Five Knights earn NICL-East All Conference softball honors

Young team light on players, heavy on grit

Union freshman Emily Anton (7) runs into the arms of her cheering teammates including older sister Syndey Anton (center, arms raised) as she approaches home plate after hitting the first home run of her career on June 27 in Grundy Center against the Spartans. No other Knights softball player managed a big fly this season. PHOTO COURTESY OF CJ EILERS/MID-AMERICA PUBLISHING

LA PORTE CITY – The Union Knights softball team wrapped up the 2022-23 season earlier this month with five of its players selected for All Conference honors including sophomore Avery Knoop who was named to first-team utility player.

The Knights ended the season 5-15 back on July 6 in Williamsburg where they faced the No. 1 Raiders in the Class 3A Region 5 quarterfinal. The powerhouse Raiders (33-9) shut out Union 12-0 before going on to become the No. 1 seed in this week’s Class 3A State Softball Tournament.

The Knights’ five wins across the regular season included three conference games and three of five division opponents. Wins included their home opener on May 23 against AGWSR; the second of a home doubleheader against Wapsie Valley on June 5; Oelwein at home on June 8; Denver in a road game on June 16; and lastly Jesup at home on June 22.

Union’s 2022-23 roster skewed extremely lean and on the young side with only a dozen players including six juniors and the remaining underclassmen. Two of the players – pitcher Xandra Anderson and Mallory Wrage – hail from Gladbrook-Reinbeck and play for the Knights under a sharing agreement.

“We were unable to play a JV season due to our lack of numbers,” head coach Jeremy Robb explained in an email to the Telegraph. “We had to cut our schedule back so we could take care of our girls. We just had a short 20-game season.”

Union’s Avery Knoop (4) safely slides into home during a road game with the Grundy Center Spartans on June 27. Knoop led her team at the plate this season with a .381 batting average and .435 on-base percentage, and is an NICL-East All Conference first-team pick this season for the Knights. PHOTO COURTESY OF CJ EILERS/MID-AMERICA PUBLISHING

Despite the small roster, the team put up some mighty results – especially in reference to All Conference honors.

Union Sophomore Avery Knoop was a first-team utility pick for the Knights. At the plate, she led her team with a .381 batting average and .435 on-base percentage. She was 24-for-63 this season which included two triples and three doubles. Knoop struck out 14 times in 63 at-bats, while batting in 10 runs. On the field, she committed just 11 errors in 98 chances, notching 39 putouts.

“Statistically, she was our best player,” Coach Robb said. “She played shortstop for us and was a solid defender. She led in several offensive categories as well.”

Junior Dena Robb was a second-team pick at catcher. Behind the plate, she committed just four errors in 89 chances and threw out an impressive dozen runners attempting to steal. She hit .220 at the plate with two runs batted in and four doubles.

“Dena has been our starting catcher since her eighth-grade year. She had a solid defensive season. She was [tied for fourth] in Class 3A in throwing out base stealers. She is one of our team leaders and does a great job of directing the defense,” Coach Robb said.

Freshman Emily Anton was also selected for second-team, at third base. On the field, she committed 13 errors in 65 chances. At the plate, she hit .306 with 15 runs batted in, seven doubles, and one home run – the first of her career – while on the road against Grundy Center on June 27.

“Emily played a solid third base for us and was one of our top hitters.”

Emily shares second-team honors this season with her older sister Sydney Anton, a junior, who was selected as an outfielder where she notched four errors in 34 chances. At the plate, Sydney hit .362 with 10 runs batted in and four doubles.

“Sydney had a great season at the plate,” Coach Robb said of his veteran player. “She hit well, and with her state qualifying track speed, she was able to steal quite a few bases for us this year.”

G-R junior Xandra Anderson was also named All Conference for the Knights. She was an honorable mention selection at pitcher.

“Xandra was our staff ace. She pitched the majority of our innings and had a solid season.”

While Coach Robb isn’t planning to return as head coach next year – his youngest daughter Dena Robb will be a senior – he takes great pride in the work his players put in this season.

“I am incredibly proud of our girls for working hard, learning what we were teaching them, and getting better. I really feel that we were better at the end of the year than we were at the beginning and we played better ball this year than last year.”

“Some of the scores didn’t reflect it, but we played really good defense. We played well enough to keep us in games. Our struggle was on the offensive side of the ball. We had no seniors on this year’s roster so everyone has the opportunity to return next year.”

Roster recognition

Beyond the five players who were selected for All Conference, Coach Robb also commented on the remainder of his roster for the Telegraph.

Ava Mills, outfield, junior

“Ava was one that definitely deserved All Conference honors, but it just didn’t work out at the meeting. She was one of our best players. She is great in centerfield and can chase down any ball. She has a great arm and threw out a few girls trying to advance. She also had a great year stealing bases.”

Brooklyn Hubbard, second base/pitcher, junior

“Brooklyn played second base and was our No. 2 pitcher. She had a good year for us as well. Excited to see what she can do in the future.”

Mallory Wrage, first/second/third base, sophomore

“Mallory was my “Swiss Army Knife.” We could move her around on defense depending on who we had pitching. She played the majority of the season at first base. But we moved her to second and third base when we needed to cover for injuries or pitching changes. She can also play outfield. Great all around ball player. She also was in consideration for All Conference honors.”

Addie Pospisil, outfield, freshman

“Addie had a solid Freshman season. She gained some experience and since she is a great young athlete, she will continue to grow her softball game.”

Brigitte Rohrer, first base/pitcher, junior

“Brigitte missed a lot of the season due to the great opportunity to go on a school trip to Germany. She was able to play a few games with us.”

Mya Ellsworth, outfield, freshman

“Mya was our bookkeeper and she courtesy ran for us. She improved tremendously. I am excited to see how her skills develop.”

Jaren Werner, catcher/infield, eighth grade

“Jaren did some courtesy running for our pitchers and catchers.”