Boise State’s first baseball season in 40 years was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving several Spokane and Coeur d’Alene products wondering what might have been after a 9-5 start.
The pandemic ultimately led to the elimination of the program.
Boise State announced Thursday that it will drop the baseball and women’s swimming and diving teams due to coronavirus-induced budget cuts, an effort to save the athletic department $3 million.
Three years after athletic director Curt Apsey announced the end of the school’s wrestling program in an effort to bring back baseball, the sport is gone. The team was informed of the school’s decision to eliminate the program on Thursday morning. It was first dropped in 1980.
“This is one of the hardest decisions athletic departments have to make, but it comes at a time when we are facing the most serious financial challenge we have ever seen,” Apsey said in a release.
Boise State coach Gary Van Tol – a former Gonzaga player and assistant coach – had 15 players from the Northwest on his roster, the lone NCAA Division I baseball team in Idaho.
Coeur d’Alene High graduates Michael Hicks and Jayce Bailey, Mt. Spokane High’s Stu Flesland and Community Colleges of Spokane product Christian Padilla were members of the Mountain West Conference squad.
Hicks, an All-Mountain West senior this past season who was granted an extra year of eligibility due to the cancellation of the season, led the Broncos in batting average (.386), hits (22), doubles (eight), RBIs (11) and was tied for first in runs (11).
Padilla, a junior outfielder from Eagle, Idaho, batted .255 with two doubles, a home run and five RBIs.
A year after helping Mt. Spokane reach the State 3A quarterfinals, Flesland, a freshman pitcher, appeared in four games at Boise State with two starts. He had a 3.38 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 10⅔ innings.
Bailey, a freshman outfielder, did not appear in any games this season.
Hicks declined comment. Attempts to reach Padilla, Flesland and Bailey were unsuccessful.
The news of Boise State cutting its program came as a surprise to area college and high school coaches.
CCS coach Bryan Winston coached alongside Van Tol at Gonzaga, played high school baseball in Richland with Boise State assistant coach Travis Buck, and had two of his players sign with the Broncos last spring.
“Just shocked,” Winston said. “It’s really unfortunate for Northwest baseball. Now there’s one less Division I program to send these kids.
“Having been around the BSU coaching staff and getting to know and what they were able to do, it’s very unfortunate.”
There are dozens of junior college, NAIA, NCAA Division II and NCAA Division III baseball programs in the Northwest states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, but the number of Division I programs has shrunk in the past four decades.
Washington, Washington State, Gonzaga, Oregon, Oregon State and Seattle University and Portland are now the only Northwest schools that field Division I baseball teams.
Idaho cut its programs in 1980, and Eastern Washington followed in 1990.
“For the state of Idaho, I think it’s a tough loss,” CdA High coach Erik Karns said. “But there’s no easy answers when you’re working with a smaller budget and decisions need to be made.”
Mt. Spokane coach Alex Schuerman agreed.
“This one hurts, specifically because the program just came back,” Schuerman said. “There was so much excitement and buzz. They had worked so hard to recruit guys. I can’t imagine how they’re feeling. It’s kind of a blow to the baseball world.”
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