Briley Knight swinging for stronger mentality with Corvallis Knights

Briley Knight fields a ball during warm-ups before playing the Kelowna Falcons on July 24. Knight has maintained a positive attitude despite a recent hitting slump. (Sierra Ward)

Briley Knight‘s senior class donned caps and gowns at the Crescent Valley High School gym for graduation day in early June.

Meanwhile, Knight wore a different kind of cap and uniform more than 300 miles away in Walla Walla, Washington, taking the field for the Corvallis Knights baseball team.

Knight, 19, went on a five-game road trip with his college summer team instead of attending his high school graduation in Corvallis with the rest of his class of 241 students.

“I talked a lot about it with my dad, and I decided I’m going to do what I love,” Knight said.

The former Knights batboy and son of head coach Brooke Knight had two hits and drove in two runs in his season debut, helping the Knights beat the Kelowna Falcons 16-7. Two days later against Walla Walla, he went 0 for 4.

The past few months have been life-changing for the former football and baseball star at Crescent Valley. Since leaving high school as Oregon’s Class 5A Baseball Player of the Year, Briley Knight has seen mixed success with his hometown Knights. But his struggles at the plate have not fazed him as he prepares for his freshman season at the University of Utah.

Brooke Knight said his son “was swinging pretty good” early this season, but lately started slumping. Briley Knight said his struggles began about 10 games ago. The same player who hit .490 his senior season at Crescent Valley now is batting .220 with a team-high 43 strikeouts for the Knights.

“It’s his first time experiencing failure,” Brooke Knight said.

Adjusting to the faster pace of the game and better pitching has been new for Briley Knight, the team’s utility player who has spent time at every defensive position except shortstop and first base this summer.

“When his performance started to slip, the pressure accelerated,” Brooke Knight said.

Briley Knight said he’s listening to his coaches’ advice and is trying to stay mentally tough to improve his hitting. This week, he picked up “Heads-Up Baseball,” a book by Ken Ravizza and Tom Hanson, hoping for pointers.

Briley Knight’s teammates said they’re not worried about his slump. Infielder Zach Weller, who also played with Briley Knight for two seasons in high school, called him a hard worker.

“Summer ball isn’t always about results,” Weller said. “Not everyone puts in the extra piece of work that Briley does.”

Outfielder Chandler Anderson started playing with Briley Knight this summer. They will be teammates at Utah. Anderson, a rising senior who is batting .345 and leads the Knights in hits, said he has taken Briley Knight under his wing.

“I told him when he walks to the plate, you need to build yourself up and tell yourself, ‘This pitcher has nothing on me,'” Anderson said.

Briley Knight stepped to the plate in the bottom of the first inning on a recent Wednesday night as the Knights again faced the Kelowna Falcons, this time at Goss Stadium in Corvallis. He laid down a bunt and beat out the throw for a single, but appeared to hurt his leg in the at-bat. He finished out the inning but was pulled before his next plate appearance. Briley Knight returned to batting practice before Thursday night’s game, ready to face the same tough pitching he’s seen all summer.

Playing against college-level competition in the West Coast League will only help Briley Knight’s development, Anderson said.

“I wish I had a team like this to play for going into my freshman year,” Anderson said.

Anderson noted his protege’s initiative and “well-rounded baseball mind.” He said Briley Knight has shown leadership, even as one of only four rising college freshmen on the team.

“After one of our first poor performances as a team, he pulled the team together,” Anderson said.

A former high school quarterback who also helped organize school events at Crescent Valley, Briley Knight sees leadership in his future. He plans to major in business at Utah and become an entrepreneur, maybe in the brewing industry.

“Create my own business, be the boss, make lots of money,” he said of his plans.

But before pursuing his business dreams, Briley Knight is focused on baseball and finishing out the summer with the Knights.

“I’ve had my ups and had my downs,” he said. “It’s definitely got me ready for college.”

— David Hoang, Franklin High School
— Sierra Ward, Marshfield High School