Jackson Hurst was expecting to end his high school career in a big way. So was Dakota Peters.
The big sluggers in the middle of Van Buren’s lineup, they had helped the Pointers to a 6-1 start to the baseball season.
Then the coronavirus pandemic forced an abrupt halt to not only baseball but just about all forms of normal activities on Thursday, March 12.
Van Buren beat Northside that day, 3-1, but head coach David Loyd had already warned his Pointers of what was coming.
“Coach Loyd talked to us before the game about what was going on and what possibilities could happen,” Peters said. “People were telling us that it could be our last game. He told us not to worry about it, and then the next day he told us we’d be taking a break.”
State basketball championship games were held that night at the Hot Springs Convention Center for Class A and Class AA, but the Arkansas Activities Association canceled the remaining championship games and postponed all activities the next day, including spring sports, for two weeks.
“I was thinking a month or something,” Hurst said. “We had plans to keep practicing. One of our teammates, his dad had a place in Fort Smith and we were going to practice and when this thing is over we were going to keep winning.”
At that time, spring sports was just postponed, but it also meant missing the 6A-West openers, which was going to be on that next Monday and Tuesday against Rogers. It also meant missing their annual spring break trip.
“We didn’t get to go to Gulf Shores, and we were really bummed about that,” Peters said. “The AAA kept calling if off.”
Before that two weeks was even up, the AAA then extended the so-called Covid-19 Dead Period through April 17. That took all spring sports through most of their varying seasons.
The NCAA had already canceled the College World Series in Omaha, and that was an ominous sign.
“We started losing hope after that,” Peters said. “If they’re going to cancel college baseball, they’re not going to care about us.”
Again, before that time period was up, on April 8, the AAA after conferring with the Department of Health, Department of Education and the Governor’s office extended the Dead Period through May 30. For all intent and purposes, spring sports was over and for seniors their high school careers.
“They banged the entire season,” Hurst said. “It was heart-breaking. I remember having an emotional day when I found out. I remember coming home the day we found out, and my mom was crying. I started crying because you see your mom crying. They know how much I loved it.”
The finality of it hit all 10 of Van Buren’s seniors, who as a sophomores and juniors suffered tough losses to end the season in the state tournament; to Har-Ber, 6-5, in the semifinals after losing a seventh-inning lead in 2018 and then last year to North Little Rock, 3-2, in the first-round after also losing a lead.
“I knew my senior year was coming, the kind of players we had and that it was going to be real special,” Hurst said. “Coach Loyd even said that one day during practice with the leadership we have, the seniors, how committed we were, that it was going to be special. He was excited about. We just think about what could have been.”
Hurst also played on Van Buren’s resurgent football team and is a third-generation Pointer after his dad, Mark, and grandfather, Mike.
Hurst and Peters grew up playing the three major sports. Hurst gave up basketball in middle school, and Peters gave up basketball and football mostly due to an injury.
Baseball ended up being the favorite sport for both. Hurst has been locked into the middle of Van Buren’s lineup as the designated hitter. Peters has played catcher and first base before shifting to third base this season and would have also logged important innings on the mound in conference games.
“We started off really hot, this was going to be a good year,” Peters said. “We were ready for it. We felt pretty confident going in. We were happy with where we were at. Then, they started all of this.”
Van Buren heads to the 5A-West next season and the Pointers had plans to make this season a final victory tour of northwest Arkansas in the 6A-West.
Peters gets reminded daily about their senior season.
“Both of our parents were big in the booster club and helped out a lot,” Peters said. “They had already ordered the senior banners. They’re sitting in our garage, and I look at them every day.”
Peters will continue his playing career at junior college power Connors State in Warner, Okla.
Hurst also has an opportunity to continue to play on the collegiate level at Arkansas Tech.
The Pointers have returned to the baseball diamond now in limited practices with Covid-19 restrictions being slowly lifted.
Hurst and Peters joined what now are their former teammates just to take some fly balls last week.
“We talked about what’s going on,” Hurst said as his voice trailed off. “They talked about how they missed us. Not going to practice is like cutting out a part of my life.”