For Gonzaga University redshirt freshman Stephen Lund and redshirt sophomore Keaton Knueppel, the NCAA’s decision to cancel the remainder of the college baseball season due to the coronavirus outbreak was a stunning end.
The two Verona Area High School graduates were informed by Gonzaga coach Mark Machtolf of the NCAA’s decision in a team meeting Thursday, March 12.
“It still hasn’t sunk in that we won’t be playing baseball for the next two to three months,” said Lund, a 2018 VAHS grad. “I’m at a loss for words. It will hit me more and more next week when we won’t be going to practice and playing games.”
The remainder of the NCAA winter championships and all spring championships were canceled. The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were canceled for the first time since 1939.
Gonzaga (6-10) was scheduled to open up Mountain West Conference play with a three-game home series against Santa Clara on Friday, March 13, in Spokane, Washington.
Lund started all 16 games for the Bulldogs this season and was starting to get into a groove offensively with a seven-game hitting streak. He went 4-for-6 with two doubles and six RBIs in a 15-3 win over Washington State on Tuesday, March 10.
Lund finished the season hitting .323 with two home runs and 12 RBIs.
“I felt like I was getting more consistent and seeing the ball well,” he said.
Knueppel, a 2016 VAHS grad and senior at Gonzaga academically, is finally healthy after fighting injuries throughout his career. He had Tommy John surgery in 2018 and missed all of last season. He also dealt with a stress fracture in his elbow in 2018 and received a medical redshirt for the 2017 season.
“It’s not the news you want to hear when you are coming back from injuries,” Knueppel said. “It was heartbreaking.”
Knueppel made two appearances this season over 5 1/3 innings. He posted a 6.75 ERA with six strikeouts and one walk. In his final appearance against Washington State, the left-hander struck out five and allowed one earned run on six hits over three innings.
“I just felt like I was starting to find my groove,” Knueppel said. “The season ended and it put a damper on it.”
Gonzaga will be switching to online classes Monday, March 23. Players can use the baseball facility and weight room, but can’t use it in larger groups. Coaches are banned from instructing players and cannot travel for recruiting purposes.
Knueppel is staying in Spokane this week to get a head start on online classes. He is still planning to play for the Madison Mallards this summer.
Lund is planning to play for the Yakima Valley Pippins in the West Coast League this summer.
Both players will be granted another season of eligibility due to the college baseball season’s cancellation.