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story.lead_photo.caption The Blair Oaks Falcons celebrate with the state championship trophy after winning the Class 3 crown Photo by News Tribune / News Tribune.

This past weekend would have been the start of the high school baseball postseason, and the Blair Oaks Falcons had a Class 3 state championship to defend.

Well, not really.

Blair Oaks bumped up to Class 4 this spring, when class and district assignments were announced March 13 by the Missouri State High School Activities Association. But then three days later, the baseball season was suspended for schools that were closed due to COVID-19. On April 9, the season was canceled, so the Falcons will have to wait until 2021 to defend their state title.

Well, not really.

"I heard somebody say, 'Well, you get to be state champs for another year,'" Blair Oaks coach Mike DeMilia said. "I don't really look at it that way. As great as it is and as great as it was, everybody talks about defending it, but we were just trying to start over again."

Blair Oaks was assigned to Class 4 District 10, along with Eldon, Helias, School of the Osage, Salem and St. James. According to MSHSAA, Helias was slated to host the district tournament.

"Being in Class 4 definitely makes a huge difference," DeMilia said. "I just know what we had coming back. We had a nice team coming back, a team that definitely could have competed in Class 4."

The district tournament would have featured two teams that participated in last year's Final Four. Helias tied for third place in Class 4 last season, and the Crusaders defeated Blair Oaks in their two meetings.

"You never know when you get on a streak and things go your way," DeMilia said.

Funny DeMilia would mention that, because after Blair Oaks lost to Helias for the second time in 2019, the Falcons never lost again. They won their final seven regular-season games to get back above the .500 mark, then went 6-0 in the postseason, edging Fatima 1-0 in the state championship game.

"We were on the same page finally during that streak," DeMilia said. "It all came together."

Before the Falcons won their last 13 games of the season to finish 23-11, they had lost seven of their last nine.

"In early parts of the year, there were some moments where we weren't very good and we had some problems," DeMilia said. "It wasn't just the wins and the losses, it was the way the guys played and the way the guys competed."

Getting back to the state tournament would have been a tougher task this season. That road would likely go through Helias, which ended Blair Oaks' seasons in both 2016 and '17 in district play.

Like other Missouri high school baseball teams, Blair Oaks got in two full weeks of preseason practice, and part of a third week, when all spring sports activities were suspended. The Falcons were able to play in a Jamboree the Friday before their season was scheduled to begin.

"We went out in the Jamboree and we played kind of awful, to be honest," DeMilia said. "But it didn't phase me. It was all first-game things, first-day mistakes. Everything I saw in the Jamboree was things we could have fixed.

"If we would have gotten a chance to get on the field a little more and played some games, I think you would have seen a lot of improvement with the team."

When the season was suspended, DeMilia set up online workouts for his players if they chose to try to keep in shape while at home under social distancing guidelines.

"You just try to keep baseball on their mind," he said. "At the end of the day, we knew it was going to be really tough to get back on the field. I was trying to stay positive about it, but unfortunately, I thought it was inevitable what eventually happened."

When the season was canceled, that meant seven seniors didn't get to play in their final season.

"To know it's over is a tough pill to swallow," DeMilia said.

Or maybe it's not over just yet.

Several Mid-Missouri high school baseball teams have agreed to play in a summer league, with teams playing each Tuesday and Thursday starting June 2. The doubleheader league for both varsity and JV teams is scheduled to go for five weeks.

"It would give those seniors a chance to end on the right note," DeMilia said. "Win, lose or draw, if they get a chance to be on the field in their last game and get a chance to have that last at-bat and that last inning, I think that's important for them."

And with the Jefferson City Renegades canceling their season this summer, DeMilia would be able to focus all his attention on Blair Oaks.

"As much as I love the Renegades and I wish we had a season, the silver lining this summer would be getting to see these guys play and work with them," he said.

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