West Georgia catcher Lane Griffith certainly didn’t think a nonconference game on March 11 would mark the end of his senior season, but in all likelihood, it did. The Adairsville High product also didn’t think he would wind up playing a fifth year for the Wolves, but in all likelihood, he will.
Most of the time, that unique set of circumstances would only result from a player suffering a season-ending injury. Griffith, though, is completely healthy. Instead, it’s the collective health of the entire country that put his senior season on hold but might wind up leading to a chance at a do-over.
The COVID-19 outbreak has stopped all sports in its tracks at seemingly every level. Division-II baseball is no exception.
“We had a midweek game last Wednesday at Columbus [State]. It kind of got brought up, but it didn’t really settle in,” Griffith said of the possibility of having the season suspended. “We didn’t think we would be playing our last game on that day. …
“It still doesn’t feel like this year is over with really. It will probably settle in, in a few days.”
Needless to say, it’s been a whirlwind week for Griffith — a 5-foot-10, 180-pound backstop from Rydal. However, he is far from the only student-athlete going through the same roller coaster of emotions.
Spring sport athletes, as well as a select few winter sport participants, from across the United States had their seasons brought to an immediate halt last week, when the growing concerns over the coronavirus finally reached the American athletic sphere.
Mere hours after Griffith and Co. fell to Columbus State, the NBA suspended its season. The following day, the NCAA announced it was canceling its remaining winter championships and all of its spring championships. The sweeping decision led virtually every NCAA-affiliated conference to call off games for at least the ensuing few weeks.
In the days since, several of the larger Division-I conferences, including the ACC and SEC, have announced they are canceling the remainder of their spring sport seasons. While the Gulf South Conference, of which West Georgia is a member, had yet to make that final call at the time of this writing, it seems more a matter of when than if.
With no possibility of playing for a national title, even a resumption of the GSC schedule doesn’t seem too satisfying to Griffith.
“We go out and play every day, because we love the game,” he said. “When we found out the [NCAA] tournament and regionals and all that were canceled, there’s still a point in playing, but at the end of the day, you’re playing to win a championship.”
Although clearly disappointed with the NCAA’s decision, Griffith definitely understands why it was made.
“I’m sure it was the right choice to make,” he said. “We felt like we were cut short. At the end of the day, I guess it was the best decision. We had a pretty good year going, but at the end of the day, you have to make the best choice. The most important thing is keeping everyone safe and trying to avoid this virus.”
Almost immediately after the Wolves’ presumed final team meeting of the season Friday, Griffith made the trip from Carrollton back to Bartow County. UWG had already made the move from in-person to online classes, so he didn’t feel the need to hang around.
“The minute I found out that everything was postponed,” Griffith said, “I just went ahead and came back.”
There is a silver lining for he and his teammates.
The same day Griffith made the trek home, the NCAA released a statement saying the organization would look to extend an extra year of eligibility for spring athletes to placate those who lost nearly an entire season, much the same way a player can receive a medical redshirt. There are plenty of different ways the plan could look moving forward, but any implementation would have ripple effects for the next several years on scholarship and roster numbers, recruiting classes, and transfers.
It’s entirely possible that the NCAA only grants an extra year for the seniors, whose careers would have otherwise ended. But even that stipulation would allow Griffith to return in 2021 for one more season with the Wolves, and once he learned of the possible option, the former Tiger pounced on the idea.
“There’s no hesitation,” Griffith said. “It being my senior year, that’s not really the way I want to go out. I’m going to keep playing until someone tells me I can’t anymore. That’s just the way I look at it.
“I feel like our team isn’t done yet. I feel like we can do really big things this upcoming season.”
West Georgia was certainly on the path towards doing big things this spring. After finishing last year just over .500 at 28-25, the Wolves were 13-7 overall at the time of suspension, with Griffith having started all 20 games. In the conference, UWG was 8-4 and sat in third place. A postseason berth was a real possibility.
Griffith, who will finish up his sport management degree next school year, said the recent abrupt end to a promising campaign will serve as a source of motivation for the Wolves. That’s one of the reasons why Griffith expects most of the members of his team’s 15-person senior class would take advantage of the extra year of eligibility.
“I kind of feel like most of them will,” he said. “We had a really good year going. We were nationally ranked and regionally ranked. We just got cut short; we weren’t done yet. I feel like most of the guys will come back next year and make another run for it.”
Assuming he receives his fifth year, Griffith definitely won't take any of those games for granted.
“They always say, ‘Play every game like it’s your last,’” he said. “I definitely understand why they say that now.”