-season begins are all important and serve as a final culmination for recognizing all their contributions over the past four years.”

Veteran head coach Tim Saunders, whose first season as a coach came in 1981 as an assistant at Portsmouth, thought he had seen just about everything in the game.

“Preparing all winter and spring then getting put on hold three days before our first scrimmage was a blow but then losing the entire season was the knockout,” the Dublin Coffman head coach said. “I feel really bad for all our players, but especially the seniors. It’s a big deal to play that senior year, you’ve looked forward to that your entire life. Our younger guys look up to the older guys from middle school on so to finally be that guy and not have a chance to play that senior year is not right.

“I really feel as much or more sorry for their parents. They will not see their child play that last year after all their support the past 14-15 years. Most of our guys will never play in a competitive game again and the parents will not have those last memories to cherish.”

While disappointed, Walsh Jesuit head coach Chris Kaczmar does what he can to keep a positive outlook on the situation.

“We do our best to keep the disappointment in perspective and to practice what we preach about investing our time and energy in things that we can control,” Kaczmar explained. “Everyone is healthy, and when you hear stories about families dealing with COVID-19 and how they can only communicate with loved-ones via Facetime in the ER … that’s a more appropriate moment to use the term ‘heartbreaking’

“All of our players, and especially our five seniors - Stanley Kaczmar, Connor Bailey, Nick Leonatti, Jamie Perebzak and Robby Shepherd - have really made us proud with how they have approached this setback with their maturity, empathy and a firm understanding that this step by the Governor and the OHSAA is an appropriate one for the greater good.”


In this unprecedented time, coaches are finding out the job entails more than just baseball.

“I sent out emails to everyone,” Hall said of what he did once the cancellation was official. “I sent the seniors and their parents a heartfelt letter. We have not zoomed as with all their school work, I hate to ask them to get on just so we can talk. However, I may do that this weekend.”

Sylvania Southview head coach Kevin Danzeisen admits it was not easy.

“We communicated through text,” Danzeisen said of telling his team there would be no season. “There was shock and disappointment for sure.”

It was the same not far away in North Baltimore.

“We have a group chat for the baseball team and with school being canceled for the year, we just put on the group chat you know the season’s not going to happen,” noted North Baltimore head coach Marty Gazarek. “Of course there were a lot of disappointed kids.”

Held also had the task of keeping his squad updated along the way.

“We were constantly communicating with them through the entire process and continuing to encourage them to workout and throw on their own,” the long-time Defiance head coach explained. “Actually, we are still doing this with the entire program, including the seniors as we are hoping we still have ACME which is making an exception this summer and allowing seniors to participate.”

Bakalar related there was still hope right up until the decision was announced.

“We had been in communication with our players leading up to the announcement and they knew if there was no school there would be no season,” the Crestwood coach said. “When Governor DeWine made the announcement to close schools, everyone understood what that meant and then the OHSAA came out with their official announcement a few hours later. Players are obviously disappointed. Most knew this was inevitable, but we were all holding out hope for the best.”

Communicating with his team was just part of it for Bakalar.

“Throughout the entire closure there were a lot of discussions/communication between coaches and within the OHSBCA Board about what the future held,” Bakalar explained. “Everyone wanted to see some type of season even if it was just several games and I heard many suggestions from coaches on how we should move forward.

“As the talk about the opening of the economy seemed to gain momentum, some coaches I spoke with were more optimistic about the possibility of having a season. When the news came out that schools were closed, many of us were texting or calling each other and every coach understood but was saddened by the loss of the season.” 

AHEAD: Part two of this story will look at exposure lost at the next level and how players have been managing to work out during their time away from the field.