With playoff berth secure, Knoch softball team focused on fundamentals
Indoor practices on drippy days often can be uneventful, even boring. But that doesn't mean teams can't be productive.
Knoch softball likes to work on situations, and the Knights last week ended a workout with a what-to-do drill when the other team has the bases loaded and no outs.
The message sounds simple enough: Don't overcomplicate things. Make the plays. Keep calm, and make outs.
On Friday against rival Mars, the Knights put their lesson in defensive fundamentals to the test.
Leading Mars, 8-3, heading to the bottom of the seventh, Knoch bit its nails as it watched the Planets rally. A three-run homer and two run-scoring grounders — the latter scores coming after Mars loaded the bases with no outs — made it 8-7.
When first-year right fielder Schaely Renfrew caught a soft liner for the final out, Knoch (9-3, 7-2) breathed a sigh of relief. Just like they drew it up.
“To see that come together was pretty special,” Knoch sixth-year coach Tim Knappenberger said.
The season has gone sort of the same way.
“The thing about this group is that they play all seven innings,” Knappenberger said. “We battle. We're in every game.”
Knoch's three losses are by a combined four runs. It lost 2-1 to Highlands, 4-3 to Boone County, Ky., and 5-3 to Mars.
Knoch has clinched a WPIAL playoff spot and is on the verge of clinching its first section title since 2008. This playoff berth came with less stress attached. Last year, Knoch finished in a four-way tie for second in Section 5-AAA but did not qualify as the result of a tiebreaker.
The previous year, it qualified on a tiebreaker, again untangling a four-way tie.
Four seniors have been keys to a much crisper, cleaner run, starting with pitcher Codi Reed, who also brings power to the plate.
“We have so much trust in the girl in the circle,” Knappenberger said.
Shortstop Bethany Hay and catcher Abbi Smithmyer, standout travel-team players along with Reed, are good enough to play in college. Hay has committed to Bethany and Smithmyer to Edinboro.
Renfrew is new to the varsity but holding her own.
“Those girls were one game out (of the playoffs) as freshman, went 5-5 and got it and went 5-5 and didn't get in,” Knappenberger said. “They feel a calm about them this year.”
Hay said the team knew it had potential but didn't walk with entitlement.
“You can never see it coming. You work and play your hardest and hope for the best,” Hay said. “We've worked so hard this year, and it's definitely paying off for us. We're not done yet though.”
Knoch's team generally is young with three juniors and two freshmen also in the lineup. Knappenberger said six junior varsity players also have contributed.
“All of those girls individually have done something to help us make this run at the section,” Knappenberger said. “They have pushed the varsity girls to be their best.”
Knoch encountered a bizzarre statistical run-in with Indiana during its current five-game winning streak. The Knights won 20-1. Not only did the game go a full seven innings, but Knoch struck out 17 times against Indians sophomore pitcher Adrian Smith. Knoch had 11 hits, walked 11 times and scored nine runs in the seventh.
“I've told a lot of my sports-fan friends about that one, and they can't believe it,” Knappenberger said. “They don't think it's even possible.”
The chances of getting out of a bases-loaded jam are much higher.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.