Sports / The Prairie Fire / April 8, 2010

Plate empty as Prairie Fire baseball starved for runs

The Knox College baseball team (6-11) took its struggles at the plate to Iowa last Saturday, where they faced the Pioneers of Grinnell College in a customary doubleheader.

The fifth and sixth games in Midwest Conference play had the Prairie Fire somewhat on edge, having gone 0-4 in league competition going into the game.

Head coach Jami Isaacson’s preaching of aggressiveness at the plate was once again the mantra, but Knox could not pull it off, dropping the games by scores of 5-4 and a mercy-shortened 11-1. The Fire sits at 0-6 in conference play, last in the Southern Division.

With junior Colin Davis on the bump to start game one, the Fire had as good a chance as anyone to win. Davis was once again quality on the mound, going five-plus innings and allowing four runs on eight hits. He struck out three before handing over the game to bridge man senior Aaron Juarez.

While effective and his usual imposing self up on the mound, Juarez unfortunately gave up the hit that would prove to be the winning run. He was in for 2.1 innings, striking out one and giving up an earned run on three hits.

Senior Spencer McNeil came in to quell the fire but allowed the winning run to cross the plate and the Fire fell 5-4. Senior Joey Graeff and junior Logan Willits were the bulk of the Fire offense, Graeff going 1-for-4 with a walk and driving in a run. Willits was 2-for-4 on the day with an RBI while scoring two runs. Sophomore Dexter Brown drove in a run.

Game two was a memory come to life, as the Prairie Fire once again had their twin-bill swoon. After a tight first game, they fell apart quickly in an eight-inning game shortened because of the 10-run deficit.

Junior Jordan Ball started, lasting three innings, striking out three, walking four, hitting one and giving up three runs on five hits.

Freshman Gabe Ayers relieved and was the most effective Fire pitcher in the game, lasting two innings and giving up two runs on two hits, also walking two. Juarez and McNeil came in for the last couple innings, but were oddly off their game, combining for 2.1 inning’s work with five hits and six runs allowed. The Knox offense languished once again, going a combined 6-for-28 and whiffing 10 times. Junior second baseman Alex Petik had the sole RBI, going 2-for-4 and driving in freshman Matt Lee.

On the trip, the Prairie Fire was a combined 15-for-63 at the dish, good for a .238 batting average. On the season the team is hitting .246 while slugging .324 and are just not getting that extra-base hit.

“We take too many pitches, we just don’t swing the bat,” said team captain and senior Tyler Hopfauf. Junior first baseman and sometime catcher Bob Dempster agreed.

“Once we start to swing the bat, then we’ll hit for power,” Dempster said. “We just have to get out there and play our game.”

With a strikeout-to-walks ratio of 156-to-72, the Fire are plainly getting aggressive but missing a timing issue. An OBP of .356 shows the teams’ batter’s eye is there, but the power numbers, the pop in the middle of the lineup, just is not there.

Though unreachable for comment as of press time, Issacson no doubt has his team’s offensive struggles at the forefront of his mind. With only eight conference games remaining, the Prairie Fire have their hands full if they want to make it to the Midwest Conference tournament.

Knox faces Grinnell at home on Saturday, having missed out some important non-conference play against Washington University and Robert Morris College due to rainouts.

For a game that needs be played every day, the Fire have all too much time on their hands.

With a sweep on Saturday, the Prairie Fire are back in it. Crucial does not begin to describe this weekend’s matchup. Game one will begin at 1 p.m. at Knox’s Blodgett Field.

Merritt Rohlfing

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