The most wonderful time of the year is upon us; the snow is beginning to melt away (maybe), flowers bloom and spring training for baseball and softball begins. Right in time for the onset of the season come the MWC baseball and softball season previews, which provided some potentially troubling predictions for the Prairie Fire: both the men’s baseball team and women’s softball are predicted to finish in the fifth and final slot in the MWC South.
The predictions make sense in light of the fact that the baseball team is losing the most letter-winners in the MWC at 15, while only returning the same amount. Junior Jeremy Gogoel, however, did not give the prediction much weight.
“Predictions,” Gogoel said, “are just that. They can only say so much. The other schools have no idea about the talent of our incoming freshmen, and they are in for a surprise. They don’t know how much work we’ve put in this year to have a bigger impact in the conference this coming season.”
Still, it’s hard to deny that there will be a loss from the departure of the seniors; the Prairie Fire lost the closer with the second most saves in MWC history in Dustin Armstrong, 2013’s MWC South Pitcher of the Year in Paul Mills and a four-year All-MWC performer in Erik Smoy, among many other solid performers.
“Losing the seniors was a big hit to this team, especially in the leadership category,” Gogoel said. “I have no doubt, however, that we are ready to fill their shoes. We’ve had so many people step up to make sure everyone is giving their all at all times. While we may not have the loudest leaders, they know exactly how baseball should be played and are always looking to improve their own pay along with the team as a whole.”
Softball, on the other hand, is starting fresh. In contrast to the now 16-year tenure of baseball coach Jami Isaacson, softball’s Erin Rutledge is taking the head coaching reins for the first time in her career, following a standout collegiate career at Illinois College and a two-year tenure at a DI Juco program.
Knox College athletic director Chad Eisele pointed to Rutledge’s MWC experience and passion for softball as what won her the job, though she is going to have a much more glaring problem to fix than faces the baseball team: while six position starters return for Knox softball, not a single pitcher will be returning.
Of course, the biggest loss will be that of Amber Eisha, Knox’s do-it-all senior who seemingly made headlines for softball every week. Eisha thrived not only at the plate, where she never hit lower than .349 on a season, but also on the mound. If there ever was an example of Eisha’s tenacity, it would be her Senior Day performance. She earned the win on the mound in game one of a doubleheader against Illinois College and then came on to pitch one and a third innings of relief to get the save in game two, all while going four-for-eight at the plate.
Eisha will be hard to replace, but Rutledge herself was the 2012 MWC South Pitcher of the year, experience that will surely be invaluable. The common truth, however, for both baseball and softball is that they will have to rely on youth for the coming year, hence the low standing in the MWC. But if the excitement for the youth in each program is founded in reason, then the rest of the conference may soon be eating their words.