BY STEVE KRAH
When it comes down to crunch time, that’s when Gavin Knust wants the baseball.
The left-handed pitcher likes to be called on in the latter innings to get out of a jam or nail down a victory.
He’s done it for the past two seasons at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany.
“I enjoy being the guy the team relies on,” says Knust, 20. “I want to help the team in any way possible to win a ball game.”
In 2022, he made 22 relief appearances (16 of them scoreless) and went 4-0 with two saves, a 3.60 earned run average, 35 strikeouts and nine walks in 30 innings.
The Grenadiers finished the season 40-15 overall and 20-4 in the River States Conference. The campaign ended in the NAIA Opening Round.
As a true freshman in 2021, Knust came out of the bullpen 20 times and went 2-0 with a 3.50 ERA, 40 strikeouts and 12 walks in 36 innings.
IUS (50-16, 26-1) earned its first trip to the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, in 2021 and Knust appeared in three of four games.
Knust was 18 and pitching on one of college baseball’s biggest stages. And this after missing his senior season at Forest Park Junior/Senior High School in Ferdinand, Ind., because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 6 1/3 innings in Idaho, he yielded four hits and two runs while striking out nine and walking two.
Older guys like Daunte DeCello, Hunter Kloke, Marco Romero, Derek Wagner (a Tri-West Hendricks High School alum) and Clay Woeste (Lawrenceburg) pushed Knust to be his best.
“They were huge role models,” says Knust. “They took me under their wing and took care of me.”
All the while, the Grenadiers fed off the words of head coach Ben Reel.
“Coach Reel is a huge believer in ‘control the controllables’ — that’s all you can worry about. He tells us to play ‘our’ baseball. Don’t try to be anybody else.”
After a 5-10 start, that 2021 team went into the postseason at 40-13.
“We were the hottest team in the nation,” says Knust. “That’s all baseball is about — riding the hot streak.”
Brandon Mattingly was the pitching coach at IU Southeast in 2022.
“He’s a big believer in the mental aspect of baseball and breathing correctly,” says Knust of Mattingly. “He want you doing the same thing every pitch. Baseball is a game of repetition.
“It’s a game where you don’t want to make it more complicated that it really is.”
As a bullpen arm throwing between three-quarter and over-the-top, Knust relies mostly on a four-seam fastball, two-seamer and curveball. His four-seamer got up to 88 mph in the spring.
“(The two-seamer) runs away from the barrel,” says Knust. “The curveball is more like a slurve.”
After spending the summer of 2021 with the Ohio Valley League’s Madisonville (Ky.) Miners, Knust is now relieving for the 2022 Northwoods League’s Battle Creek (Mich.) Battle Jacks.
Through games of July 20, the southpaw had made 15 appearances (10 scoreless) and was 2-1 with a 2.60 ERA, 15 strikeouts and eight walks in 17 1/3 innings.
“It’s more about hitting my pitches, working on my spots and just becoming a better pitcher this summer,” says Knust of his in-game goals.
Caleb Lang, an assistant at Concordia University Nebraska is Battle Creek’s manager. IU Southeast faced Concordia in Lewiston in 2021.
Away from the diamond, there is also bonding and fun on a BC squad made up largely of NAIA players — including Concordia’s Joey Grabanski and Jacob Lycan and Indiana University-Kokomo’s Patrick Mills — with a few D-1’s sprinkled in.
“We’re almost getting to the point where we’re a big family now,” says Knust.
A few times, host families have allowed some of the Battle Jacks to use their boat to chill on the lake followed by cornhole and a cookout at their house.
Knust was born in Jasper, Ind., and grew up in nearby Saint Anthony.
He played T-ball at Pine Ridge Elementary in Birdseye. His only summer of travel ball came during high school with the Louisville-based Ironmen Prime.
At Forest Park, Knust played football for head coach Ross Fuhs and baseball for Jarred Howard.
“(Fuhs) was more of an understanding coach,” says Knust. “You could talk to him about anything in life. He’d always be there for you.
“(Howard) got the most out of every player and he tried to make you a better person.”
Knust, who has two years of playing eligibility left, is a Marketing major with a Professional Sales minor.
“An IU degree in marketing is one of the best you can get,” says Knust. “I enjoy talking and getting to know people.”
Gavin is the youngest of Steve and Melissa Knust’s three sons.
Ethan Knust (27) works for a concrete company. Eli Knust (25), who played baseball at Huntington (Ind.) University and against Gavin in 2021, works at Memorial Hospital in Jasper and assists Ethan with a concrete side business.
Steve Knust is a plumber. Melissa Knust is an oncology nurse at Memorial Hospital.