KNOXVILLE — Carla Smith enters her second year leading Knoxville after a good 10-5 first season in 2020. She will return six starters from that team but will be without any seniors this season.
Returners for Knoxville include juniors Jadyn Streigle and Olivia Maasdam, sophomores Emma Dunkin, Ashlyn Finarty and Melanie Sullivan and freshmen Brittany Bacorn and Ciara Heffron.
Leading those returnees is Finarty, who was a second team all-conference selection last season as a freshman. She had a real nice season at the plate and on the rubber for the Panthers batting .423 with five doubles, one home run and nine RBIs. In the circle, she owned a 5-4 record with a 2.96 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 71 innings pitched.
More good news for Knoxville is they return their other two pitchers in Streigle (2-1, 4.27 ERA) and Heffron (2-0, 1.47 ERA) who will give Smith some options this summer. Both are also good hitters with Streigle hitting .300 with five RBIs and Heffron coming on late to hit .324 with one home run and six RBIs.
Dunkin and Maasdam might make up the middle infield for Knoxville as they also both bring good bats with Maasdam hitting .409 with five RBIs and Dunkin adding a .295 average with a keen eye (team-high seven walks) and slugging potential (team-high six doubles) with 10 RBIs.
Sullivan can play a utility role this year while also sporting a .326 average with a homer and six RBIs last season while Bacorn returns behind the plate where she will have a good understanding of the returning pitching staff.
Eighth grader Hannah Dunkin along with fellow newcomers Lexi Koons, Katie Deaver and Kalli Wilson have looked good in practice and could carve out some playing time this season.
The Panthers expect to be in the mix in the South Central Conference this season as Albia loses a lot from their state championship team while EBF expects to be tough as well.
Knoxville had a handful of comeback and walkoff wins last year, they know how to play in the clutch and from behind. They have an experienced but young squad that knows how to hit and returns all of their pitchers.
It will be interesting to see where their leadership comes from without any seniors as expectations will be high in Knoxville this summer.