Following a close pair of games that the Prairie Fire split at Monmouth, the team returned to Galesburg to face Monmouth twice more for a Senior Day doubleheader. The Prairie Fire were unable to provide solid defense for senior Paul Mills, committing five errors over the course of the game. Mills gave up five runs (only one earned) over six innings of solid pitching, but the defensive miscues were too much for the Knox offense to overcome. The Prairie Fire dropped the game 7-3, setting a sour tone to open Senior Day.
Game two, however, was another story. The offense exploded out of the gate, knocking home three runs in the first inning. Sophomore Drew Osborn opened the inning with a two-out double that knocked home a pair and senior Peter Marquardt kept the game out of reach for Monmouth, allowing only one earned run in 6 2/3 innings. In fitting form, senior Dustin Armstrong, who is second on the MWC career saves list, notched his 16th career save and fifth on the season with a 1-2-3 9th inning. The win became all the sweeter in that Monmouth’s loss ruined their chances at a spot in the MWC Tournament.
Armstrong said of the victory over the Fighting Scots, “Shutting down Monmouth in the last inning of the last rivalry game was an amazing feeling that I will never forget. It’s no news to anyone that this season was a disappointing one, but it’s a great feeling to be given the opportunity to get the save for the team and for all the seniors.”
Still, as Armstrong points out, the season was not what the team wanted. Picked to win the MWC South, there was a lot riding on this team from the moment they stepped on the field. Armstrong commented on the pressure, saying, “I think we put a little bit too much pressure on ourselves to be the team that everyone expected us to be, and we forgot that were playing for the love of the game. Losing sight in that caused us to play the game differently than we normally would and we just couldn’t snap out of it until it was too late. But that’s how this game works and there is always tomorrow, a new team and new season. If there was one thing that I could leave these guys with it would be to never lose sight of the fun in this game and to play every game like it’s your last.”
The team is going to experience some heavy losses next year, as it faces the departure of multiple everyday starters and the strongholds of the pitching rotation, both in terms of everyday starters and their closer.
Still, optimism is high in the clubhouse; younger players saw lots of the field this season, and while their experience may not have directly translated into wins this year, the team is well-equipped for future success.
In the final two games of the year, non-conference contests against Millikin University, the young talent was given the field, and they did not disappoint.
While Knox was unable to take both games of the doubleheader, there were certainly bright spots: Osborn, already an everyday starter for Knox, went three-for-three in the first game, while sophomore Jeremy Gogoel pitched five innings of one-run ball to get his first win on the year. Even though the team is losing 10 important seniors, there are 10 men ready and, perhaps more importantly, prepared to fill the large shoes left.