Knox College baseball kicked off their 2019 season on Feb. 21 with a doubleheader against Greenville University, dropping both. The team returns seven seniors, eight juniors, four sophomores and adds 20 freshmen. According to senior Dalton James the 1-4 and 3-6 losses on Feb. 21 were due to having a couple of bad innings.
“We had two bad innings. First inning of the first game, we let in three runs right off the bat. After that, our starting pitcher, [junior] Trevan Lowtharp, he settled in and threw the next three innings pretty well for us,” James said. “Then in the second game, we had the lead, going into the bottom of the fifth inning, and our relief pitcher threw against a couple of shaky backers which made the bases loaded. They took the lead 5-4 and we couldn’t recover from that. That was the first time we had been outside as a team together all winter term.”
Lowtharp is one of the pitchers for the Fire and had two strikeouts on the day during the doubleheader. Senior Zach Nitzel is excited to see the team show out and thinks the freshmen will contribute a lot.
“You can see early that many of the freshmen are going to have a significant impact in helping us getting us to where we wanna be this year,” Nitzel said.
Head Coach Jami Isaacson is also hopeful for the large freshmen class.
“It’s been great. It’s rejuvenated our program in a lot of ways. Not only are they good guys and good students but they’re good baseball players. Their work ethic and passion for the game has been awesome. Like all freshmen, we can’t wait until they’re sophomores,” Isaacson said.
The seven returning seniors are hopeful for a winning season. For Nitzel, he hopes he can contribute in any way he can to the team’s success.
“I think as a senior you have to take on more of a leadership role, whether it’s on or off the field. The mindset for a senior, obviously it should be for everybody, but it is to win,” Nitzel said. “Get to the Conference Tournament, see what happens after that. Whatever I can do to help the team win is what I want to do. Whether that be starting or coming in relief spots.”
James believes the freshmen will do a lot to contribute to the team and the success they hope to achieve this season.
“From a senior standpoint, the freshmen this year are way more developed than freshmen usually are. They’ve still got a long way to go in the mental aspect of the game, but their physicality and baseball skill-set, I’m impressed with all of them,” James said. “Collectively, as a freshman class, they have a lot of good, young pitchers that are going to help us out a lot from the bullpen.”
Last season, the Fire had an overall record of 11-24, running 3-16 in conference. On their 2018 Florida tournament run, the team went 2-5 overall. The Fire will look to improve that record when they depart for Florida this spring break. James is most excited to get outside and see what the team can do.
“We have a lot of returning guys that are going to be a big factor for us. In just those first two games, I saw a lot of good things from the freshmen,” James said. “[Freshman] Chase Thies came up really big for us in that second game. He had two RBIs and smacked a double in the gap. That’s what really got us going in the second game.”
James returns as a starter, with a batting average of .396 and having 19 runs last season. James also had a fielding percentage of .965. Junior Brendan Powers is another returner to watch out for. With 25 runs on the season and a batting average of .292, Powers was strong at the plate a year ago. Powers also had a .881 fielding percentage with 45 putouts and 73 assists. The team accumulated 214 runs total over last season with 338 hits.
Nitzel believes the only thing that would stop the team from great success would be their own mental abilities.
“I think talent wise, we stack up with anyone in the Midwest Conference. Baseball’s such a mental game, there’s a lot of mental ups and downs that you have to embrace during the course of a game,” Nitzel said. “Baseball’s a huge mental game, and it’s about finding a way to win and playing a complete game. We’ve played really well for the majority of the game and then fall apart at the end. It’s about cutting down those mistakes.”
The spring break trip will be kicking off on March 14 when they face off against Husson University. The men will play seven games overall from March 14 to 18 and get to enjoy some warm weather before returning to action and conference play, when they play at Beloit College on March 23.