Colby’s Matthew Panker, right, slides safely into third base before Bowdoin College’s Nick Merrill can gain control of the ball on the double steal Thursday in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

WATERVILLE — Bowdoin College junior Brendan O’Neil couldn’t have dreamed of a better start to the baseball season. The slugging first baseman was batting .588 through five games and was on the verge of a breakout start to the spring.

And then came the word Wednesday, when the New England Small Colleges Athletic Conference reacted to the spread and rising concern of the coronavirus outbreak, announcing that all conference regular season and postseason play for the spring had been canceled.

Spring was over.

“Tough bounce on that,” he said.

O’Neil spoke before Bowdoin and Colby met in what was supposed to be a sleepy, early-season game, but had instead become a farewell.

The decision to cancel the spring season meant several teams saw their seasons end soon after they began. Furthermore, athletes lost a year of their careers — which for seniors meant their last one.

“It’s obviously not the best-case scenario, whatsoever,” said O’Neil, whose team lost to Colby 5-4. “I understand it, but it definitely hurts, taking away an entire season from the boys.”

“We’re definitely saddened that we don’t get to play a full senior season,” Colby catcher and pitcher Taimu Ito said. “But at Colby, we’re family. … We’re going to support whatever Colby makes a decision for.”

Bowdoin shortstop Eric Mah (4) turns the double play as Colby’s Andrew Russell slides into second base on Thursday in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

The NESCAC’s decision came via unanimous approval from all conference presidents, and preceded an avalanche of similar decisions made at the local and national levels. Bates and Bowdoin canceled their entire spring seasons. The NCAA announced the cancellation of the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. The NBA, and then NHL suspended their seasons.

On Thursday, the bad news got worse. The NCAA took the next step and canceled its winter and spring championships, which ended seasons for the University of Maine women’s basketball and men’s hockey teams. Major League Baseball halted spring training. The sports world came to a standstill.

So the NESCAC’s decision was hardly unique. But that didn’t make it easier for its athletes to accept.

“Personally, for me, I characterize it as a lot of disappointment and I guess a little bit of anger,” O’Neil said. “It’s definitely tough. It’s definitely hard for us, knowing this is going to be the last time we step out on a field as this team.”

“We’ve been here for four years, we’ve worked so hard, so obviously it is difficult to hear that your senior season’s going to get cut short,” Colby outfielder Cam Drew said. “(But) they kind of made the right decision. It’s bigger than just baseball. … It was definitely tough to hear, but I think they made the right decision.”

Drew acknowledged that it was tough to see the good in the action at first.

“At first, I feel like it’s natural to be angry or upset. We had meetings with coaches, other players, talking about how hard we worked,” he said. “We’ve been doing this since the season ended last year, we’ve been working hard. Me and Taimu both had surgery to come back.”

As the chaos spread through the sports world, it was easier to understand the call.

“We’ve worked really hard, and we were super excited about the season,” Drew said. “But I think the more we heard about it and the more knowledge we gained, talking about it in classes and meetings, I think that helped.”

The players were determined to weather the disappointment. There were no slumped shoulders or shuffled gaits in the field. The Bowdoin players posed for a picture before the game began. Players tried to go about the afternoon as business as usual, even if it was anything but.

“Any time you get to touch the diamond, you want to play as hard as you possibly can,” O’Neil said. “You’ve got to play every game like it’s your last.”

For Bowdoin, it was. For Colby, which still has games scheduled this weekend and four more remaining in total, the walk-off win, delivered when George Schmidt singled in Charlie Furlong and Henry Suarez in the bottom of the ninth, provided some memories in a fleeting season.

“We did this for us,” Ito said. “As a team, as a family. … It was an emotional win, for sure.”


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