Regular season play in the South Central Conference has ended, and the Knoxville Panther baseball team finished in fourth.
Head Coach Matt Miller says there were too many defensive mistakes through the season, but his team worked hard and gave their best in every game. This is all done against a very experienced cadre of opponents, as lineups for Eddyville and Clarke were filled with seniors. Knoxville was like Albia, Centerville and Davis County, with fewer upper classmen among their ranks. The top of the conference was “solid”, Miller said.
“I’m pleased that our boys never gave up,” Miller said. He went on to say that the team has faced others who clearly had. They were just there waiting for the season to end. But Panthers kept playing, working hard in practice to get better.
“We played to the end of the season,” Miller said. “I think you can measure our success based on how we kept fighting back.”
Beyond the youth of the team, Knoxville’s record leaned more toward the loss column because Miller wanted his team to take on the best Iowa has to offer – regardless of class. This season, the Panthers have played Ankeny Centennial, Mason City-Newman, Gilbert, Forest City and tonight (July 16) Dowling Catholic. Those are all great baseball teams, many of whom brought their aces to the mound to take on the Panthers.
“We feel like we’re a better team, by facing those guys,” Miller said. “We could have had more wins, but weaker opponents would not have helped us as much.”
Knoxville baseball held its postseason banquet July 15. Among grades 7-12, Knoxville was able to field five different teams. Middle School Coaches Brad McWilliams and Perry Bell, along with high school coaches Steve Mott, Turner DeVore, Otis Roby, Ryan Leisure and Miller, worked with the players through the summer while Ryan Roberts and Randy Naaktgeboren worked with them in the fall league.
This year’s varsity letter winners included Evan Eck, Bode Cox, Logan Clark, Mike Hudson, Ben Olson, Kyle Ramsey, Colton Jones, Carter Bailey, Kaleb Streigle, R.J. Roberts and Alexis Hopkins.
Hudson won the MVP award and the batting title with an average of .403. Roberts, Streigle, Cox and Logan Clark received the team’s Gold Glove honors for their outstanding defensive work. Streigle was named best pitcher and Jaxon Zuck received the Coaches’ Inspirational Award.
Last, and certainly not least, several Panther baseball players earned the All Conference Academic Award. These players had a GPA of 3.4 or higher. They include Roberts, Jones, Streigle, Olson, Ramsey, Hudson, Dylan Myers, John Buttell, Michael Greubel, Evan Prevo, Brett Snyder and Seth Walraven.
The Panthers open district play at North Polk (Alleman, off of Interstate 35) at 7 p.m. Friday, July 19. Miller says he knows Knoxville can find a way to win on the road to the State Tournament with the right combination of smart ball playing.
“We also know we have a huge challenge ahead,” Miller said. “We’ve got to play really clean baseball.”
Knoxville is in a tough district. Regardless of who wins this one, that team will be battle-tested and ready for what comes next at Principal Park.