On a curiously warm afternoon last Sunday April 1, the Knox baseball team was on the verge of their first three-game winning streak of the season. Despite favorable conditions, the Fire fell short, losing both ends of a tightly contested double-header against Beloit College at home.
Knox (6-10, 1-3 MWC) dropped the first game 4-1 after allowing the Buccaneers to take an early lead. Beloit (8-10, 2-0 MWC) drove in three runs in the first inning due in part to a pair of Knox throwing errors.
Still, the Fire battled back. Sophomore Mike O’Connell led the fifth inning off with a double, advanced to third base on a ground out, then scored on a sacrifice fly by junior Kyle Walenga.
“The pitcher for Beloit (Alex Norman) did a great job of working the strike zone,” O’Connell, who finished the day 2-3, said. “[I knew] he had been working the outside part of the zone all day, so the second pitch he threw I was able to put a good swing on it.”
Sophomore pitcher Peter Marquardt (2-2, 3.77 ERA) dropped his second game of the season despite six solid innings of work. He gave up four hits and three walks, along with five strikeouts.
“My defense played solid behind me all day and gave me the confidence to keep throwing strikes and letting them put the ball in play,” Marquardt said. “Aside from the first inning I would not change too much up. I just want to put our team in a position to win ball games.”
Junior Gabe Ayers took over in relief, finishing striking out one batter and surrendering a walk. Ayers leads the MWC in appearances (9) thus far.
Beloit jumped ahead early in the second game as well, leading at one point 8-2. But as they did earlier in the afternoon, the Fire fought back.
After a pair of Beloit errors in the fifth inning, junior Matt Lee drove in two runs in to bring the Fire within four. Lee finished the day 3-5, with two runs, two RBIs and a walk.
Knox tied the game 8-8 heading into the ninth inning. Beloit momentarily pulled ahead 9-8, but were forced into extra innings after an RBI single by sophomore Jackson White.
The Bucs scored five runs in extra innings to defeat Knox 14-11.
The Fire had 13 hits in the game. Sophomore Erik Smoy scored three runs with two hits. Junior Schroeder had two runs, two hits and an RBI. Walenga added three hits and two RBIs.
“In terms of adjustments, I think it comes down to an overall improved, aggressive focus in all phases of the game,” Walenga said. “We’re close to putting it all together, but to take that next step we need to put in the work to get there.”
Knox began their season the same way as MLB teams: in warm weather.
The Fire traveled to Ft. Myers, Fla. to face seven non-conference opponents over spring break. Knox beat Lakeland College (Fla.) 7-3 in the opener, but then dropped five straight games, including a 21-1 tromping by Kenyon College (Ohio).
They finished 3-6, but ended the trip winning two of their final three games.
“Some of the keys to the team’s success in Florida were timely hitting, solid defense, throwing strikes and being aggressive on the bases,” junior Ryan Hoffman said.
Hoffman has started all 15 games for Knox and is batting .360. He is statistically the best fielder in the MWC with zero errors at first base.
Offensive leaders on the trip included junior Caleb Weaver, who has played a large part in the Fire’s success this season. In a 15-8 win over Plymouth State University (N.H.), Weaver was 4-4 with three runs, four RBIs and a homerun. Weaver currently holds the second highest batting average (.448) in the MWC.
Sixteen games into the season, Knox players know the team has the potential to turn heads in the conference.
“We know we have the right ingredients to be a hell of a ball club, really the first such opportunity for many of us here at Knox. We’re ready to roll,” Walenga said.
Knox takes on Illinois Wesleyan at Blodgett Field next Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.