The ground is thawing, rotator cuffs are once again being stretched and the echoes of aluminum bats can be heard in the distance. After nine long months, Prairie Fire baseball is back.
Knox looks to improve on an 8-24, 3-9 MWC finish in 2011, the team’s second consecutive eight-win season. The Fire was picked to finish third in the 2012 MWC Preseason Coaches Poll. They received one first-place vote.
“We can’t start slow like last year,” sophomore outfielder Erik Smoy said. “Every day at practice, we need to come with an attitude of improving on our fundamentals as hitters and pitchers.”
Knox hopes a wealth of experience on their roster will translate into wins. The team returns most of their starting lineup and boasts a deep reserve of seasoned players.
“I think we’ve got great team chemistry and our [guys] know how to put the ball in play,” sophomore pitcher Peter Marquardt said.
Veterans include seniors David Jewell, Dexter Brown and Kyle Grimes, along with eight juniors and a seasoned sophomore class. The seniors were recruited in the midst of Knox’s historic 2008 season, the team’s first conference title since 1993. That team peaked offensively near the end of the season.
This year’s squad has shown the potential to do the same.
Sophomore Jackson White* was the team’s lone All-MWC player last season, batting .324 with five doubles and seven RBI. Smoy and Jewell will add power to the Fire lineup. Jewell led Knox last year with 23 RBI to go along with eight doubles and 14 walks. Smoy led the team in several categories as a freshman, including home runs (three), hits (26) and walks (18).
Knox will also count on junior utility player Caleb Weaver, a 6-foot-4-inch Galesburg-native who transferred from Carl Sandburg College. Weaver batted .354 with 11 home runs and 67 RBIs in two seasons with the Chargers.
Prairie Fire pitchers finished with a combined 6.97 ERA last season, but showed flashes of brilliance. Sophomore Paul Mills (1-2, 4.97) led the Fire with 31 strikeouts in 44 innings. Marquardt (2-3, 6.34) struck out 17 batters in 11 appearances last year.
“I just want to go out and put our team in a position to win games,” Marquardt said. “That means throwing strikes and having quality starts whenever I’m on the mound.”
The Prairie Fire lost seven seniors to graduation last season, including pitcher Colin Davis (3-4, 5.09) who led the team in wins and innings pitched.
Knox introduces six new players to fill the void: freshmen outfielder Michael Bohnhoff, infielder Austen Lake, pitcher Kenny Blanchard, infielder Derek Cochran, pitcher Andrew Sparrow, and sophomore pitcher Nathaniel Grady.
Head Coach Jami Isaacson ’92 is in his 13th season managing Knox baseball. He is a three-time MWC Coach of the Year and began his managerial career at Illinois College in 1993. At 24 years old, he was the youngest head coach in the NCAA at the time. He is coaching staff includes his father Jim Isaacson, Shad Steck, Les Hunter ‘77, Bo Irons and Jon Fletcher ‘11, a graduate assistant.
Knox’s schedule this season includes a nine-game road trip to Ft. Myers, Fla., where they will face seven non-conference opponents. They finished 4-5 on the trip last season. The Fire will play 19 games on the road, 14 at home and six within the MWC.
The Fire kick-off the season Saturday, Mar. 3 at noon against Central College (IA) in Jacksonville, Ill.
*Note: Jackson White is the Co-Sports editor of The Knox Student.