HARRISONBURG, Va. -- Justin Showalter describes it in three simple words.
"It was heartbreaking," said Showalter.
For Showalter, a junior on the James Madison baseball team, "heartbreaking" defines how he felt when it was announced the Dukes' season was officially cancelled along with all other spring sports in the Colonial Athletic Association. The CAA made the decision last week in an effort to prevent further spread of COVID-19, which has become a global pandemic. The same decision was made by NCAA conferences and teams throughout the country.
"It hurt to think back on the year of work that put in since last season to build up to this point," said Showalter.
The right-handed pitcher was off to great start for the Dukes in 2020. He had posted a 4-0 record to go along with a 0.67 ERA and 21 strikeouts over 26.2 innings pitched.
"I think it was confidence level," said JMU associate head coach Jimmy Jackson, who also serves as the Dukes' pitching coach. "I think he knows he's earned the right to be a weekend starter...I think he really, really understands his stuff."
As part of his dominant start to the season, Showalter put together a stretch of 24.2 innings pitched without allowing an earned run. In a home start against Quinnipiac on February 22, Showalter allowed just one hit in a complete-game shutout.
"Justin is one of those fierce competitors that doesn't back down," said JMU head coach Marlin Ikenberry. "He's a winner, he's always been a winner."
Showalter, Ikenberry, and Jackson all used the word "maturity" when describing Showalter's growth from his freshman season until now.
"I think I am much more mature as a pitcher," said Showalter, who starred locally on the prep level at Turner Ashby High School. "I feel like I have grown more into my body where I can use it a lot better than I could as a lanky, clumsy freshman."
His growth as a pitcher is being put to the test with COVID-19 cancelling or postponing almost all sporting events throughout country. Showalter says he is still throwing and keeping his arm in shape to be ready if and when teams are able to compete again.
"What I am doing right now is just trying to replicate what I would've been doing if the season were to still be going but a few minor changes to where I don't have to put as much stress on my arm," said Showalter, who says he recently met up with a few other local college baseball players in an effort to pitch against hitters.
"He's continuing to throw, he's continuing to stay in shape," said Jackson.
Showalter's future in baseball could be either back at JMU or in the pro ranks. The MLB Draft is still scheduled to take place from June 10-12 and he's considered to be a potential draft pick either this year or in 2021.
"I think he's a lot like Kevin Kelly...when you actually watch these guys play baseball, you realize they're really good baseball players," said Ikenberry, when describing Showalter's pro prospects. Kelly, a right-handed pitcher who pitched at JMU, was a 19th round draft pick by the Cleveland Indians in 2019.
Showalter, however, can still return to JMU. He has at least one season of eligibility remaining and it likely could be two more years in Harrisonburg with the NCAA announcing "that eligibility relief is appropriate for all Division I student-athletes who participated in spring sports" as a result of spring sports seasons getting cancelled in response to COVID-19. The NCAA said details will be finalized at a later date.
"Just going to continue to work the way I was planning," said Showalter. "(MLB) Draft has always been the goal so we'll see how that works out and then decide from there."