Just a year removed from their first MWC South title and a school-record 22 victories, the Prairie Fire baseball team is predicted to return to the top once again, returning three first team all-conference players under 15th year Head Coach Jami Isaacson.
Senior Erik Smoy credited the squad’s ascent in the standings and the preseason poll to their work ethic, saying, “The strong underclassmen we had last year are really what have helped propel the program forward. Despite the loss of last year’s phenomenal senior class, coaches around the league have seen all our guys buying into the mindset of hard work every day and giving everything to the program, and I think that’s why we’re predicted to be on top.”
Smoy, who has been selected as an all-MWC performer each year he’s been at Knox, hit .364 with 37 RBI and a .419 OBP last year, complementing the speed of senior Phil Tallman, who hit .316 and stole a team-best 12 bases, and the arm of senior Paul Mills, the MWC South Pitcher of the Year after a 4-1, 4.08 ERA season in which he held hitters to a .239 average against.
Despite all the talent returning to the field, Smoy believes one of the biggest talents for the Prairie Fire was not in a Knox jersey last year. Junior Ryder Borre, a transfer from Eastern Kentucky University, will fill a void for the Prairie Fire on the mound.
“Ryder is going to be huge for this program,” Smoy said. “He’s been stepping up since day one and making an immediate impact. We’ve needed another lefty pitcher for a while now, and with his off-speed stuff he’ll be able to keep a lot of hitters off-balance.”
While Knox was predicted to win the MWC South, St. Norbert, who lost in the MWC Championship game to Ripon last year, is predicted to win the North. Returning eight starters, the Green Knights present a formidable foe. Mills, however, remains confident that the Prairie Fire have what it takes to take St. Norbert down, saying, “We have a ton of young talent ready to contribute at all positions. Since we have a couple of four-year starters that have seen plenty [of St. Norbert], we understand what they want to do at the plate and on the mound, and we can teach that to the new guys now and for years to come.”
Still, at the end of the day, Knox is going to have to work day in and day out from now until the end of May if they want to come anywhere close to the success they found last year. The mindset of the team has been shifting of late, to one in which it’s now the expectation to win instead of the deviation from the norm.
“We want to win the MWC and then some,” Smoy said. “It’s nice getting conference recognition, but I would much rather be the postseason champions than top the preseason ballot.”