DuBOIS — Coming off back-to-back USCAA Small College World Series titles and a strong start to the season at the Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C., earlier this month, hopes were high for Penn State DuBois as it returned home.
After returning from South Carolina, the Lions were set for a home-opening series against Wright State-Lake March 14-15, but the postponement of all athletic events at Penn State main campus trickled down to all PSUAC schools and forced the postponement of the three weekend games.
Then, on Thursday, the PSUAC and USCAA announced the cancellation of all spring sports and championships, officially putting an end to Penn State DuBois’ 2020 campaign.
Despite having their dreams of competing for a three-peat cut short, head coach Tom Calliari and many of his players kept things in perspective and reflected on what their time with the program has meant to them.
While Calliari noted it was a heartbreaking end to a hopeful season, especially for his seniors and other players who will not be returning next year, the fifth-year head coach stressed that the situation puts things into perspective for the entire team.
“From a baseball standpoint, as far as our team goes, I’m truly heartbroken for our seniors for their four years to have something ripped away from them and no one wants anyone else to determine their final season but themselves,” Calliari said.
“They want to end on their own terms and for them not to be able to do that was gut-wrenching and heartbreaking, those phone calls to those kids were the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”
Many of the team’s players who will not be returning next year echoed their head coaches words.
“It's been a tough couple of days trying to process everything,” senior LJ Johnson said. “It’s an uncontrollable, which is what our coach (Calliari) talks about a lot, the four years that I’ve been here, that’s one of the main things that he’s stressed is handling an uncontrollable and we’ve done it in previous years and this is just one that we have to handle again.”
Sophomore Jake Sorbera, who plans to transfer to Penn State Main Campus in the fall said, “It really leaves me heartbroken that it’s my last season of competitive baseball.”
“Collegiate baseball is the end for me and so DuBois was my last opportunity there, so to leave it behind in such a sudden way is just very unfortunate and there really aren’t words that can describe how I feel about it,” Sorbera said.
Jake Sorbera’s brother Josh, a senior on the team said, “Heartbroken is the one word and empty is a good way to describe it, it was so sudden, we didn’t know what was going to happen then all of a sudden it was cancelled.”
For sophomore Isaac Stouffer, who plans to transfer to Penn State Behrend in the fall, this may not be the end of his baseball career, but he said he was looking forward to making more memories with his teammates this season.
“For the season to end unexpectedly like this, it’s really heartbreaking. Our team has put in a lot of work this off-season trying to get better. My heart goes out to the seniors, having their season end like this is just horrible to say the least,” Stouffer said.
For Senior Vince McDowell, seeing the season end was hard because he was looking forward to being a team leader this season.
“It took me by surprise and left me with an empty feeling,” McDowell said. “I felt like this was my year to truly shine as a player and a mentor to the younger players.”
McDowell, who noted he has already completed his major and picked up a minor in order to continue play this season, is still undecided if he will attempt to return next year.
Senior Brandon Orsich, who currently plans to return to PSU DuBois next year to get an associates degree and spend one more season with the team, said it's hard to see his teammates go who do not have the opportunity to return.
“I’ve already talked to a couple of the other seniors and the two-year guy that basically make them seniors and they’ve already told me that they can’t come back, so that is super heartbreaking because they’ve played their hearts out for two or three years and helped our program so much,” Orsich said.
Calliari said when he talked with his senior players, he told them if they can’t give him a reason why returning for an extra year would benefit their future, then they should not return next season.
Orsich was one of those players who could, stating he is looking to add an associates degree in business and a minor in human development and family studies on to his bachelors in administration of justice he is set to obtain this year.
Calliari, who stressed that baseball is the ultimate teacher of life lessons, said this is just one more lesson for his players and he hoped he had prepared them all to handle these tough times.
The head coach added that he hoped the situation would give everyone a little more perspective about what is important and life and take the time to appreciate their team, loved ones and everything they have in life.
The players took the unprecedented situation as a time to reelect on what their time with the program has meant to each of them.
“Coach Calliari has done such a great job building a program and a family that is hard to walk away from,” Orsich said. “All the players that he recruits are top of the line guys that all have become brothers to us and you don’t want to leave that culture”
Stouffer added, “Coach Calliari and the rest of the staff where the best coaches and mentors I could have asked for. The camaraderie of the team was amazing.”
Johnson, who took the time to thank the DuBois and surrounding community for always supporting the team said, “For the seniors, it's hard, we are all a family and that’s kind of what you have to look forward to now is yeah the baseball season is over, but I got the opportunity to become family with 30 others that I’m going to have contact with for the rest of my life.”
Josh Sorbera, who was part of the inaugural season as a freshman in 2015-16 before transferring to Penn State Main Campus and returning this season, said Calliari often stressed relationships over baseball and felt that played a key role in the team’s success.
“Everyone buys into each other and the goals and we are a bunch of brothers, everyone I played with I consider family now and I have made lifelong relationships that I never could have dreamed of,” Josh Sorbera said.
Brother Jake Sorbera added, “My time at Penn State DuBois was a short two years, but in that time, the relationships I built were second to none. The team and environment makes it a lot harder to leave, from day one, I thought of everybody as family and not just as teammates or coaches.”
As back-to-back nation champs, Calliari’s expectations for the season grew larger after the team opened the season 4-4 against tough competition in Myrtle Beach, noting he is not usually one to get ahead of himself, but felt the team had a great chance to three-peat.
The head coach added that he believes everything happens for a reason and said a few decisions he made in South Carolina will give players lifelong memories.
Those included giving senior situational pitcher Justin Orlowski a start on the mound, a player Calliari said has always been a great teammate and puts in a lot of hard work.
Or putting Zane Morgan behind the mound in place of an injured Joey DiPietro, as Calliari noted Morgan texted him saying it was one of the greatest moments he’s had in his baseball career.
The final memory came in the team’s last game, a 12-2 win over Middlesex Community College in which brothers Jake and Josh Sorbera were battery mates, with Jake on the mound and Josh behind the plate.
“He had let us know prior to the game that he was giving us that opportunity, so it was really something to look forward to and it’s something that both of us will probably never forget,” Jake Sorbera said.
Josh added, “If that is the last game, it’s not the best way to go, but if that’s how it ends then that’s how it ends.”
While the 2019-20 season came to a sudden end, Penn State DuBois’ coaches, players and fans will not soon forget the memories made on the diamond over the last few seasons.