Perfect Pitchers: Knight and King

Quinn Hull, Sports Editor

It was quiet up there on the mound, lonely. No one said a thing. The drama could’ve been found on film, maybe, or in a real major league baseball stadium. Sure, the stakes were a little lower, the crowd not quite so large as those of the MLB. But on March 18 in Avon, Ohio when junior Eric Knight fired his final pitch – the one that struck out D’Youville College’s last batter and cemented the first no-hitter from an Oberlin College pitcher in over half a decade ¬– the size of the audience (or lack thereof) didn’t bother him. Not at all.

“That last out I just realized, ‘Wow I actually did it,’” Knight reflected. “My teammates stampeded the mound. It was a great feeling.”

But down the road in Steubenville the very next day, entering the fifth and final inning of a softball game against Franciscan University, Knight’s tour de force was the last thing on sophomore Emily King’s mind. Not to be outdone, the pitcher had a no-hit streak of her own going down on the mound. Two fantastic fielding plays by Senior shortstop Katie Baldonieri and three outs later, King had one-upped Knight with a ‘perfect’ game: the first by an Oberlin softball player, well, ever.

And though her performance lacked the Hollywood drama and teammate dog-pile of Knight’s no-hitter — “they had to go to the box score and look at all the innings,” King says, in order to verify that the game was indeed a gem — it was no less formidable.

“You have to focus on every pitch, which is hard,” said King about her perfect game, which entailed disallowing a single batter from the opposing team to reach base. “But I was just on it.”

The enormity of what happened that March weekend is worth reiterating. A no-hitter and a perfect game — two of softball and baseball’s gold standards (and generally very rare phenomena) — inexplicably became realities on back-to-back days. It’s not everyday that history is made. And it usually doesn’t come without a little luck.

“It takes more than a phenomenal game,” said new softball Head Coach Mimi Mahon, whose first experience of a perfect game from the sideline came courtesy of King. Adrian Abrahamowicz, head coach of the baseball team, put it more directly: “It takes a little bit of magic.”

Part of that luck comes from superstition, which baseball and softball athletes are traditionally not short on. In these sports, faces have gone unshaven for years, undergarments have remained unwashed and hands have been urinated on before at-bats — all in the hopes of tapping into a little bit of that magic. When it comes to perfect games and no-hitters, part of the unspoken rule in dugouts is that the pitcher doesn’t think about it, and the teammates don’t talk about it, because according to King, “If you force it, something generally goes wrong.”

But King said she violated her own rule. “You’re not supposed to think, ‘I’m going to hit a homerun,’ or ‘I’m going to go and throw a perfect game.’ But I consciously went, ‘why not?’”

Likewise, Abrahamowicz said his dugout did the non-kosher: “They were clamoring about it for the last, like, four innings,” of Knight’s ‘no-no.’

In other words, the stars were truly aligned that weekend for Knight and King. Something more than luck was afoot. True, records are meant to be broken in the sports world, especially when that world is approximately the size of a marble (like Oberlin’s). But this is not just big by Oberlin standards; it’s a fair feat just about anywhere.

But has anything changed for Knight and King since their near-simultaneous breakout performances? Not really. Though their surnames make a royal duo, they seem anything but. Knight’s a soft-spoken Biochemistry major who wears a flat-brim; King’s doing Art History and French language double duty and likes to sport leather jackets. They still have only heard of, but not really met, each other. And unfortunately no one amid our Ohio cornfields has done much more than pat them on the back.

Yet both say they relish the anonymity Oberlin affords.

Knight said he’s “trying not to think about [the no-hitter] too much,” though it’s given him a bit more confidence. And King says if anything her perfect game has “added a bit more pressure,” though it’s also given her a bit more swagger, Mahon’s hallmark — before every game, the team ritually huddles together and shouts, “one, two, three, swag!”

And that little influx of confidence isn’t just siring Knight nor that bit of swag crowning King. If anything their bold performances are indicative of a subtler, deeper, team-wide culture change that has taken ahold. Quietly, both teams are arguably having their best seasons ever.

Baseball, at 15¬–10, already has won only one less game than it did a year ago when the likes of Phil Brua, now graduated and pitching in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, still played at Dill Field. Now, younger talent, as evidenced by Knight’s performance, has the Yeomen three wins away from the best record in program history.

Meanwhile softball, which took the 12th-best team in the nation, Wisconsin-Whitewater, to extra innings this Spring Break, has already tied a program record with eight wins.

Silent signs of progress, maybe, that could get a lot louder as the spring goes on. Listen up!