The Knox College baseball team faced Monmouth last Saturday in a doubleheader. After being knocked out of the MWC Tournament last year by the Fire, the Scots were hoping to seize firm control of the Southern Division, as they entered the day at 4-0, while the Fire looked to climb the ladder in the standings and make a tournament berth more of a reality. In the end, the Scots dominated both sides of the day winning the games 12-1 in the early game and 7-0 in the nightcap.
“All day long we got out-pitched, out-hit, out-fielded, out-played, out-hustled,” Knox coach Jami Isaacson said. “We’ve got to find a way to get the ball in play, instead of trying to be the hero and hit home runs. Right now, we’re anemic offensively.”
The theme of the day for Monmouth (10-10, 6-0) was pitching dominating throughout, as both pitchers threw complete games and fooled the batters consistently. Knox (4-15, 2-4) managed only four hits off of Monmouth’s Matt Bourne, with junior George Nicholson going 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI. Junior Joey Graeff and senior Adam Estergard were 1-for-3, with Estergard scoring the only run.
The Monmouth bats sounded early and often, as the men in red had 13 hits and jumped out to a six-run lead by the fourth inning. With usual Saturday game one starter sophomore Jordan Ball out of town for personal reasons, three men, senior Tyler Hopfauf, sophomore Logan Willits and junior Aaron Juarez were pitchers-by-committee.
Hopfauf fought through three- and-a-third innings, giving up four earned runs, striking out two but giving up six hits. Willits relieved for some situational pitching, and Juarez came in to finish. Juarez struck out two but gave up five earned runs on six hits, including a three-run homer that pushed the game into a mercy-rule finish in the bottom of the eighth.
The Knox/Monmouth rivalry was evident throughout the day, a tenseness that gave extra credence to each hit.
In game one, senior Kevin Malone was called out at second, and was subsequently ejected from the game after commenting to the umpire about the call.
Then, in game two, Robbie Hinkle threw an inside pitch to Estergard, bouncing it off his forearm. The umpire called it obstruction by the batter, saying Estergard was hanging over the plate. On the next pitch, the ball came up towards Estergard’s head, eliciting a yell from teams and fans alike.
“[Hinkle] was all around the plate all day, and that was a knuckleball that got out of his hand,” Isaacson said. Accidental or not, it only added fuel to the ever-burning rivalry between the schools.
Game two was more of the same, as the offense failed to push even one run across. Monmouth’s Hinkle pitched his third straight complete-game shutout, as Knox could only manage three hits. Malone went 2-for-4, taking a little revenge for being thrown from game one, and sophomore Bob Dempster was 1-for-3.
Sophomore Colin Davis pitched another solid start, going six innings with six strikeouts, allowing eight hits and three earned runs.
“I’m extremely happy with Colin,” Isaacson said, “He kept us in the ballgame.” Davis earned the loss, though, now 0-2.
With the sweep, Monmouth stands at 6-0 in conference play, a virtual lock for the tournament. Meanwhile, Knox, now 2-4 in conference, is battling with Grinnell (3-2) for second in the division, with Illinois College behind at 0-5.
Knox faces Monmouth at Blodgett Field in Galesburg Saturday, at 11 a.m. They then host Illinois College next Wednesday. With a couple wins here and some good work against the Blue Boys, the Fire have a shot at getting that slot.
“We’ve got to get better,” Isaacson said.