Knoch baseball hitting peak heading into final section series

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Thursday, April 29, 2021 | 7:45 PM


Every coach hopes to start his time at a program with a win, but new Knoch baseball coach Bradley Bestic had to suffer through three losses before a 5-2 victory over Deer Lakes.

After going 35-9 in three years at Vincentian Academy and winning both a WPIAL and PIAA title in 2018, Bestic knew that after a canceled season, there was no need to panic.

“Everyone missed out on a year of baseball last year, and we knew that it was probably going to take a couple games to get to where we wanted to be, especially with me being new and me getting acclimated to them,” Bestic said. “I feel like after those first games, everyone got familiar with everyone and knew what was expected of them.”

Over the past month, his players have proved him right.

Since back-to-back losses to Highlands on April 6-7, the Knights (9-4, 6-2) have won eight of their past nine games, pitched three shutouts and have outscored their opponents 69-29. They’ve been winning games with defense, and they’ve also won games by slugging with teams. But they also had to go through their trials and tribulations.

Their losses to Highlands, which included a game-winning double by Seth Helgert in the bottom of the seventh inning of the second matchup, were learning moments for the Knights.

“With those being two section losses, especially in the first two section games of the year, it was really a motivating factor for them to know what that feeling was like early and know that we could only go up from there,” Bestic said. “Once we got the taste of that section win, they didn’t want to be on the other side of it again.”

The Knights got their first section win when Brayden Hageter threw a four-inning no-hitter and was one walk away from a perfect game in a 15-0 victory over Burrell.

Hageter and fellow senior Gavin Phillips have anchored the Knoch pitching staff throughout their recent stretch. They’ve combined for 61 innings and have struck out 55 batters while allowing 13 earned runs.

Phillips has produced a 1.50 ERA while Hageter has a 1.48.

“Their pitching speaks for itself when you look at the stats,” Bestic said. “But having two seniors who have the wherewithal they have, the positive mindset, they are good teammates and special people. Having guys that like also just help the mindset of the team. I can’t really say enough about those two.”

Luke DiSanti has also contributed as well with 26 strikeouts in 16 innings.

Their run over the past month has been successful, but the Knights really knew what they were capable of when they out-slugged North Hills in a 10-9 game April 15.

After going down 5-0 through four innings, the Knights scored five in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game before scoring two runs in the bottom of the seventh to earn the victory.

“That was where the light went off in the guys’ heads where they were like, ‘All right, we can compete with anyone,’” Bestic said.

It was just the second time the Knights scored 10 or more runs all season. Since then, they’ve scored five or more runs in four of their last five games.

DiSanti has led the Knights with a .462 batting average and seven RBIs and senior first baseman Zach McMillen has driven in 11 runs while hitting .385. The Knights are hitting up and down the order, and they showed that during their most recent victories over Indiana, games they won 9-8 and 5-3.

“We knew we had to work hard on the mound and throw strikes and our guys did that, but we knew that we had to hit too,” Bestic said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be a 3-1, 3-2 game. We had to score multiple runs and put the pressure on constantly. They did a good job responding, especially after being down in both games.”

The Knights will now look to finish off their section schedule on a strong note with games against North Catholic next week.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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