It’s not all doom and gloom due to the COVID-19 pandemic wiping out the junior college baseball season. After Neosho County Community College went 11-6 in the shortened season, several players made the decision to move on to Division-I baseball for the spring of 2021.
Six Panthers have signed to move on to the next level as of Wednesday, April 15, the NCAA-postponed first day of signing. But there will be more decisions in the very near future.
Infielder Andrew Brautman will go to the University of New Orleans, signing on April 15 at his home in Ark City. Brautman, whose 2020 shortened season comprised a .469 average (highest on team), three home runs, 15 RBI, a .703 slugging percentage, a .550 on-base percentage and a .945 fielding percentage, chose UNO because he felt it was the best place for him to get better.
“The biggest reason for me signing to New Orleans was the opportunity for further development,” Brautman said. “I felt very comfortable with the coaching staff and felt like it is a great place for me to continue and pursue my goals and dreams as a person and as a player.”
NCCC is a fine starting place to pursue baseball goals – Panthers head coach Steve Murry has coached up 58 minor league players and two MLB studs – but the baseball season came to an end because of COVID-19. With only 17 games played, this can impact players, and the All-KJCCC Honorable Mention reflected on the matter.
“Was it bittersweet?” Brautman asked. “No, I wouldn’t necessarily say bittersweet. I am very saddened it ended the way it did because we were just starting to heat up. We had a great opportunity to become the team that everyone feared in the Jayhawk (Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference).”
Brautman, who will pursue a marketing major, gave credit to the NCCC coaching staff.
“Oh man, I can’t even put into words how thankful I am. I am truly, truly blessed to be put into this situation, but I could not have done it without the help of Coach Murry, Coach (Josh) Merrill, and Coach (Mike) Gilner. They’re a huge reason for my development and they shaped me to be the baseball player I am today. They taught me to play with confidence even when things were bad. It’s safe to say they will always be a part of my life. God truly put me in the best spot and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Starting pitcher Ben DesRosiers chose New Mexico State as his next destination for baseball and to study biology. DesRosiers tossed a two- and four-seam fastball in the mid-80s, the curveball, the slider and a changeup. These pitches led to a pitching record of 2-1, with 24 strikeouts in 15 and 2/3 innings.
DesRosiers said he chose a program that will best help him to develop.
“The biggest reason for signing was I got an opportunity to achieve one of my biggest goals of playing Division-I baseball at a school that I think can really help me develop more and achieve my next goal of playing professionally,” he said.
While it has been a dream to play professional baseball for some time for DesRosiers, it was a bit premature to think about that level, especially with the season ending abruptly.
“Having to go home early was horrible,” DesRosiers said. “As far as talent goes, this was an incredible group who had potential to go very far. But more than that, they were a fantastic team who fed off of each other and pushed each other and played very well as a group. I was so excited to see what we were going to accomplish, and it all got cut short.”
Even so, the experiences solidified that playing baseball at NCCC was a great decision for him, though the pitcher from Chicago didn’t necessarily want to go the junior college route initially. Murry, Gilner and Merrill all played a hand in developing DesRosiers as a player and as a person, and he said he can’t thank those men enough, despite the current set of circumstances.
“Overall, leaving halfway through my sophomore year was devastating and very emotional saying goodbye,” DesRosiers added. “And the coaches were what made NCCC great. They have been around the game for so long, so the experience they have to share is very helpful in learning the mental aspects of baseball, but also how much they help with the recruiting process will guarantee to give every player and opportunity to play at the next level after JuCo ball.”
Starting pitcher Kyler Hancock’s opportunity materialized into signing with Southeastern Oklahoma, where he will study business management. Hancock, who pitches a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a changeup and a curveball, finished the abbreviated season with a 1-1 record, eight strikeouts and no home runs given up in eight innings.
The Dewey, Okla., native found a way to continue his maturation process while staying close to home.
“The biggest reason to me would have to be the fact that I wanted to continue playing and find somewhere close to home if I could, and man did it work out perfectly,” Hancock said. “I really liked the coaches as well at Southeastern.”
Hancock is all-in on the Southeastern Oklahoma move, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t lament what could have been.
“There was no sweet at all; actually, it was just bitter,” he said. “The season ending that way sucked, but I definitely wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else. I can’t thank coach Murry, Coach Gilner, Coach Jacks and Coach Merrill enough for helping me and guiding me to where I’m at today. That being as a person and a student-athlete. Having that coaching staff is an absolute blessing.”
Starting pitcher Cameron Blazek signed with New Mexico State in the fall, and he will study business. Blazek, a four-seam fastball, curveball, slider and changeup All-KJCCC Honorable Mention pitcher, closed the year with a 1-1 record, 25 strikeouts, and a 4.32 earned run average. The Fargo, ND, native said he handpicked a school that would be best for his skill set.
“I felt like NMSU is the perfect fit for me because they are a very competitive program in a very good conference. They are in a great location in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I am basically guaranteed great weather and I felt like I could go in and earn a spot to contribute right away for them.”
Blazek wanted to contribute even more at NCCC though.
“It was difficult to not get to finish out the year playing for NCCC,” Blazek said. “We were incredibly excited and confident in our team and wanted to compete and show what we could do.”
Still, Blazek said the knowledge imparted to him from the coaching staff was second to none.
“I owe them beyond words,” Blazek said. “The amount of maturity I gained both mentally and physically while being in Chanute is unable to describe. They have truly helped me make the steps towards being the player and person I want to be. With that being said, my work is for sure not done, but with the knowledge I gained from my two years under the coaching staff, I know what I need to continue to work on. I am so very thankful and I will miss the program and the people close to it a great deal.”
Starting pitcher Josh Flack signed with Kansas State University in the fall to not only play baseball, but also to study finance. Flack, who throws a four-seam fastball, a changeup and a slider, culminated the season with a 1-1 record, including 17 strikeouts, a 3.43 ERA and an opponents’ batting average of .269, picked KSU because he had always wanted to play at the highest college level.
“I chose Kansas State because it had always been a goal to play for a D-I program and they now have some of the top facilities in all of college baseball,” Flack noted. “And I really liked what I heard from the coaching staff, so I decided to make it my new home.”
Flack also thanked NCCC.
“I can’t thank the staff at Neosho enough for taking me in and believing in me during times of struggle,” Flack said. “They helped me grow as a man and mentally get ready to compete at baseball’s highest levels in the future.”
On April 15, outfielder Chaseton Wylie signed with Southeastern Oklahoma to play the game with Hancock, and to keep his head in business management books for a degree. Wylie on the year hit .205 with a .341 slugging percentage, eight RBI, nine hits and a .920 fielding percentage.
Wylie, an Osawatomie native, said he was sold on the first visit to Southeastern Oklahoma.
“The biggest reason for me to sign at SOSU was the environment when I went on my visit and the coaching staff,” Wylie said. “They have a fire to win and I wanted to be a part of that.”
A will to win is something Wylie picked up from the coaching staff at NCCC. And Wylie said he understands that, even in a seemingly alternate universe everyone is currently living in.
“Not being able to play out the rest of the season due to the virus was heartbreaking,” Wylie said. “With the group of guys we had and the talent we had, it was hard to walk away from the season like that. Coach Murry, Coach Gilner and Merrill have made me such a better baseball player over the past few years. Made me believe in things that every kid wants to believe in.”
Murry said he is exhilarated about all his student-athletes pursuing their dreams during a time of trial and tribulation for the entire country.
“I am super excited they were able to accomplish their goal of moving on to their four-year (schools),” Murry said. “In the same breath, I am sad we did not get to finish watching their development over the last few months.”