The Knox College baseball team hosted their archrivals this past Saturday when Monmouth came to Galesburg for the first half of a four-game season series.
Both winless in Midwest Conference (MWC) competition coming into the day, the Fire and the Scots had a lot on the line as the battle was joined. Despite a beautiful day and some inspired performances by underclassmen throughout the team, Knox was swept off their home field, losing game one 7-2 and game two 13-2.
The first billing saw Knox send senior Aaron Juarez to the mound to face off against Monmouth’s Corey Gruber. Typically the setup man for senior Spencer McNeil, Juarez got the nod due to head Coach Jami Isaacson’s need to get the team going.
“Our three best are Aaron Juarez, Spencer McNeil and [junior] Colin Davis,” Isaacson said. “ We’re not going to just lay down, they’re going to throw.”
Juarez battled tough for five innings, doing all he could to keep Knox in the game. He gave up four hits and four runs, three earned, before being relieved by McNeil, who was again authoritative on the mound, allowing no runs through three when freshman Gabe Ayers came in to finish it out. Ayers got an out but let three men score and senior captain Tyler Hopfauf finished it out, staunching the bleeding before it got any worse.
The offense, meanwhile, again languished, plating only two runs on five hits. Gruber pitched a complete game, striking out eight Knoxies. The sole offense came from sophomore David Jewell, with a home run in the ninth and an RBI double by freshman Matt Lee that drove in sophomore Dexter Brown.
Game two was more of the same, decent pitching not enough to keep Knox in the game with an ineffective offense. Davis started on the mound for the Prairie Fire, facing the Scots’ Robbie Hinkle. A shaky first couple innings by Davis doomed the Fire, and though he earned only two runs, seven Scots crossed the plate on a series of errors by the outfield in the first and sixth. Davis was pulled for the Juarez-McNeil connection, but the closer was off in game two, allowing six runs, four earned, on five hits to finish the Knox burial. The Purple and Gold offense came from typical production centers, with Lee driving in Brown and freshman Kyle Walenga knocking a base hit to drive in freshman Brett Hoffman. That was it though, 13-2 the final score.
“Monmouth was tougher than us today, they threw more strike ones than us and they hit the fastball,” Isaacson said after the doubleheader. “We’ve got to get better at those things. We’ve been preaching it for three weeks; we’ve got to get better.”
Knox faces Monmouth again this weekend at Glasgow Field in Monmouth. Despite a disappointing two games, the freshmen in particular showed great promise, giving hope to a beleaguered team and fan base.
“They are the future. They are going to have the ability to be conference champs someday,” Isaacson said. “They just have to learn how to go about the game correctly, pitch by pitch, not just inning by inning.”
In preparation for its second round battle against Monmouth, Knox also played three non-conference games this past week: a doubleheader against Robert Morris on April 20 and Washington University on Sunday, April 18. Though good for preparations’ sake, losses never look good, Knox being swept on the home stand.
Washington University beat them 9-1 with three of four Knox pitchers allowing at least two runs. Freshman Michael Schroeder flashed his bat, driving in the sole Fire run. Knox baseball alumnus Ben Keathley, visiting over the weekend, expressed how impressed he was with Schroeder’s play in particular, noting that he had talent to play at a higher level, much as former center fielder Kevin Malone often showed last year and years prior.
“A D-3 player shouldn’t be able to get away with a play like that,” Keathley said, noting a dropped grounder Schroeder turned into an out with quick thinking and quicker hands.
The Robert Morris doubleheader was a frustrating time for the team, losing both ends 3-1 and 7-6. Pitching and offense didn’t show up at the same time, Knox freshman Ryan Stoens showing his stones and dueling in a 3-1 seven inning affair but taking the loss and Jewell leading the offense in a tough 7-6 loss. Jewell led an early outburst, hitting a homer and driving in two in a four-run third inning. Jewell was 2-for-4 on the day with four RBIs, the other two coming in the seventh on a double.
Five losses in less than a week is tough for any team, but Knox must bounce back before Saturday, as Monmouth looms once again. Still winless in conference play, Knox needs to get it all going at the same time to avoid an oh-fer for the season.
“No matter who your opponent is, you’ve got to respect the game and play hard,” Isaacson said. “It’s an everyday thing and you have to be prepared.”