Featured / Sports / The Prairie Fire / April 22, 2015

With youth comes inconsistency

There is no denying that the Knox Baseball team has had a tumultuous season thus far. They seem unable to play consistently and split many games. The men of the team seem to think this is simply part of the sport’s dynamic. They contend that baseball is an unpredictable sport, with results differing day to day based upon how the players are feeling and whether they are mentally together, which matters more than the team they’re facing. Yet the team’s recent results have stumped current players, even by baseball standards.

“It’s really odd, because we’ve gone to Cornell and lost two games, split here, split with Macmurray here, lost here to Monmouth twice and then we won at their place twice,” junior Jeremy Gogoel said, reflecting upon the season thus far. “I don’t know if we get a fire in us when we lose, and that’s why we come back and compete a little bit more. Pitching wise, it really just depends who’s on the mound, and how they’re feeling that day.”

Even taking into account the unpredictable nature of baseball, there is no denying the fact that the team has failed to match their output of the past two years. They have dropped from being in the Conference Tournament in 2013 to the bottom of the conference this 2015 season. The 2013 success was in large part facilitated by an upperclassmen heavy roster.

“It came out of a lot of maturity. Every guy at each position knew what they had to do to get the job done,” junior Austin Bevenue said. “That really just comes with playing more and more baseball.”

The roster was stacked with upperclassmen starters in 2013, which has allowed for the underclassmen in 2013, now the upperclassmen, to ease into their positions under strong leadership.

The Prairie Fire squad watches as they attempt a comeback against Illinois College. Knox would lose both games of the doubleheader by a combined 14 runs. (Sean Tracy/TKS)

The Prairie Fire squad watches as they attempt a comeback against Illinois College. Knox would lose both games of the doubleheader by a combined 14 runs. (Sean Tracy/TKS)

This trend, however, has not continued. Over the past two years, the team has lost many of its upperclassmen, either to graduating seniors or members not returning. Today, seven upperclassmen contrast 18 underclassmen. This makes for a lack of experience, something that has proved difficult for the team to overcome.

“There was a little bit of rebellion to start the season off,” Gogoel said. “Mainly the freshman, just because they’ve done things their way for so long and it has worked out well for them. Going to the next level, it’s kind of hard to abandon what you’ve been doing and then adapt to something new.”

With a lack of upperclassmen, the leadership on the team waivers. While each member steps up to his responsibility, it is simply a matter of numbers. Experience in the college game of baseball is important because it differs from the game in high school. Not only is it two innings longer, growing from seven to nine, but the game itself is also at a much faster pace with players who can hit targets more consistently.

“That’s what we are working through right now,” said Head Coach Jami Isaacson. “The ability to understand what college baseball is all about. It is a struggle at times and we’re learning our way. For a lot of these guys it’s brand new, like when we go to Jacksonville a lot of them have never played there, been there. … It’s tough when everything’s brand new, and a lot of the time when we take the field with these guys it’s brand new every time we play.”

With the starting team consisting mainly of freshman and sophomores, this novelty will soon wear off as the bulk of season games are in full swing.

A major component of the team’s inconsistency this season has been related to the ability to remain mentally strong and not crack under pressure. These pressures are found more on the shoulders of the underclassmen, who are not as accustomed to them.

“In college baseball, whether you’re the best team or you’re not, that usually doesn’t determine who wins or loses,” Isaacson said. “It’s who makes the most mistakes, usually the most mental mistakes, and at times we do make those.”

According to Isaacson, the main way these mental mistakes can be brought to a minimum is through repetition of these scenarios in practice to ensure players instinctively know what to do when faced with a similar situation in a game. Working with players on individual strengths and weaknesses is the focus of Isaacson’s attention this season, baseball being just as much of an individual sport as a team one.

“He’s willing to work with some less talented recruits that have potential, and work with them and build them into players,” junior Marty Salazar said of his personal growth on the team. “I’ve gone from a pitcher that barely made the high school team to a guy who’s making a serious impact on my collegiate team.”

Salazar and Gogoel admit that among other minor issues on the team, those on the mound may be responsible for certain inconsistent games or innings. Lacking in full time pitchers, this puts more emphasis on the current pitcher’s pivotal importance to each inning. Both Salazar and Gogoel agree that the mental toughness of Knox’s pitchers is crucial for the team to compete.

Sophomore Paul Sanders steps up to bat on Saturday against Illinois College. (Sean Treacy/TKS)

Sophomore Paul Sanders steps up to bat on Saturday against Illinois College. (Sean Treacy/TKS)

Though the season has started out rough, this has not deterred the team’s sight set on the conference tournament.

“Looking at the conference standings, our goal is still to go to the conference tournament,” Gogoel said. “If teams keep splitting and we can pull away with six more wins, that will put us at nine, which is technically what you need to go to a tiebreaker, and then to the conference tournament.”

After this weekend’s fall to Illinois College, however, the team has their work cut out for them.

With such a young team, peak success may not happen this season, but both Isaacson and the team look forward to the next few seasons as they settle into their positions. In 2008, Isaacson led his team to win the Midwest Conference title, followed by Knox’s first appearance in the NCAA Division III Championship. Isaacson has drawn comparisons of this year’s squad to an earlier version of the 2008 team.

“In terms of the ebb and flow of our season, the biggest difference is this: we were a mature team in 2008, and we were very good at the end and I knew we would be,” Isaacson said. “This year’s team is good baseball wise, but they’re not as old. If you look at the 2006 and 2007 teams, you’ll see very similar things.”

Though the team may not be creating the stir it did on campus two years ago, it may be one to keep an eye on next season.

Sam Watkins

Tags:  austin bevenue baseball Jami Isaacson Jeremy Gogoel marty salazar

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