AKRON — When he revealed the devastating news to his players during the spring, Jason Herblet found himself fulfilling a rather uncomfortable role he never dreamed was possible.
"I was talking guys off the ledge," the fifth-year Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy head baseball coach said.
Herblet was exaggerating, of course. Nevertheless, he was forced to do far more counseling than coaching because of an unprecedented global pandemic.
As a result of a mysterious deadly respiratory tract infection known as COVID-19, the Ohio High School Athletic Association canceled the entire spring season.
Therefore, Herblet didn’t get a chance to throw fastballs during batting practice. He didn’t slap any pregame ground balls either.
And worst of all, he didn’t get a chance to celebrate a single victory with his favorite cap-wearing troops.
"It was rough for about a month," Herblet said. "These guys really wanted to go out and play. Just that couple months … Are we going to play? Not going to play?"
On Friday, Herblet finally got his much-needed answer — four agonizing months later than schedule.
Herblet’s Royals took the field for the first and last time in 2020 to play in the Senior Spotlight Series at Canal Park.
CVCA butted heads with Principals Athletic Conference rival Triway and came away with a 9-3 victory on a diamond the Akron RubberDucks call home.
Did this non-competitive nine-inning exhibition heal all of the players’ insufferable wounds?
At the same time, though, it provided some much-needed therapy that had been sorely lacking for what seemed like an eternity.
"It was good to get the guys out here one more time for the seniors," Herblet said. "We had a great class this year. To just have them come out and have one last chance was pretty cool."
Since the season never materialized, the glorious occasion known as senior night was cruelly kicked to the curb.
Thankfully, senior night was resurrected from the dead for one brief but unforgettable evening under the lights.
"It was big-time," Herblet said. "Christian Isaacs took the mound one last time for the CVCA Royals. It was a pretty special night for him."
Besides Isaacs, who is planning to continue his academic and baseball careers at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, the Royals also honored 2020 graduates Matt Groggs, who got the win in relief, Cole Sullivan, Tim Emano, Peyton Beebe and Steve Yashnik. Austen Williams and Andrew Schaeffer, who did not attend Friday’s game, were members of CVCA’s Class of 2020 as well.
Triway, which makes its home in Wooster, took part in the pregame festivities, too. The Titans recognized 2020 graduates Travis Burkholder, Kaden Campbell and Thomas Gress.
As for the game itself, Triway scored three times in the top of the third before the Royals settled matters for good the rest of the way.
CVCA tied the game with a three-spot in the bottom of the third and took the lead for good with two runs in the seventh. Otto Rogers drove in the go-ahead run when he smacked a single to right.
The Royals added two runs apiece in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively. Andrew Fridline led CVCA’s offense with two hits and three RBIs.
Was Herblet pleased to leave the field as a winner?
However, since much of 2020 has resembled something akin to the apocalypse, earning a previously elusive victory was the least of Herblet’s concerns.
"It was more to get together and have a good time," he said. "We want to win. At the same time, we still want to make sure we’re getting guys in and getting guys opportunities just to play."
And that means Herblet can officially retire as the team’s unexpected crisis intervention specialist.
Fortunately for his embattled soldiers, Friday’s experience turned out to be the ultimate life saver.
"We persevered and got through it," Herblet said. "Obviously, with our faith and our belief, we believe there’s a reason everything happens. That’s kind of where we landed. Having this opportunity was just a great way to get closure."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, email@example.com or @Faceto_Gannett.