Things were just turning in the right direction for Zach Inskeep and the Marshall baseball team.
Inskeep, a former North Bend standout, was hitting his stride in his senior season and the Thundering Herd had won four of its previous five games as the players were preparing to board a plane for Houston and their Conference USA opening series against Rice.
“We were supposed to board in 10 minutes,” Inskeep said. “Coach told us, ‘Get your stuff off the plane, we’re heading back to Huntington.’”
A few days later, Marshall’s baseball players, like all the other winter and spring athletes on NCAA teams around the country, realized their season was over.
Inskeep is one of four former North Bend baseball players, along with a softball player, who had their seasons cut short.
Fortunately, it shouldn’t be his last season at Marshall.
Given the opportunity from the NCAA for all spring athletes to get another year of eligibility, Inskeep is already planning on going back, though he will be working on a master’s degree.
“It’s kind of weird,” he said. “Up until now, I was planning for these last two months to be senior year.”
He is even taking six classes — one more than needed to graduate, the extra one will get him a minor in psychology to go with his degree in health sciences.
“It’s cool,” Inskeep said. “Another year to spend with the guys.
“I know if I didn’t go back, I would be regretting it. I’m excited to go back.”
In the meantime, Inskeep is back in the Bay Area, with one of his teammates and best friends, Geordon Blanton. The two made a 38-hour drive across the country and now are spending their days at Inskeep's house which, conveniently, includes a batting cage and weights.
“We’ve been trying to make the best out of the situation,” Inskeep said. “We’ve been hitting, working out and helping my parents around the house.”
This week is spring break for Marshall, and starting next week they will also be taking their classes on-line.
Blanton is the Thundering Herd’s shortstop and leadoff batter. Inskeep, who was an all-state catcher for the Bulldogs, primarily plays first base now, though he also had a game at third base this spring and will catch an occasional bullpen session for one of the team’s pitchers.
Also different from his time at North Bend, when he taught himself to become a switch hitter, he bats right handed all the time now.
Through 16 games this year, he was batting .311 with one home run, eight RBIs, 12 runs, seven walks and 10 strikeouts.
Last year, as a junior, he started 53 games, including a 12-game hitting streak. He had five home runs and 30 RBIs and just 33 strikeouts, fewest among team members with at least 160 at-bats.
Before heading east, he was a first-team all-NWAC player for Yakima Community College and a first-team junior college All-American.
He was excited about Marshall’s progression this year.
“I felt we were getting ready to get right in a good progression,” he said. “We were getting ready to start conference at Rice. All the writing was there. We were going to get hot.
“And from a personal perspective, I was hitting everything. It was a pretty fun season.”
Now he gets to wait for a reboot on his senior season in 2021, while keeping his lifelong goal of playing professional baseball.
“My goal is to play baseball until they tell me I can’t anymore,” he said. “I am going to lace up the cleats as long as I can.”
He pointed out he’s young for a college senior, just 21, and that he can still keep improving.
“I still have a chance,” he said. “Just hard work and passion and believe in it and confidence — those are the things I keep going on.”
While he wishes he were back in West Virginia with all his Marshall teammates enjoying his senior season, he is trying to keep a positive attitude.
“That’s all you can do,” Inskeep said. “You can dwell on it, but that’s not going to do anybody any good.”
Inskeep is one of five former Bulldogs who had their baseball or softball seasons cut short when all spring sports seasons were canceled by the various levels of colleges.
Neal Rose had made five starts this spring for Oregon Institute of Technology and had played in 12 games in all. The sophomore infielder had three doubles, two runs and an RBI for the Owls, who were 4-20 overall as a team before the season was suspended.
Jayden Frank had appeared in all 10 of the games for Lane Community College in his freshman season, starting nearly all of them at shortstop and pitching in relief in two of them.
Frank’s best game came in a win over Edmonds, when he went 3-for-5 with two triples and five RBIs. In all, he had five hits in 25 atbats, with six RBIs, three runs, four walks and nine strikeouts.
On the mound, he pitched 3.1 innings, giving up five hits and one earned run, walking three and striking out four.
Brendon Roberts was a freshman at George Fox University. He hadn’t appeared in any games with the regular squad, but played with the junior varsity team in four games.
Meanwhile, in softball sophomore Cheyenne Datan appeared in seven games as a pitcher this year at Pacific, with an 0-2 record. She had two scoreless appearances and pitched seven total innings. She finished with four strikeouts.
Datan also had two plate appearances, finishing with one RBI.
North Bend baseball coach Brad Horning noted all also are outstanding students.
"The GPA of those kids is super high," he said.