The Northwestern High School softball and baseball teams were in a similar situation entering the 2020 season — and it was a very good situation to be in.
The programs are the reigning Heart O’ North Conference and WIAA regional champions and both teams return the vast majority of their starters.
But all of the hopes and dreams of what could have been were put on hold when high school spring sporting events across Wisconsin were postponed indefinitely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer at Home executive order on March 13, all Wisconsin schools were ordered closed until April 24. Along with that order, the WIAA suspended all athletic participation "for the duration of the public health emergency or until a subsequent order lifts this specific restriction."
The Tigers may find out their fate on Tuesday, April 21, when the WIAA Board of Control meets to discuss options for the remainder of the spring sports seasons and summertime contact.
The Tigers were 19-5 last season, including 13-1 in the HON, along with Bloomer (20-7).
Northwestern and Bloomer split during the regular season, but the Blackhawks won the rubber game, 1-0 in the sectional semifinals.
The Tigers return eight seniors, including seven projected starters.
“We lost Mac (Correll) and Tory (Anderson), but I feel like we were in pretty good shape,” NHS coach Scott Janigo said. “We have Allison Luoma back as our starting pitcher, and, barring any unseen injuries, I felt that on paper we should do well in the conference and maybe beyond.”
The Tigers’ schedule has been hit hard with at least 16 games either canceled or postponed.
There are seven games remaining on the original schedule beginning at home on Tuesday, May 5, against Bloomer.
The WIAA playoffs are scheduled to begin Thursday, May 21.
“It’s heartbreaking to watch the seniors’ final season potentially go down,” Janigo said. “Some people really don’t understand the effort they have put in over the years. Playing in the summer, working on their skills, there’s a lot of sacrifice with all the time they put in.
“The kids are sad, but still hopeful we can still salvage something out of this season.”
The Tigers were 18-5 last year, including 12-2 in the HON, along with Spooner.
After WIAA regional wins over Osceola and Hayward, Antigo scored six runs in the top of the seventh inning to defeat the Tigers 12-7 in the sectional semifinals.
The Roadrunners (21-5) went on to win three more games, including the WIAA Division 2 state championship game 3-2 over Union Grove.
“That loss I know has been a motivating factor for these players,” NHS coach Jovin Kroll said. “They realize how close they came last year, and that has pushed most of them to train hard through this offseason. But now they sit and wait.”
The Tigers return their entire pitching staff with the exception of Justin Sedin, the Superior Telegram Player of the Year the past two seasons.
“Justin was our workhorse, but on the mound we will rely on the three senior arms of Andrew Klobucher, Jake Brill, and Bryson Mazur when the time comes to play the games again,” Kroll said. “They are all experienced varsity athletes and know how to keep their arms in shape.”
Eleven games have either been canceled or postponed and the next date on the Tigers' schedule is a doubleheader at Cameron on Friday, May 1.
The WIAA playoffs are scheduled to begin on Thursday, May 28.
“The common response I get from players right now is something along the lines of, ‘I never thought I'd want to go to school this badly,’” Kroll said. “The guys miss the game and the time they get to spend with each other. It’s ultimately a priceless experience that most athletes treasure for the rest of their lives. Hopefully the kids still get to have those moments later this spring.
“I can't help but feel terrible for the kids while understanding the seriousness of the situation society faces. It’s a tough reality we face right now, but all we can do is control the things we have the ability to control to best prepare for whatever comes next.”
TIGER TALES: Northwestern and Spooner split during the season with the Tigers winning 14-4 and the Rails winning 11-4.
This story was updated on April 20 at 8:51 a.m. to add information about the WIAA Board of Control meeting on April 21. It was originally posted on April 15 at 4 p.m.