By the time the final pitch was thrown on Sunday, they still had not found it.
The Fire dropped both ends of a doubleheader against Illinois College in Jacksonville, Ill., 10-2 and 11-3, before returning to Galesburg for Senior Day against Lake Forest. Knox dropped its final two games 8-3 and 15-4, ending its season 3-29 overall and 0-13 in Midwest Conference play.
Illinois College 10, Knox College 2
The Fire jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the top of the first, only to have the Lady Blues score 10 unanswered runs, including five in the bottom half of the frame. Illinois College pounded out 14 hits and 10 runs (eight earned) off Knox junior starter Cory Bieber, who dropped to 1-8 in the loss. Bieber walked two and struck out two in the complete game effort.
Offensively, the Fire struggled against the opposing pitching, a theme that would continue the rest of the weekend. Knox banged out just six hits in the game, with senior Kate Latshaw posting a 2-for-3 day at the plate, also notching an RBI. Freshman Beth McRill singled in a run in the first inning, accounting for Knox’s lone other run.
Illinois College 11, Knox College 3
The Lady Blues’ domination continued in the nightcap, with Knox freshman pitcher Bri Williams (2-11) getting tagged for the loss after giving up eight earned runs on 15 hits. She walked three Lady Blues and struck out just one in the complete game outing.
Junior Cheyenne Cortez supplied a 2-for-4 game at the dish, with Latshaw driving in two more runs. Williams drove in the other run in her 1-for-4 effort.
Lake Forest College 8, Knox College 3
Although their production at the plate improved, the Fire still could not get the big hit when they needed it in Sunday’s doubleheader. Knox came up with eight hits in game one, with McRill and Cortez having big days yet again. McRill finished 2-for-3, and Cortez had a 2-for-4 day at the plate, supplying two RBIs. Junior Cassie Milleville, the designated hitter in game one, supplied the lone other RBI.
Williams turned in a more respectable effort on the mound for the Fire, tossing a complete game and giving up seven earned runs in falling to 2-12 on the year. The freshman struck out seven Lady Foresters, compared with four walks.
Lake Forest College 15, Knox College 4
Knox’s pitching struggles returned in the nightcap, as Bieber (1-9) was tagged for 10 earned runs on 13 hits in her 4.1 innings.
Offensively, Knox continued to swing it a little better than the previous day, totaling nine hits. McRill and Latshaw again had strong games, with each collecting two hits. Latshaw supplied an RBI, but Williams had the big day at the plate. In a 2-for-3 game, the freshman collected three RBIs in pushing her team-leading total to 17 on the year.
Under first-year head coach Patty Keenan and with only two returning seniors in Latshaw and utility player Ashley Olson, it is fair to say the softball team was expecting a rebuilding year in 2009. Some early success – Knox went 3-2 on its spring trip to Florida – perhaps spoiled Fire fans early, before Knox returned to Illinois for conference play.
“We were definitely in a slump when we got back from Florida,” Bieber said. “We came out really aggressive in Florida, and it was a nice confidence boost to play some teams that were pretty equal to us… Coming back we had a little bit of a low where we didn’t play for a week or so because of inclement weather. It was kind of intimidating when we did start playing; the bats weren’t swinging the same way and things weren’t falling for us…It was definitely a little bit of a slump.”
Despite its youth, Knox got big time contributions from its freshmen, including a possible All-Midwest Conference-worthy season from Williams. Williams was second among Knox players with a .304 average, and led the team in RBIs (17) and tied for the team lead in home runs (2).
“I thought Bri stepped up well,” Cortez said. “There is a lot of pressure that comes with being a pitcher, especially being in her first year. She really stepped up in that spot. Previously, we had Cory Bieber the last two years and Bri definitely helped with that responsibility; some games she was dead on. She is a very tough mental player.”
McRill also showed promise as a freshman, hitting .263 with 10 RBIs.
As the Fire enter next year, the players seem confident in a breakout year. Although the losses of Olson (.121, 4RBIs) and Latshaw (.306, 12 RBIs) will affect the team greatly, Knox will return many players who got invaluable experience this year.
“I think it is good, only losing two seniors,” Williams said. “They are going to be tough to replace, but the fact that most of us will be coming back next year is good. We are all ready and have grown a lot as a team.
“I am excited for next year. We are going to surprise people.”