East baseball seniors reflect on lost final season

The Morristown East baseball team celebrates a Joey Johnson home run during the 2019 season. Johnson was one of seven seniors on the Hurricanes 2020 team.

Editor’s Note: This story is a part of a series highlighting the senior high school athletes in the area who lost their final season.

Much like their rivals across town, the Morristown East baseball team had big expectations coming into the 2020 baseball season.

Returning five starters, the Hurricanes were looking to bounce back after a disappointing 2019 season. East finished the year 11-21, however 10 of their losses were by one or two runs.

In his second year as coach, Matt Ford had the benefit of having seven seniors on his 2020 team, building a strong group of leaders who could mentor some of the younger players that he was forced to put in the lineup early.

However, a year that could have been a building block for the East baseball program was washed out due to COVID-19. And those seven seniors, Jacob Gossett, Adam Webb, Cade Green, Bryson Kelley, Austin Williams, Esten DeVault and Joey Johnson, won’t have one last chance of making a lasting impact on Morristown East High School.

“I’ve played with these guys since I was just a child,” Williams said. “Growing up with them has meant the world to me. They’ve all become more than teammates. We were a family. Each and every one of them were my brothers. When I heard the news about our season being cancelled, I was heartbroken. We’ve worked all summer and fall for this year. We have been in the weight room working at 6 a.m. every week working to get stronger and better.

“Coach Ford has put more than I can every reapay into us, and it’s heartbreaking knowing that we can’t give him anything back this year. All the coaches have become mentors in each and everyone of our lives and for that I am grateful. The seniors are looking forward to the rest of our lives though, and we all know that we are canes for life.”

The 2020 season started off strong for the Hurricanes. While their record was just 1-3, East, much like the 2019 season, kept games close against really talented teams.

East’s one win came on March 14, an 8-7 win over Alcoa. Later in the day, the Hurricanes broke out to an early 6-0 lead against a Heritage team with multiple D1 signees. However, they couldn’t hold onto the lead, falling 7-6.

That loss left a bitter taste in the mouths of the East players and with Ford but gave them hope that they could make some noise this year, competing with a talented team. Unfortunately for them, that Heritage game would be their final contest of the season.

“All of us have been playing together since minor league,” DeVault said. “Growing up and playing travel ball and everything together made this year even better. It’s still hard to actually understand how and why all of this had to happen. We have the best coaches in the conference. They pushed us day in and day out to be the best we could be. And all the work was starting to show, we were playing like one of the better teams in the area.”

For the seven seniors, it ended a long journey that most of them have spent together, travelling up the baseball ranks on the same minor league teams and travel ball teams. Sports build bonds and friendships over the years that will last forever. And that was no exception with the East seniors.

“These guys were my family,” Kelley said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to play with any other group of guys. Although our season was cut short, I will still have the memories I got here. I wouldn’t have traded my time here for anything.”

Johnson is the only one, so far, who will continue his baseball journey as he signed with Carson-Newman earlier in the year. During his junior year, Johnson hit .310.

“It does suck that our season got striped away and realizing that I won’t play high school baseball again or play with my friends after all of the hard work last off-season,” Johnson said. “On the other hand, I am super excited to play baseball at Carson-Newman next year, and this quarantine gives me more time to prepare.”

For the other six, senior year was their final year to showcase their skills to colleges, hoping to hang onto baseball for a few more years.

However, now they must sit and wait, hoping someone will give them a chance. But as they sit and wait, they can be thankful for their time with the East baseball program. A time that built friendships and made memories that will last forever.