Two bitter foes met for the second time this past week on Saturday at Blodgett Field during the second half of the Knox/ Monmouth baseball series. Last week the Fire were swept off the porch and they were eager to get back at their rivals.
Though it was a grueling day, the Prairie Fire (6-15, 4-4) were able to pull a couple off the Scots (11-12, 6-2), 7-1 and 7-3, handing them their first conference losses of the season. Game one saw senior Sam Almohandis taking the mound, a departure from his usual role as stopper for the club. Despite the hurler’s shift of focus in the game, coach Jami Isaacson was not worried about Almohandis’ new role.
“A senior wanted the ball and I gave it to him,” Isaacson said. “You put in four years of hard work like Sammy has, you earn that.”
To put it simply, Almohandis was lights-out, going 7 and 2/3 innings, striking out five, and allowing only one run while scattering nine hits around the diamond. The only run came on a homer in the third, which Almohandis simply shrugged off and got right back to work.
“He’s pitching at a national regional level right now,” Isaacson said.
The Knox offense, which a week ago had been able to muster only one run on a couple of hits against this same Monmouth defense, came alive early and often. Sophomore Bob Dempster recorded the team’s first home run of the year, putting the Fire up 1-0 in the second, and promptly tripped rounding first. This small stumble would be all the Fire would experience though, and in the fourth, Monmouth’s Matt Bourne was knocked around for four hits and four runs, as well as an error. Senior George Nicholson got the long ball working again in the fifth, blasting one high and deep to straight center field. Dempster would finish 1-for-3 with one RBI, while Nicholson was 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored. Senior Adam Estergard had a huge day in both games, going 2-for-4 with an RBI in the first.
Game two looked to be a test for the Prairie Fire, as they faced Monmouth’s Robbie Hinkle on the mound. Hinkle was chasing a school record of 29 straight shutout innings, standing at 27 after throwing three complete game blankers. Isaacson, who coached Hinkle several past summers during the American Legion baseball seasons, had nothing but good things to say of his opposing team’s thrower after the game.
“Let me just say that having had the opportunity to coach this young man, that [he] is awesome. I’m glad we got to him when we did,” Isaacson said.
Hinkle would set the record at 32 and 2/3 innings of shutout ball, but in the fifth it all went down, as he allowed a single and a walk, then senior Kevin Malone knocked a single to center field, driving in two. Malone would finish 3-for-4 with three RBIs in the game.
Sophomore Colin Davis was on the hill for the Fire, throwing his usual solid outing. In six and one-third innings, Davis gave up eight hits and three earned runs, as the Scots kept the game tight after he left. Despite his pitching performance, the Fire offense did its typical late-inning wake up, and junior Spencer McNeil picked up the win as he pitched two and two-thirds innings of scoreless ball.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Scots were still up 3-2, when a throwing error and a single out later set the table for Estergard. Still homerless deep into the season, Estergard had unleashed a couple of loud fouls earlier in the game. The Monmouth reliever made a mistake, though, and Estergard bounced one off a car in the outfield parking lot, plating three and giving the Fire the lead. He would finish 1-for-3 with two RBIs and a run scored. It would be all the Fire needed, but they tacked a couple on in the eighth anyway, with a two RBI single by senior John “Brooklyn” Curtin. He would finish 2-for-5 with two RBIs. Isaacson was happy with the win, but understandably hesitant to celebrate too early, with four games against division opponent Illinois College approaching.
“We’re just going to take it day by day,” he said. “Take care of what we can take care of.”