The move might well have decided their fates.
Tom Butler, in his second season as Checotah’s baseball coach, approached Caleb Knight during the offseason about taking periodic breaks from his catching duties to be the guy throwing to the catcher.
“He said he was planning on using me every now and then to close some games,” Knight said. “Then the year came around and I think it was during the Seminole tournament that he told me he was going to start me.”
He won that game, and went on to a 7-0 mark and a 1.98 ERA with 80 strikeouts in 59 innings as the Wildcats’ No. 2 starter. That and his .423 batting average (13 doubles, 5 home runs, 31 RBIs and 20 walks) made him No. 1 in the Most Valuable Player vote on this year’s All-Phoenix team.
Butler, whose Wildcats went 29-9, made the state tournament for the first time in school history and were within three outs of a spot in the Class 4A championship game, is the Coach of the Year.
“That was a big deal for us, getting him in our rotation,” Butler said. “I thought it was a very unselfish thing for him to do because he is a natural behind the plate.”
Knight credits Butler with getting him prepared for the transition.
“I’ve always been around pitchers, always heard the different stuff about mechanics and all, so it was just a thing of getting my own mechanics down,” Knight said. “Coach really worked with me on that. I rolled along with it pretty good and I think I picked it up pretty quick.”
Knight and Hunter Collins, who caught him, would call pitches. Knight admits that every now and then he’d go catcher on his catcher.
“Every once in a while but not often,” he said. “(Hunter) did a good job back there.”
For Knight, it was just instinctive.
When behind the plate, he gave pitchers the assurance that baserunners would get his full attention. He threw out six of 10 who attempted to steal on him.
“Not many tried, and some of those were hit-and-runs,” Butler said.
Jack Christian, the Wildcats’ No. 1 starter, found a comfort zone in that aspect.
“He’s been my catcher since we were 12 and you don’t have to worry about runners too much. He’s also like a brick wall back there, knowing I could throw a curve in the dirt and he’d block it and if there was a dropped third strike, nothing would get past him,” he said.
Offensively he passed .400 for the second straight season. He had a three-run home run in the regional title game against Metro Christian and finished with five for the season.
The year did come up a bit short of a fulfilled dream. Knight had four-hit Dewey through six innings but hit the first two batters in the seventh while holding to a 3-1 lead. Butler opted to make a change. Knight went to catch and the third, fourth and fifth Wildcat pitchers took their turns in what was a seven-run, two-hit inning that ended Checotah’s season.
Knight didn’t lose the game, responsible for only two runs that tied the games, but the turn of events might well be laid on Knight’s back by the superstitious among us. On Knight’s back is the number 13.
It’s been his since he moved to quarterback in middle school and 22 couldn’t be worn.
“It caught my eye and I’ve stuck with it through the years,” he said. “I’ve never let that bother me.”
“He’s always been the kind of kid who believes you make your own luck,” he said.
He just didn’t have that luck that game, and hasn’t second-guessed the hook of his coach.
“I wanted to do the best thing,” he said. “I’d thrown pretty good but heck, I had hit two guys in a row. The same thing could have happened again. Coach did what he needed to do.”
It left something to accomplish for those the Connors State signee leaves behind.
In responding to his own honor, Butler credited Knight, the other members of his squad and assistant coach Matt Brimacomb.
“He really put some energy and time into these kids. They were a special bunch,” he said.
Knight and Butler were joined by Christian, one of three pitchers selected, and designated hitter Wyatt Hatridge, who played pitcher and third base but got the nod at DH on his offense. The four selections matched that of fellow state semifinalist Vian, which got pitcher Jon Andrews, second baseman Denver Coffee, third baseman Rylee Simon, a repeat selection, and outfielder Josh Cowart.
No other school had more than one selection.
Muskogee first baseman Harris Jones was a repeat selection as was Haskell outfielder Alex Wheeland, named as a reserve. Also making it were Oktaha catcher Dalton Martin, Eufaula pitcher Trey Moore, Keys shortstop Austin Tarver, outfielders Derek Altman of Hilldale and Boo Seward of Fort Gibson, Wagoner pitcher-shortstop Tyler Milligan and Sequoyah first baseman Zach Parish were named as reserves.
Checotah’s year earns MVP, Coach of Year honors
The move might well have decided their fates.
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