After serving as an assistant last season, Turner DeVore takes over a Knoxville baseball team that returns some quality starters but will also welcome a good group of freshmen to the mix.
Returners from last year’s 12-29 squad include seniors Ben Olson, Carter Bailey and Colton Jones along with juniors Mike Hudson, Logan Clark and Bode Cox.
Olson returns to the hot corner where he led the team with seven home runs and 36 RBIs last year to go along with an impressive .346 batting average and 16 stolen bases. He also did a little bit of pitching, finishing with an 0-3 record, 5.79 ERA and 10 strikeouts against 23 walks in 19 1/3 innings.
Bailey will be the Panther’s ace on the mound after going 3-4 with a 4.69 ERA last season. He also recorded 53 strikeouts against 31 walks in 37 1/3 innings. At the plate, Bailey hit .267 with three home runs and 15 RBIs.
Jones will play shortstop and leadoff at the top of the order for Knoxville after hitting .346 with 16 RBIs. He is a good contact hitter as 44 of his 45 hits were singles.
Hudson returns after a dominant year where he led the team with a .394 batting average to go along with 16 RBIs. He will also see a lot of time on the mound after going 2-5 with a team-low 4.04 ERA and 24 strikeouts against 24 walks in 43 1/3 innings.
Clark will return to petrol the outfield this season. Last year he sported a .393 OBP as he was not afraid to take a lot of pitches and get walks. He will look to improve upon his .182 batting average this season.
Cox is back behind the plate for the Panthers. He will also look for a jump forward in the batters box as he hit .107 last year. As a catcher, he threw out 10 would-be base stealers a season ago.
Besides the returning starters, DeVore will welcome some young blood to the mix will five freshman vying for playing time. Luke Spaur, Drew Robinson, Hayden Hatch, Beau Leisure and Trenten Kingrey will join senior Blaise Hubler and juniors Evan Eck and Jaxon Zuck as options for Knoxville.
DeVore was head coach at Central Decatur for eight years and holds a career coaching record of 92-124. He knows the Panthers will have to improve defensively and find ways to get on base to improve in a shortened season.
“We have to be a better hitting and defensive team than we were last year if we are going to improve our record,” DeVore said. “We had an .860 fielding percentage last year, we have to be at .900 or better. We have to cut down on our strikeouts along with finding ways to get on base and flip our lineup over.”
Improving on defense as well as finding ways to put the ball in play and limit their strikeouts will certainly be key for Knoxville in this shortened season. It will be a pretty tough schedule for them with the South Central Conference looking to be strong again this year. Centerville looks like the team to beat as they return almost everybody from their state qualifying squad that will look to make it four straight trips to Des Moines this year.
“We look forward to the challenge,” DeVore said. “We are really going to try to improve everyday and be playing our best play come district tournament time.”