Another season of baseball is over with for Knox College but unlike many previous seasons, this is one to look back on with a grin and a warm feeling in your heart. A team written off by many critics in the beginning of the season as being finished by the time May rolled around did the seemingly impossible, and made sure the Midwest Conference has an indelible burn mark all across it. In seizing the Conference Championship for the first time in over 20 years, then going to the NCAA Regional Tournament for the first time in school history, Knox has set itself up as more than just an academically-minded school with a couple of sports teams. Now, when kids look at the Midwest Conference as a place to get schooling and win some games, Knox will be large in their eyes.
It was a rough start to the season, but many expected it, as the team came back from its spring Arizona trip with a 3-9 record, limping into the regular conference season. What nobody expected, is what was forged in the dead of winter and in the heat of the Arizona sun. This team, from veterans like seniors Paul Bennett, Luke Hunter, and Greg Leibach, to the young talent in freshmen like Jordan Ball, Colin Davis, and Danny Salvato, came together and united under the strong hand of Coach Jami Isaacson to charge through the Southern Division, and tie everybody up at 5-5.
They left the whole conference stunned, after shutting down the favorites in St. Norbert and Ripon Colleges, finished up a winning streak of seven wins in nine games and charging through a surprise hosting of the conference championships.
A trip to an NCAA regional tournament was probably the last thing on anybody’s mind when the team started practicing in February, but that was the outcome as the NCAA now has a rule that winning your conference now gives you an automatic bid to the regional. As the only team with a losing record overall, it can be assumed that not much was expected from the Prairie Fire from the organizers up at NCAA Central.
“Going into it, I was expecting the worst, but hoping for the best,” said Davis. “I said to other guys on the team, if we competed, and stayed in the game, we would have a chance to win.”
The team, unfortunately, was blown out by the St. Thomas Tomies, 15-1 in the first game of the double elimination tourney, then hammered again in late innings by St. Scholastica, losing 15-7 after giving up seven runs in the last three innings, including five in the eighth. Even so, nobody on the team saw it as a bad experience and in fact relished what they got to go through.
“[Regionals] was a great experience, it was something to build on,” said Davis. “It was the first time ever, but not the last. We are losing some pop in the middle of our order, but the pitching staff is coming back, and this year’s freshmen will step it up, definitely.”
Having that trophy in the cabinet is a sure way to draw some excellent talent, as well as having the Coach of the Year in Isaacson, and it can and will have some company, if the team has anything to say about it. So as the best year in Knox baseball in a long time closes, untainted despite the rough ending, the future looks bright, and we all can only sit and wait till next year, for another magic run, and another fabulous ending to a great season.