Celia Knappenberger plays to win.
That might seem like a default setting for any athlete, but there was conviction in the tone of her voice when describing her will to be successful that showed she doesn’t take it for granted.
And with focus and determination Knappenberger, a Knoch graduate, has done plenty of winning this spring while bursting onto the scene as a freshman at Saint Vincent.
Kappenberger is 12-5 as a starting pitcher with a Presidents’ Athletic Conference-best 1.73 ERA and 80 strikeouts. She is the only pitcher who has double-digit wins in the conference and has yielded only 21 walks in 1131⁄3 innings. She also has four saves.
“It’s been a good year so far,” Knappenberger said. “I worked hard for the last 12 years knowing that I wanted to play in college, and now here I am. I’m really happy with how the season has gone.”
Knappenberger has been named the PAC Pitcher of the Week three times. The accolades and early success aren’t surprises to Saint Vincent coach Nicole Karr, who first saw Knappenberger pitch three years ago in a summer travel league game and knew right away she was a special talent.
“We thought she had the potential to go Division II or even Division I, so we were very happy that she decided to come to Saint Vincent,” Karr said. “She’s a hard worker and has a great attitude. Every practice she goes out there and does what she needs to do. On game day, she’s confident in the circle, and she leads the team in her own way and I think her teammates feel comfortable with her pitching.”
Knappenberger has allowed three or fewer earned runs in 14 of 17 starts and has helped the Bearcats (21-11, 9-1) to first place in the PAC standings as they near the halfway point of conference play. There have been four occasions this season when she started the first game of a doubleheader and then came in to close out the second game.
“It’s not something I think was planned,” Knappenberger said. “It just happened. The first time I had to go in they just asked if I was good to go and I said, ‘Yep,’ and it worked out. It only happens when we’re in some trouble, but it’s all worked out so far and we’ll see how it goes going forward.”
One area Karr said sets Knappenberger apart is her level of preparation, and that goes beyond when she’s getting ready for her next start.
Knowing she might be called upon late in games she doesn’t start, Knappenberger is always in the dugout watching the game with intent.
“When you start a game, you have some idea of what the other team has, but you don’t know how your pitches are going to work that day or how well they are hitting,” Knappenberger said. “When I sit on the bench watching, I can tell how well they are hitting and what is and isn’t working for the pitcher before me. I feel I am a bit more focused when I come in with runners on and maybe one out or whatever the situation is. It’s overall the same thing, but there is a bit of a difference when you come in as a reliever.”
Karr said she is always in communication with Knappenberger about how she is feeling, and they plan to balance her workload down the stretch with a hopeful eye toward a postseason run.
The Bearcats are seeking their second conference championship in program history. They won the PAC tournament in 2016 and advanced to the NCAA Division III regionals, where they knocked off the No. 1 team in the country, Virginia Wesleyan, before falling in two consecutive games.
Knappenberger hopes she can pitch Saint Vincent to another postseason run this year.
“That’d be awesome,” Knappenberger said. “It’d be a dream come true. I came here knowing that Saint Vincent had a good team that had a lot of wins in the past, and I wanted to help carry that on. I am a competitor, and I feel that we can go pretty far this year.”