Sports / The Prairie Fire / April 1, 2010

Fire baseball drops first two home games

On Saturday, the Prairie Fire baseball team (6-9, 0-2) travels to Grinnell, Iowa to take on the Pioneers of Grinnell College.

Head coach Jami Isaacson knows what his team needs to do against the Pioneers.

“We’ve got to throw strike one,” he said. “We’ve got to put the ball in play and we’ve got to field the ball. It’s pretty simple.”

Clash with the champs

After a rained-out Sunday doubleheader, Knox went again to battle yesterday against the reigning Midwest Conference (MWC) champion Beloit College Buccaneers in Galesburg and lost to them by scores of 13-5 and 15-2.

After being victim to a seven-inning no-hitter in their last game and an overall sweep last Saturday, the Prairie Fire were anxious to get their bats going again and hopefully catch a groove. Isaacson had pointed to a lack of aggressiveness and in game one the Fire showed their commitment to their coach’s game plan, swinging early and often. Both teams were raring to go to play on a beautiful day.

Team captain senior Tyler Hopfauf took the mound for the Fire. Knox hoped to pull back closer to .500 in conference play with a win or two, and Hoppy, as he is affectionately known on the team, was as good a man as any to lead them. He unfortunately did not have his best stuff on the day, lasting only three innings and giving up four runs, including a deep homer to left. It would prove to be the story of the day, as Knox sent a string of pitchers to the hill with varying levels of success. Freshman Matt Lee relieved Hopfauf but was knocked around for three runs to give Beloit a seven-run lead.

Knox’s offense, through five to bring their team hitless streak to 12 innings, finally came around, featured by a home run from sophomore David Jewell. A spell of wildness infected the Buccaneer pitcher, loading the bases in the fifth and gave Knox a chance to catch up, scoring five runs on singles by junior Bob Dempster, freshman C.J. Foster, and a sacrifice fly by sophomore Dexter Brown.

Senior Joey Graeff continued his long tradition of drawing walks, taking two 90-foot strolls in the game to spark the Fire offense. A comeback was not in the cards though, as senior late-innings specialist Spencer McNeil had an uncharacteristic outing, giving up three earned runs to let the Bucs pull away. Some Fire defensive miscues added to the deficit, with the Buccaneers able to finally pull away and post up a win, 11-5, in game one.

In the nightcap, Isaacson sent senior Daniel Feldman to start the game on the hill. In three innings of work, Feldman allowed six hits, three runs, three earned runs, and two walks. Freshman Gabe Ayers replaced Feldman and in two innings of work allowed two hits and struck out one.

Junior Jordan Ball took the ball from Ayers and in 1.2 innings on the mound he allowed four runs, walked two and struck out four. Senior Aaron Juarez relieved Ball. He pitched 1.1 innings and allowed two hits, three runs and struck out two. Freshman Ryan Stoens finished the game on the hill for the Fire. In his one inning on the mound, he gave up three hits, five runs (all earned), walked one and struck out one.

At the dish, the Fire was only able to muster up seven hits. Foster and junior Logan Willits were each credited with RBIs. In the game, Knox had five errors.

“We have to field the ball. We’ve got to get tougher and we’ve got to get better at the plate — plain and simple,” Isaacson said. “Our pitching overall wasn’t that bad. We knew we were going to throw a lot of guys. Beloit is a really nice ballclub. There were glimmers in game one where we competed with them. We are a tad bit afraid to fail right now and we’ve got to get better in that regard.”

Blueboys sweep Fire

The Fire kicked off MWC play last Saturday in Jacksonville, Ill. with a doubleheader against the Blueboys of Illinois College.

Overcast skies and gusty winds doubled with some superb pitching to quiet the Prairie Fire bats as the Blueboys walked away with a sweep, defeating Knox 3-1 in game one and 10-0 in a mercy rule-shortened no-hitter in game two.

Junior Colin Davis took the mound in game one, the Fire ace looking to kick off MWC competition with a strong showing. Davis was his usual solid self, pitching eight innings of six-hit, three-run ball to keep the Fire in the game.

Unfortunately for Davis, the Knox offense was held in check by IC hurler Brett Williams, who went seven innings, allowing only one run on six hits with seven strikeouts. IC’s Trevor Courson finished out the game, compiling four K’s in two innings’ work. Foster gave Knox its only run with an RBI single. Despite Knox’s loss, IC coach Jay Eckhouse was quick to praise the opposing pitcher.

“[Davis] pitched well. I tip my hat,” he said. “We weren’t taking pitches the other way, we were trying to pull everything. He had us off-balance the whole day.”

Game two featured Ball taking the hill for Knox, the righty looking to continue his Florida work and rebound from a disappointing sophomore campaign. Ball cruised through the first two innings easily, relaxed and confident. In the third, though, the wheels came off and Ball gave up five hits, including a two-run homer and a couple RBI doubles, giving up six runs, four earned. From there it was all-downhill, with Ball leaving after the third and a parade of relievers taking over for Knox.

“[Jordan] left four fastballs over the plate and they did something with them.” Isaacson said of Ball’s outing. “We make the play in center field (on the error) and its 4-0 and he’s still in the ballgame.”

Try as it might, Knox could not get on the board, as Blueboy David Cripe, in his first season on the mound in two years due to injury, hurled a gem, allowing no hits and no runs, though walking five. With a languishing offense, Isaacson was visibly disappointed in the day.

“He had us off-balance,” Isaacson said. “Fastball was in, fastball was out. I don’t know if his stuff was any better than Williams’, we’re not very good offensively, we need to get better.”

Merritt Rohlfing

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