The Knox baseball team split a doubleheader against Illinois College on Saturday, April 28, at Blodgett Field to clinch their first postseason berth since 2008. Knox dropped the first game 4-3, before winning 12-0 in the second match. IC eliminated Fire from playoff contention last season.
Knox (13-15, 6-3 MWC South) held a brief ceremony between the games to recognize seniors Dexter Brown, Kyle Grimes and David Jewell. The players were among the recruiting class that immediately followed Knox’s most recent MWC Championship squad in 2008.
The team also held “Jim Isaacson Day” on Saturday to commemorate the career of long-time Knox Associate Head Coach Jim Isaacson, who will retire after this season. Isaacson, the father of Head Coach Jamie Isaacson, has coached baseball in Galesburg for more than 50 years. Isaacson said he plans to attend conference home games after this season, but will relinquish all other duties as coach.
“I put a lot of years in and I enjoyed it. I’m very happy to be associated with Knox College,” (Jim) Isaacson said. “I’ll miss being around the players. It’s not always wins and losses, but the camaraderie with the players.”
Knox players contemplated Isaacson’s absence next season.
“I feel honored to have had the opportunity to play for him. He’s really helped me develop into a player who can compete at the DIII level and it’s tough to think about not having him around the ball-field next year.” junior Kyle Walenga said.
In the first game of the doubleheader, junior Caleb Weaver hit a two-run homerun to give the Fire an early 2-0 lead. It was Weaver’s fifth homerun of the season.
After a strong outing last week, freshman Kenny Blanchard (4-2, 7.61 ERA) got the start for Knox. He surrendered four earned runs in just over two innings. Junior Gabe Ayers (1-1, 3.41 ERA) took over in relief, holding the Blue Boys (20-13, 5-7 MWC South) scoreless through six 2-3 innings.
“Nothing felt much different from any other outing on the year. I just got lucky that they weren’t very patient and allowed my defense to make some plays for me,” Ayers said.
His strong performance, however, came too late for the Fire. The team scored just one run the rest of the game, as Knox batters were held to six hits.
But with their postseason hopes on the line, Knox’s batters erupted for 12 runs in the first six innings of the second game, en route to 12-0 victory.
Freshman Nathan Grady (2-2, 4.68 ERA) threw six scoreless innings for the Fire.
Key contributors included sophomore Jackson White*, who was 3-for-4 with five RBIs, sophomore Erik Smoy, who was 3-for-4 with three RBIs, and Brown who was 2-for-3 with three runs.
Knox currently trails Midwest Conference South Division leader Grinnell College (13-14, 6-1 MWC South).
The Fire can pick up three victories against the Pioneers at Grinnell on Sunday, May 6, when the teams make up a game that was postponed earlier this season due to darkness. Knox and Grinnell will play a doubleheader immediately following the first game.
“I have never been more excited for the first three weeks of May baseball in my Knox career,” Walenga said. “It’s about to get really exciting.”
Editor’s Note: Jackson White is the Co-Sports editor of The Knox Student.