Despite the challenges brought on by COVID-19, three Northern Guilford High School senior athletes have set their sights on winning a state championship next spring before continuing their baseball careers at Division 1 colleges after graduation.
James Newsome, a senior right-handed pitcher and first baseman, has committed to play at Virginia Military Institute (VMI) next fall; Jacob Halford, a senior right-handed pitcher, will play at North Carolina State University; and Josh Deslauriers, a senior outfielder, will continue his baseball career at High Point University.
Though the Northern Guilford Nighthawks only got to play four games last spring before their season was halted due to the pandemic, the three players and their head coach, Landon Kimrey, say the team is ready for whatever the 2021 season holds.
"Last season was a tough blow for all high school spring athletes," Deslauriers said. "We were at least fortunate enough to play four games at the beginning of March, but many teams did not have the opportunity to even play their first game."
Deslauriers and his teammates began last season hoping to build on the successes of the previous year. When their playing time was cut short, the players soon turned their attention to summer travel baseball, which not only kept their skills honed but allowed college coaches to see their abilities.
"After the abbreviated school season, I entered the summer baseball season uncommitted with some D1 interests," Deslauriers said.
"I think it (the pandemic and season cancellation) opened up new challenges and with new challenges comes opportunities to grow and develop both on and off the field," Halford said. "Obviously things will be a little bit different once I step on campus at North Carolina State, but the mentality is the same as it is at Northern - win games. I'm excited to be a part of the winning culture they've put together at NC State and would love to make an impact right away."
Newsome admitted the quarantine "was a major obstacle" as well as a disappointment, since he and his teammates had trained so hard for a successful spring season.
"Our 2019 season came to an end sooner than we had hoped, but all of our returning players had the motivation they needed to work harder in the off-season to prepare for a stronger 2020 season. Unfortunately, our season came to an abrupt end because of COVID-19, which was tough because we all felt like we had a chance for a deep run in the playoffs."
Newsome said summer baseball helped all of them prepare for this year and beyond.
"For me, making my recent commitment to Virginia Military Institute and having my college decision completed allowed me to solely focus on what I can do best to help the team. Fortunately, all of us have been able to continue playing baseball this summer and fall, and we will come back stronger and focus on completing the same goals in 2021 that we had in 2020."
On why he selected VMI, Newsome said he was looking for a school "with the total package."
"I will be attending a school with a rigorous academic reputation to prepare me for life after baseball," he said. "As far as baseball goes, I am fortunate to be able to continue my college career as a two-way player at the D1 level. Now I just pray we can get back some normalcy and my teammates and I can focus on winning a state championship."
Halford and Deslauriers share that goal.
"Knowing we will probably play (next spring) is a great feeling, and also having extra time before the season starts is almost a blessing in disguise," Halford said. "It gives everyone a chance to grow and improve on the aspects of their game. I think if our team really buys into the process at Northern, then we will be good. We have the pitching to win championships and the offense to complement that. I think we have a real shot at bringing that 3A state title back to Northern come June."
"I'm excited to (potentially) get back into the classroom and on the field," said Deslauriers, whose recruiting at High Point University was done with the help of technology, by sharing videos with coaches and livestreams of games.
"Online school has allowed me to be more productive at home with school work while also giving me time to put in work in the weight room and cages," he continued, adding that online learning has had its benefits, but he much prefers being in the classroom.
"I think I speak on behalf of my classmates when I say we are missing the social interaction and in-person aspects of learning," he said, adding, "With the upcoming shortened 2021 season, I know all of the guys feel the same way about this year. Everyone knows what we're capable of. Northern baseball still has unfinished business from last year. We want another conference championship. We want another state championship.
"We will be ready whenever the school season returns," he said. "We all know the next game is not promised and I'm sure that motivating factor will play into the process this spring. Playoffs or no playoffs, we're going to go out there, give all of our effort, and have some fun in the process."