It’s been a more tumultuous 2014 season than expected for the men’s baseball team. Following a record-breaking 2013 in which the team was well within reach of a MWC title, the Prairie Fire have stumbled after jumping out of the gate with a 9-5 record. They’ve since dropped seven of their last nine contests, which has included a 2-6 performance in conference games.
Knox already has double the losses they had in conference play last year and is one loss away from matching their 2013 total with 15 games to go. The question then becomes: what exactly has changed for this year’s squad?
They’ve lost one-run games, 15-run games, high scoring affairs, low scoring ones and everything in between, so there’s no pointing to the bats or the relief pitching or the starters. In fact, the team’s .310 average is 20 points higher than their performance last year, and their ERA is almost 10 points lower than last year’s, while their opponent’s ERA has increased from 4.79 to 6.24. The statistics would speak to an improved Prairie Fire squad, but the results indicate otherwise. Thus, we must take a look beyond statistics.
The most glaring issue with the Prairie Fire is consistency. While they may not have lost an incredibly high number of seniors last season, they did lose five of the seven starters who played with regularity last season, and that hurt.
The team fielded an impeccable .962 percent over the course of last year, only committing 53 errors. This year, the team fielding percentage has dropped to .932, as they’ve committed 57 errors barely halfway through the year. Of those 57 errors, 39 have been committed by underclassmen, who have seen the field a lot more in the absence of the Prairie Fire’s core of five starting seniors.
Head coach Jami Isaacson has been forced to readjust his outfield following the knee injury of senior Jackson White* (one of Knox’s most consistent players, both at the plate and with a glove), which has given freshman Paul Sanders and sophomore Blake Newberg more time in the outfield in addition to the normal platoon. Sophomores Austin Bevenue (three starts last season) and junior Drew Osborn (in his first year at Knox) have become the everyday third baseman and catcher respectively. Youth is in the air.
While Isaacson is making the tough decisions for the team in the moment, he’s making the right decisions for the team in the future. Isaacson will lose only two everyday starters by the time next season begins, well-equipped with a team who’s seen everyday experience and has received the coaching and advice of some of the best seniors in the MWC in White, Paul Mills, Erik Smoy, Dustin Armstrong and Peter Marquardt.
What the team lacks in consistency, it makes up for in potential. Committing errors now is a learning process that can only happen on the field, in a high pressure situation, making this experience vital fot the underclassmen starters. Sadly for spectators this year, this is a team built for the future. Fortunately for fans of the team, this is a program that is built to last.
*Jackson White is the Co-Sports Editor for TKS.