North Xtra: Knoch eliminates the doubt this year

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The seniors on the Knoch softball team are well versed in playoff tiebreaking scenarios.

Knowing the tiebreaking rules and "scoreboard watching" entering the final week of the regular season had become rites of passage each spring for the Class of 2014.

As freshmen, they entered the final week of the season needing two wins and some help to make the playoffs. They got neither.

As sophomores, they entered the last section game of the season needing a win and some help. They got both, finished 5-5 in the section in a four-way tie for second and made the playoffs by virtue of a tiebreaker.

As juniors they learned that not all 5-5 records and four-way ties for second place are created equal. Despite winning their last two games of the season and finishing in yet another four-way tie for second place, Knoch was denied a postseason trip by virtue of a tiebreaker.

This season, the senior-heavy group was determined to take as much drama out of the postseason hunt as possible.

They bounced back from a section-opening setback at Highlands to win eight of their final nine section games to clinch not only a playoff spot, but a share of the section title.

"I would say that it is about time," Knights coach Tim Knappenberger said shortly after his team blasted Hampton, 14-4, Monday night to ensure at least a share of the section title. "I could not be more proud of my seniors. Not only are they in the playoffs but they have a share of the section title."

Senior catcher Abbi Smithmyer, senior shortstop Bethany Hay and senior pitcher Codi Reed, all four-year letter-winners, were around for late-season heartbreak in 2011 and '13. Senior Schaely Renfrew joined the team this year. Late in the season she earned the starting spot in right field.

"She has contributed huge," Knappenberger said. "Not only on the field but she has brought a positive attitude, an enthusiasm off the field. We couldn't be more excited to have her on the team."

While Knoch (10-3, 8-2) got hot in the second half of the season its wins varied from nail-biting road wins at Hampton, 2-1, and at Mars Area, 8-7, to convincing wins against Kittanning, 9-3, and Indiana, 18-1.

In the second meeting against Mars, Knoch led, 8-3, entering the seventh inning. Before the Knights knew what hit them it was 8-6 and Mars had the bases loaded with no outs.

Luckily for Knoch it had just practiced how to get out of that situation during an indoor practice and Knappenberger described the calmness he felt even though the situation. Two ground outs and a fly ball later and Knoch survived, 8-7.

Knoch was also able to even the score against Highlands, winning the second meeting between the teams, 10-5.

Smithmyer moved from center field, where she played for three seasons, to catcher where she has caught Reed for most of the season. Reed has a 6-1 record and has established herself as the top starter on the team.

Junior Shelby Bruggeman and sophomore Jessie Reed, Codi Reed's younger sister, have also started games. Bruggeman has three wins and Jessie Reed has one.

"As we got further along in the season, we made the decision to go with the senior leadership of Codi," Knappenberger said. "Codi can hit her spots. She has a drop ball and she does have a changeup. We can mix it up with her. As long as she hits her spots, she is very effective."

Knoch has been getting contributions from old and new players alike. Freshman Avery Keller is another first-year starter at third base. Hay, junior first baseman Chandler Krelow and Keller have been the top three bats in the Knoch lineup. Smithmyer, Codi Reed and junior second baseman Abbi Thrower bat in the top six of the lineup along with Hay, Krelow and Keller.

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