When Knighton stepped on the mound, offense was at a premium.
How dominant was Knighton? In 10 starts, he allowed seven earned runs.
Walker head coach Pat Ware turned to the 6-foot-2, 170-pound righty in every time the Vikings faced a tough opponent — and he never disappointed.
Knighton finished with an 8-2 record along with one save and a 0.72 ERA. In 68 innings of work, he allowed only 34 hits, seven walks and seven earned runs while striking out 86. Opponents hit a paltry .140 against him.
Knighton is the Daily Mountain Eagle’s Player of the Year for the 2012 season.
“John Michael knew the ball was going to him in big-game situations,” Ware said. “He took that as a challenge. He worked hard in the summer and the fall. He was ready to be that No. 1 guy for us.”
At Walker, Knighton helped fill the void left when last year’s ace, Justin Kamplain, left for the University of Alabama.
“They were both dominant, but in different ways,” Ware said. “Justin was more of a strikeout pitcher. John Michael fills the strike zone up and lets the defense work behind him. To have those guys in back to back years has been a luxury. It’s been pretty special. Both of them showed up every day and wanted to be the No. 1 guy.”
A monumental moment for Knighton came on a March 5 10-0 victory over Sumiton Christian, where he pitched a perfect five-inning game and struck out six Eagle batters. Knighton’s perfection wasn’t limited to the mound as he was also 3-for-3 at the plate in the game with a pair of runs and two RBIs on the game.
“John Michael stepped in and we didn’t miss a beat. The team felt like when he was on the mound we could compete with anybody. We knew we had a good chance to win as long as we played defense. It was like marking down a win for us. In 68 innings he only walked seven — that’s pretty much unheard of.”
On offense, Knighton hit out of the No. 2 spot in the lineup. He hit .331 and contributed with 18 RBIs and 27 runs along with 10 doubles a pair of triples and an on-base percentage of .410.
“From the time John Michael came in as a freshman, he always worked to be the best he could be. He is just one of those guys that showed up every day and got after it no matter the circumstances.
“The biggest thing we’ll miss will be his leadership. From the last out of (the 2011 season) to when were put out of the playoffs this season, he’s stepped up and been the leader of our program. I was proud of the way he stepped into that role. We didn’t have to search for a No. 1 guy when we faced a tough opponent.”
Just getting a win against Knighton took an outstanding effort. Knighton lost to Mountain Brook 1-0 after the Spartans’ pitcher tossed a no hitter. Mountain Brook’s run was unearned. Knighton also fell to eventual state runner up Southside-Gadsden 3-1 in the playoffs.
In three years on the varsity team, Knighton finished with a record of 18-10 and a 2.56 ERA. In 172.3 innings, he struck out 183 batters.
Eagle Elite First-team
Carbon Hill’s Tylor Owens and Blaine Eads.
Cordova’s Stephen Kilpatrick and Andrew Minor.
Curry’s Lane Oliver, Cade Oliver and Houston Harbin.
Dora’s Dalton Bahrik and Jordan Criswell.
Oakman’s Jase Trotter and Donnie Ruth.
Sumiton Christian’s Austin Phillips and Braxton Clifton.
Walker’s John Michael Knighton, Nic Woodley and Eric Vinson.
Carbon Hill’s Jordan Dawsey, Cordova’s Zac Guerra; Curry’s Ethan Wells, Evan Miller and Brent Stringer; Dora’s Blake Stone and Justin Shadix; Oakman’s Andrew Welch and Case Key, Sumiton Christian’s Mikah Abbott; Walker’s Dexter Jenkins, Quinton McCarty and Chad Pritchett.