By Perry Bell Sports Editor
The Journal Express
---- — Knoxville Hall of Fame Baseball Coach Joel Johnson is working at rebuilding the Panther program.
His 2012 Panther varsity squad produced a mark of 8-26 overall and 5-13 in the Little Hawkeye Conference, good for fifth place overall.
Johnson as you might recall led the Panthers to the 2001 State 3A Baseball Title in Carroll.
The 2013 version of Knoxville varsity baseball consists of 23 players in grades 9-12. The turnout for players in grades 7 and 8 consist of 36 players.
Two of the key players the Panthers will miss off of the 2012 team are Bryant McWilliams and Justin Katich.
Katich will be missed as an experienced pitcher while McWilliams was the KHS offensive leader in batting average and run production with RBI.
A total of nine letter winners will be back on the field for the Panthers this summer.
The list includes Jac Agan, Jacob Kendall, Kaden Loscher, Jared McClung, Tony Salato, Ross Shelford, Nolan Wallace, Kevin Woodhouse and Bryce Zoutte.
Returning starters among the group include Jacob Kendall at first, McClung pitcher and designated hitter and Salato second base and catcher.
Shelford returns in the outfield as dod Nolan Wallace and Zoutte. Wallace and Zoutte will also do some pitching for Knoxville.
Woodhouse plays second base when he isn’t pitching.
The veteran Panther coach lists the team strengths as the willingness to change, improve and be teachable, the willingness to work hard and be committed to one another and trusting each other and the coaches as well as a youthful experience at the varsity level, knowing what they are up against.
The weakness starts with the many young players on the squad and their lack of physical maturity.
Coach Johnson looks for Pella, Grinnell and Norwalk to be the teams to beat in the Little Hawkeye Conference.
“We are focusing on the small things we do everyday to improve. Winning will take care of itself,” Johnson said.
Knoxville will open the season Friday, May 24, facing the Winterset Huskies on the road in a JV-Varsity doubleheader starting at 5:30 p.m.
The home opener will be against Van Meter Saturday, May 25. The varsity doubleheader Saturday starts at noon.
The Saturday opener Johnson has labeled as Alumni Day at Knoxville as many of Coach Johnson’s past players look to be recognized in between games.