The senior catcher for the Ole Miss Rebels will draw the start, according to head coach Mike Bianco, for Friday’s season opener against William & Mary in Oxford.
Knight believes he’s ready for the challenge. He’s battled talented sophomore catcher Henri Lartigue all year.
“Competition’s always good regardless of what position and what you’re trying to do,” said the Sumrall High School product whose father, Larry, was his high school coach. “Henri’s been great and gotten so much better in the last year. He’s really come along. We’re close friends but we’re always competing.”
Living in a baseball household is also a big plus for learning the game, according to Knight.
“It helps, no doubt, because you’re taught the game at a younger age,” Knight said. “The older you get, the more insightful you get. When you get to a program like this, they expect more out of you. When you’re brought up in the game, it makes it a little bit easier.”
Knight, drafted in the 43rd round by the Phillies out of high school, already has quite a bit of experience in his three seasons of college baseball. He’s played in 69 games, some of them catching and some of the pinch-hitting.
“I’ve been here for four years and have been in a lot of situations that were meaningful in a lot of those games,” he said. “And also to the program up in Omaha.”
It was last summer when Knight played an important role in the College World Series. Will Allen was battling a nagging injury, and Knight started the final two games in Omaha for the Rebels, a win over TCU and a loss to Virginia.
The Rebels couldn’t complete the deal, and time ran out on their run to a national title. But because of his past experiences, Knight brings a lot of confidence with him into the 2015 season, not just from Omaha and the two games he started there. But those clearly helped.
“I’m excited to have the opportunity to step into a bigger role now,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to the challenge. I definitely feel like an experienced player, and I believe I’m looked up to (by his teammates) as well.”
Bianco said Knight has all the tools to take care of the position.
“To be a catcher in our system, every coach on the staff was a catcher. It’s tough to catch here. We’re very hard on the catchers,” he said. “There’s a high expectation. There’s getting the signals, being able to handle the staff, body language, and all these other things we talk about. That’s one of the reasons Austin will be starting Friday for us. Not only can he handle it behind the plate and catch the ball and hit for us, he’s our best option from a leadership standpoint and the guy that’s going to do all the things we need from that position.”
Knight said he is happy to have one more year of college baseball, and that the journey so far has been all he expected and more.
“It’s been amazing,” he said. “Being a Mississippi kid and always following baseball in this state, whatever school it was. And to have an opportunity to have a bigger role at a school like this with so much tradition and so much history. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Knight said he’s ready to be the everyday catcher, and that’s something he’s been before. But there are some areas he’s had to work on to continue to improve.
“Not necessarily stamina, because I’ve caught my whole life,” he said. “But just consistency and being able to bring it every day, whereas in the past I might be catching a midweek game and then maybe not catching again for a week or so. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at really locking in, and just being as consistent as possible and playing as well as I possibly can day in and day out. That’s the main thing I’ve really worked on.”
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