Sports / The Prairie Fire / April 10, 2008

New guard prepared to win

As with any college sports team, the Knox College baseball team relies on recruits and incoming freshmen to inject new blood into the program, forging the path to the future. An influx of nine young men from all points of the compass has come to Knox to be the players of the future, and they are working tenaciously to be the go-to guys to be.

“Already, I am very happy with this freshman class,” said coach Jami Isaacson. “Physically, they are doing everything they need to do in order to take over at some point. At first, they didn’t quite realize the intensity of the college game, but they’re coming around to it.”

An interesting piece in the gathering of the team that Isaacson accomplished was that several of the players have actually played each other competitively, or have even been on each other’s teams. Freshman Pitcher Colin Davis and sophomore Jordan Ball were on competing high school teams in Canton, Ill. and Cuba, Ill. respectively, and played summer ball together. Freshman Third baseman Logan Willits of Aledo, IL, played against the two of them in the summer league. For all of them, the jump, while not shocking, has been a large shift from what they were used to in high school.

“The quality of the players is what gets me,” said Willits. “The game is much faster-paced and requires a lot more mental commitment than high school. You have to capitalize on mistakes more.”

Both Ball and Davis, who are already starting pitchers, have experienced basically the opposite feeling.

“The whole order is good,” said Davis. “One through nine, instead of maybe [just] the heart of the order. I can’t afford to make even a little slip out there, because then I’ll just get knocked around.”

Ball had similar experiences.

“I really have to hit spots out there. If we want to get to conference, all of us, myself and Colin included, have to give our best, every pitch,” he said.

Though neither Davis nor Ball have netted a win as of yet, they know that it is just around the corner. And once the team really starts firing, things will happen.

“What I’m trying to press on these young guys is that baseball is an approach,” said Isaacson. “You have to have the mental drive to push yourself, every day, you have to put the time in, be it the weight room or the cage, and you have to understand that baseball is meant to be played every day. You can’t just turn it on. You have to keep doing it. Once they really get it, they’ll find success.”

All the young ones seem to be realizing this and are coming around. Freshman first baseman John Fletcher realizes the preparation involved, and is willing to work at it hard.

“In high school, we would pretty much just get on the bus, go to the field and play,” said Fletcher. “Now, there’s all the game prep, the scouting the coaches do; it’s way more intense. The work ethic we have, though, that is what impresses me about it. It feels like we got in the groove of the team quickly.”

It is an ambitious young group, with many having an NCAA regional tournament in their eye for the future. As far as they are concerned, all they have to do is learn from the most knowledgeable baseball man they know, as Fletcher put it, and put it to good use.

The team faces Grinnell College this weekend in a rematch of last Saturday’s double header. This time, though, Isaacson knows a little something about them, and being at home is certainly a boost to the team.

“We’re just gonna try to put the ball on the ground,” said Isaacson. “Last time was a real battle, and if we do it right, we can sweep them and pick up two conference wins. Grinnell is real consistent. They run well, we just have to pick our pitches and play to our potential.”

With a sweep and a Monmouth loss this weekend, Knox will tie for second; which sets up a great chance for Knox to take it for themselves on April 19, when the Scots come in to town. The young blood is ready for any chance they get, and with all the strong veterans in front of them, down the stretch this team looks like one to beat.

Merritt Rohlfing

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