KNIGHTDALE — It wasn’t the end the Knightdale baseball team wanted, losing in the first round of the 4A state playoffs for the third year in a row.
But a 3-0 playoff loss to New Bern on May 10 didn’t overshadow the strong season by Knightdale’s seniors, or the bright outlook for the returning players next season.
Unfortunately, all of the struggles the Knights faced throughout the season were brought to light against New Bern (17-9, Mideastern No. 2 seed). Knightdale (11-12, Greater Neuse No. 4 seed) had several chances for timely hitting with runners in scoring position, but gave up two unearned runs on errors as the Bears clinched the tight contest and advanced to the second round. New Bern went on to bow out of the playoffs after a loss to Garner in the second round.
“When you only give up one earned run and can’t hit the ball, you can’t expect to win many games that way,” coach Andrew Vaglio said. “For the season, when we saw the other team’s No. 1 starter we just didn’t hit the ball well. That’s something we’ll definitely have to work on over the summer.”
With a relatively young cast of players heading into the season, the Knights were still able to find a way to finish just a win off the .500 mark during the regular season thanks to hard-hitting seniors and juniors.
Seniors Chris Hellriegel, Trey Wall and Adonis Williams all came up big for the Knights on different occasions and finished with averages around .300. As for the players returning next season, Jonathan Sierra and Frank Silvestre went .350 and .300 at the plate, respectively.
With the bar clearly set at making the playoffs for the Knights, Vaglio believes he has a team that can exceed that next season.
“Being able to make it to the playoffs for three straight years, I think it’s time to change our expectations,” he said. “We need to stop looking at the playoffs as a goal and start looking at trying to finish in the top two in the conference and making it farther in the playoffs.
“We’ll still have a relatively young team with experience that has a shot at making it back to the playoffs – but that can’t be the only goal anymore.”
At the beginning of the season, the Knights faced the daunting task of replacing former pitchers Daniel Batts and Andrew Vernon. Following the success of current seniors Dylon Alexander and Logan Pope, who combined for over 100 innings and ERAs of 3.14 and 3.47, respectively, the Knights will have to face another offseason of uncertainty on the bump.
But with a philosophy of bringing the next man up, the Knights will look to four rising juniors to compete for starting roles and carry the team on the mound. With Nick Pope and Garrett Wall getting the most work of next year’s group, Vaglio will also look to Jake Massing and Jake Deshields to tow the rubber.
“Dylon and Logan both had outstanding seasons after having to replace two great pitchers,” Vaglio said. “I think we’re at a point where each year our rising juniors or seniors will be able to step up on the mound for our seniors who have graduated. To me, that’s a sign of a pretty good program.”