Knoch softball team looks to contend for title
Spend any length of time around the Knoch softball team and one might begin to feel nostalgic and have a flashback from a few years ago.
In 2015, a young, upstart Knoch baseball team came together to master the game’s fundamentals and go on to win WPIAL and PIAA Class AAA championships.
That championship feeling is back in Saxonburg.
“They came (into the season) with some confidence and with seven returning starters,” said softball coach Tim Knappenberger, who is in the middle of his ninth season as coach. “I talk to them all the time about their confidence level. They are just as good as any other team in our class.”
Knappenberger has a point as his No. 4-ranked Knights are on the heels of the top softball programs in WPIAL Class 4A. Knoch (11-1, 5-1) is just as hot and consistent as any of the teams that the Knights look up to in the rankings. Knoch falls behind 2016 WPIAL Class 3A champion Mt. Pleasant at No. 3, Belle Vernon and top-ranked Yough.
The Knights are riding a four-game win streak where they not only just won but made a statement. Knoch has outscored its opponents 36-1 in that span and 115-13 for the season.
“They’re taking care of business against teams that we should be taking care of business (against),” Knappenberger said.
For a coach that emphasizes the fundamentals, Knoch is solid in all three phases of the game — defense, offense and pitching.
Junior righty Celia Knappenberger has been nearly perfect. Holding a 9-1 record from the circle, Knappenberger’s only loss came in a 4-2 home defeat to Mt. Pleasant in early April. She has four one-hit, five-inning shutout wins through her 10 starts and boasts a 0.778 ERA as well.
“We are fundamentally sound, and we have a girl in the circle who throws strikes and has five spin pitches,” Knappenberger said.
In addition to his daughter, Celia, Knappenberger has a bit of a secret weapon in freshman hurler Amanda Fischer. Fischer, who is 2-0, has been reliable and consistent. She’s coming off a five hit, seven-strikeout performance in Knoch’s 8-0 section win over rival Indiana.
The Indiana win was not only big for Fischer, who started her first section game, but it was an even bigger team win for a group that had finally solved the riddle of the Indians’ top pitcher, Lauren Bertig. Bertig had gotten the better of the Knights the past two seasons.
“Lauren Bertig has dominated us three out for the last four games for the last two years, and we’ve been talking about her and I had the confidence that these girls could hit against her.” Knappenberger said.
While the arms and stellar defensive play are keeping opponents off the bases, it’s the Knoch bats that have been hot all season. Knoch put up 10 runs on nonsection rival Butler to open up the regular season.
As a team, the Knights combine for a .400 batting average. Knappenberger is a force from the plate, as well. She holds a .449 batting average, including a team-high two homers and 16 RBIs in her 54 plate appearances. Knoch is led by sophomore Monica Gourley’s .630 batting average, with 27 singles and 23 runs.
“They just go out and battle,” Knappenberger said.
The battle is far from over for Knoch. With payback fresh on the Knights’ minds, a road trip to Mt. Pleasant (5-2, 4-2) this Thursday will be pivotal for not only command of the section lead but for the confidence of a team that fell short of postseason expectations in recent years.
“These girls have never gone past the second round of the playoffs, and that’s what we’re looking for now but not we’re not overlooking the regular season,” Knappenberger said. “These girls are used to winning, but we just haven’t won in the WPIAL playoffs on a consistent basis.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.