Knox’s baseball team headed into their final Midwest Conference (MWC) games versus the Blue Boys of Illinois College knowing they had to come away with victories in order to have a chance at advancing to the Midwest Conference Championship tournament.
On May 3, the Prairie Fire ended up dropping both ends of a doubleheader versus the Blue Boys in Jacksonville, Ill., 6-5 and 10-5. If Knox could have swept Illinois College they would have had a chance for a possible three-way tie with the Fighting Scots of Monmouth College and the Pioneers of Grinnell College for the MWC South Division crown.
And if the Fighting Scots or Pioneers would have taken three of four games when they faced each other on May 3 and May 4 then Knox would have had at least a chance for a playoff situation. But, Monmouth and Grinnell ended up splitting doubleheaders against each other and left the Prairie Fire out in the cold remembering the success they had last season.
Last season’s team won the MWC and earned an automatic berth into the 2008 NCAA Division III Baseball Championships, which was a first for the Knox baseball program.
Illinois College 6, Knox 5
The Prairie Fire had three straight outs in the top half of the first inning and Illinois College jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the bottom half. The Blue Boys held the lead the rest of the game despite Knox’s valiant efforts to steal it away.
Knox junior pitcher Tyler Hopfauf started the game and was credited with the loss. In 3.1 innings, he allowed four hits and four runs (three earned).
Senior Sam Almohandis relieved Hopfauf and in three innings of work allowed seven hits, two runs (both earned) and struck out four. Junior Aaron Juarez was the last Prairie Fire player to take the hill. He struck out two and threw a wild pitch in his 1.2 innings of work.
Offensively, Knox banged out seven hits in the game, with junior Joey Graeff posting a 2-for-3 day at the plate, also notching one RBI. Other Prairie Fire players with a run batted in were seniors John “Brooklyn” Curtin, George Nicholson and Adam Estergard. Sophomore utility player Bob Dempster also had an RBI.
The Blue Boys had 11 hits in the game to go along with one error.
Illinois College 10, Knox 5
The Prairie Fire jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the top half of the first inning and handed the lead to the Blue Boys in the bottom half of the inning, which they would not relinquish.
Sophomore Colin Davis started the game on the hill for the Prairie Fire. In his 3.2 innings on the mound, he faced 20 batters and allowed five hits, four runs (all earned), walked two and struck out four.
Junior Spencer McNeil relieved Davis and faced 19 batters. In his three innings of work, McNeil allowed four hits, two runs (both earned), walked four and threw one wild pitch.
Juarez took the ball from McNeil and received the loss. He faced two batters allowing one run and one earned run.
Sophomore Jordan Ball, who had a stellar season last year and struggled all season this year, took the mound next and allowed two hits, three runs (all earned), walked one and struck out two in two-thirds of an inning. Ball was relieved by sophomore Logan Willits, who allowed one hit in his one-third inning of work on the mound.
Offensively, the Prairie Fire were led by senior Kevin Malone, who went 3-for-5 and scored three runs. Curtin went 1-for-4 with a run scored and a RBI, Estergard went 1-for-5 with two RBIs, freshman utility player David Jewell went 1-for-3 with a RBI and Dempster had a RBI.
Robert Morris 11, Knox 4
On May 4, the Prairie Fire played in their last doubleheader of the season in Springfield, Ill. versus Robert Morris College and head coach Jami Isaacson allowed all of his seniors to play in the first game versus the Eagles.
Robert Morris 8, Knox 5
In the second game, Issacson sent most of the Prairie Fire underclassmen into the game and allowed the senior members of the team to reflect on their four-year careers at Knox.