Sports / The Prairie Fire / April 6, 2011

Baseball mired in early season slump

Note: The Prairie Fire split their doubleheader Wednesday afternoon at Robert Morris University-Springfield in Springfield, Ill. Knox won the first game 5-3 and lost the second 11-1. For full coverage of both games, check out tomorrow.

After a spring break trip in which the Prairie Fire finished strong—winning their last two games and four overall—it seemed the baseball team might rebound and return to the conference-contending form shown in years past.

But following six consecutive losses—four against conference opponents—it’s looking like Knox (5-12, 0-4 MWC) will not contend for much of anything in 2011.

Two relatively close losses at Beloit College on March 29th were followed by a humiliating sweep at the hands of Grinnell College on April 2. Grinnell outscored the Prairie Fire 38-6 in the doubleheader.

Knox struggled in both games, but their defense hit a season-low in game two, as they surrendered 18 hits and committed six errors in a 17-3 loss.

In a doubleheader against Washington University (St. Louis, Mo.) on April 3, the Prairie Fire almost broke through and halted the losing streak.

As Knox was up 10-9 with two outs and nobody on in the top half of the seventh inning, Washington’s Ben Ingell singled and stole second before Kyle Billig double scored him. Another double scored Billig, giving Washington an 11-10 lead. Knox went down in order in the bottom half, securing their fifth straight loss. Washington stomped Knox 25-5 in the second game.

Last season, Knox was done in by poor hitting. This year, though the offense has struggled in the last six games, there have been standout performers.

Freshman outfielder Erik Smoy has led the offense with a slash line (batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage) of .419/.535/.484. He also leads the team in walks (10), stolen bases (six on six attempts) and hits (13). Smoy, at press time, had the fourth best batting average and second best on base percentage in the Midwest Conference.

Junior David Jewell leads the Prairie Fire with six doubles in 15 games—all starts—and a slash line of .279/.389/.465.

The pitching and defense, however, has not held up its end of the bargain.

Senior pitchers Jordan Ball and Colin Davis have struggled. Ball’s earned run average (ERA) is at 10.29, and has been unable to find the zone, walking 18 batters and striking out only nine. Davis has kept it in the zone, but has been hit hard, surrendering 31 hits in just 14 1/3 innings of work. Freshman Paul Mills has also been hit hard, with a 9.20 ERA in four starts.

Knox will have a chance to avenge its doubleheader loss to Grinnell on Saturday, when the Prairie Fire travel to Grinnell, Iowa for a pair of games.

They will then return home on Tuesday April 12 for a 2:30 p.m. game against nonconference foe William Penn University.

Kevin Morris

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