Eastern Wake: Sports

Knightdale baseball looks to get over the hump

In each of the past three seasons, the Knightdale baseball team has reached the state tournament only to be sent home in the first round.

The Knights are looking to finally nab that elusive postseason victory in 2014.

After consecutive 5-1 losses to Pinecrest and Ashley (Wilmington) to conclude the 2011 and 2012 seasons, respectively, the Knights’ departure from the 2013 state playoffs was particularly heartbreaking. The 3-0 loss to New Bern left a bitter taste in the mouths of Knightdale’s eight seniors – group that made up 50 percent of the Knights’ roster in 2013.

This year’s team will be different. It is a younger, more inexperienced squad featuring just four seniors. A couple sophomores and a deep junior class will be called upon to help flesh the 2014 roster.

“They’re all pretty good in terms of work ethic,” Knightdale’s fourth-year head coach Andrew Vaglio said. “We have our fair amount of work to do, but I think we’ll be fine.”

Knightdale’s recent playoff-bound teams have not been dominant. The team’s overall record was a losing one in both 2011 (9-13) and 2013 (9-12), and the Knights finished 14-10 in the 2012 season. Knightdale has not finished better than third in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference in the past three seasons.

Overcoming mediocrity will require a lot of hard work, and adding to that challenge the Knights got off to a slow start to the season due to recent inclement weather. Vaglio said the team wasn’t even able to get its first practice in until Thursday, Feb. 20 – a mere week before this Thursday’s season opener against Wakefield.

“The field is still mucked up with water,” Vaglio explained, as the aftermath of February’s winter storms. The bad weather and field conditions have also complicated Knightdale’s scrimmage scheduling process.

Because of the decreased rehearsal time, Vaglio will be counting on his players with past varsity experience to step up, especially in the early going.

“We still have a lot of returners,” Vaglio said. “A lot of juniors played up last year, so in terms of varsity experience we still have a lot of it. We have solid pitching, about five or six solid starters.”

The pitching will help keep opposing runs off the board. So will the team’s extraordinary fielding. The Knights are looking to preserve the .987 fielding percentage they posted in 2013. It is run production that most concerns Vaglio.

Scoring just 89 runs in 21 games last season (4.2 runs per game), Knightdale relied too heavily on its pitching and overall defense to bail the team out for victory. Vaglio would like the run support to increase to his desired mark of seven runs per game.

“If we can do that, we’ll be productive and successful,” he said.

The expected senior leaders – center fielder Jonathan Sierra, third baseman Frank Silvestre and second baseman Grant Peters – are expected to lead this newfound offensive charge. Silvestre, last year’s leader in runs batted in, will lead spearhead the assault, while Sierra and Peters look to pick up the pace behind him.

The Knights have an ultimate goal of reaching the second playoff round in May, but must first conquer the best competition the conference has to offer.