All the lasts were magnified Monday for Southern Poly, as the Hornets not only saw their season come to an end, but with it, the end to athletics at the Marietta university.
“I’m at a loss of words right now,” said junior shortstop Tremayne Hardin, who was at the center of a game-changing double play in the first inning and scored the Hornets lone run in a 9-1 loss to host school Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) in the NAIA World Series.
“It’s not a good feeling how we ended the season,” Hardin added. “With this being our last year of the school program, we got where we wanted to, unfortunately we just couldn’t get to the promised land — the championship game, and win it all.”
Nine teams will come up short of that promised land this week in Idaho, but unlike other teams, there will be no “next year” for the Hornets, who learned during the season Southern Poly would be absorbed into Kennesaw State and that Hornet Athletics would cease to exist at the end of this season.
Knowing that, Southern Poly’s final athletic team put together a remarkable run, winning the Southern States Athletic Conference tournament title to earn an automatic berth to a first-round NAIA National Tournament.
The Hornets then toppled perennial powerhouse Embry-Riddle on the Eagles own field to punch Southern Poly’s third ticket to the NAIA World Series.
“I’m just so proud of our guys for hanging in there with the coaching staff,” Southern Poly coach Marty Lovrich said. “They had opportunities to transfer out or do other things, but they hung in there and believed in us and believed in themselves.
“I’m glad they got to experience Lewiston, Idaho and the venue here.”
The experience started off with disappointment on Friday in a 1-0 loss to Tabor (Kan.), but the Hornets (46-19) got back on their Cinderella track with a 5-4 win Saturday over Georgetown (Ky.) to stave off elimination.
And when Cole Goodwin came out of the bullpen and escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam without allowing a run, it looked like the Hornets magically run might continue against Lewis-Clark State.
Even more so when Hardin reached on an error, stole second and third and scored on a Khirus Ware groundout.
But the host Warriors (44-8) erased the Hornets lead with a run in the third, took the lead with a run in the sixth, then midnight struck on the Hornets’ Cinderella story when Cody Lavalli plated two Warriors with two outs in the top of the seventh, making it 4-1 and opening the floodgates.
“This is gonna be a hard one to get over,” Hardin said. “(I) hate it for our seniors, they led us all year for a great time.”
For eight SPSU seniors, the game is the end of their career. For the rest of the Hornets whose program ceased to exist with Monday’s final out, now begins a period of “what’s next?”
“I think for the most part, everybody we have is going to be taken care of in some shape, form or fashion,” Lovrich said. “I do know some will continue to finish their degree here and Southern Poly is going to take care of it.
“I’m hoping to land on my feet somewhere,” Lovrich said. “And I told these guys before and I’m about to tell them again, where ever I hunker down and put my feet, they’re always going to be invited back there because I’m going to make sure they’re remembered.”
Remembered for overcoming the adversity of knowing they’d be the last to play for Southern Poly, and then accomplishing so much despite that fact.
“We were team based on faith and belief in each other,” Lovrich said. “We weren’t the most talented group in the world and we overcame a lot just with love for each other.”