When San Jacinto catcher Ryan Hornback was drafted — and eventually signed — by the Pittsburgh Pirates, that opened up a void for the Ole Miss baseball team that Austin Knight was more than happy to fill.
Over the weekend it was made public that the standout Sumrall catcher will be joining the incoming Rebel freshmen.
For Knight, who was previously planning on attending Meridian Community College, it’s a opportunity he wasn’t going to turn down.
“That was definitely a big goal, to play on a big program in the SEC,” he said. “They’re so rich in tradition at Ole Miss with baseball and it’s an honor to get to play for them. Just to get the chance to play for a team like that is amazing.”
Like Hornback, Knight was also drafted in June.
But, being a 43rd round pick by the Phillies, Knight said he knew all along he would be college-bound.
“I knew with where I was drafted that I wasn’t going to get the money that it would take to make me turn pro,” Knight said, “so it was pretty much college all the way.”
When considering schools, Knight said early playing time was an important part of the equation.
Apparently the Rebel coaching staff felt the same way.
With Miles Hamblin lost to graduation, Hornback signing professionally and Will Allen having only been a designated hitter and first baseman this past season, the Rebels were in need of immediate depth behind the plate.
“They told me pretty much that they weren’t going to give me a scholarship unless they thought I could come in and compete to play early,” he said. “They don’t have a lot of experience behind the plate except with Taylor Hightower, who is a senior this year. He’s really the only one coming back with any experience behind the plate, so they need someone who can come in and play early.
“Hopefully I can compete and get the chance to play early.”
Although Knight said he began his career as a defense-first catcher, as a senior he also impressed with his bat hitting .386 with nine home runs and 44 RBIs in 35 games.
“This year I really worked hard hitting-wise and ended up hitting .386 with nine home runs and my power numbers went up a lot,” he said. “Mostly I’m a defensive guy. I take pride in my defense behind the plate, throwing runners out, blocking balls and making my pitchers look good more than anything else.”
Fellow freshman Hawtin Buchanan said bringing in a player like Knight, who helped Sumrall win four-straight Class 3A state titles, is a no-brainer.
“He’s the son of a coach and has played in a successful program so he knows what it takes to win and what hard work does for you. He’s a winner and a really good coach that controls the game really well. He also brings a lot to the table with his bat,” he said. “I know a guy he’s caught the last three years, Luke Lowery who is going to Southern Miss, and he loves him behind the plate.
“He has been an anchor and pretty much the captain of their infield as a catcher for three years.”
Despite hanging in limbo, waiting to see if Ole Miss would have a spot for him or if he’d be headed to Meridian, Knight said the last couple of weeks haven’t been hectic.
“It’s been fun. Yeah, I was ready to find out if it was going to work or not, but I haven’t been worried about it too much because either way going to Ole Miss or Meridian I would have been fine,” he said. “It would have been a win-win, but I’m glad it worked out this way and I’m happy to know that I’m going to be a Rebel this year.” (July 11, 2011, Page 7)