Former Walker ace Knighton helps Central Alabama reach JUCO World Series
by Johnathan Bentley
May 26, 2013 | 2440 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Central Alabama Community College pitcher John Michael Knighton throws a pitch during a game this season. Knighton is 12-1 for the Trojans, who are playing in the NJCAA World Series this week.
Central Alabama Community College pitcher John Michael Knighton throws a pitch during a game this season. Knighton is 12-1 for the Trojans, who are playing in the NJCAA World Series this week.
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John Michael Knighton had butterflies.

The Central Alabama freshman pitcher was facing a highly ranked Tallahassee Community College team in his first collegiate start.

"I was as nervous as I could be," said Knighton, the former Walker High School standout. "They were a really good team. They hit well. I left some balls up and they made me pay for it."

Since that first start, Knighton is the one making the opposition pay.

Knighton has reeled off 11 straight victories, helping lead the Trojans to the National Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.

He got a no-decision in Saturday's World Series opener, a come-from-behind 6-4 victory over Palm Beach State (Fla.).

Central Alabama (39-13) takes on Midland (Texas) today at 7 p.m. in its second World Series game.

Like Knighton, Central Alabama, located in Alexander City, got off to a slow start in 2013.

Sitting at 0-6, the Trojans weren't on the state radar — much less the national radar.

Then came March, and everything changed.

Central Alabama started a 10-game winning streak early in the month, and the Trojans haven't let up since. The team has gone 27-3 in its last 30 games and brings a 13-game winning streak into today's game.

"We've gone from starting 0-6 to not losing a game at the state tournament and making it to the World Series," Knighton said. "I knew we had a ton of talent on this team. I knew if we got things clicking we would start rolling. That's what happened. It all clicked at one point and we just came together as a team."

Central Alabama crushed the competition at the Alabama Community College Conference Tournament, going a perfect 4-0 and outscoring the opposition 48-14. The Trojans closed the tournament with a pair of blowout wins against Southern Union — the team responsible for all three Central Alabama losses since March.

"It's been an incredible ride. Now we are going to do that again at the World Series," Knighton said. "I've had a ton of fun at Central. I love this group of guys. We are like a bunch of brothers. We all live in one apartment complex. We may fight like brothers at times, but everybody's had a really good attitude throughout the whole season."

During its current winning streak, Central is averaging 8.2 runs a game.

"If we keep hitting like we are doing, we have the best chance of anybody (at the World Series). I'm pretty confident in our hitters. If we keep playing like we have been, I honestly don't see how we don't win this," said the 6-foot-2, 180-pound ace.

For Knighton, two games stand out this season — his first career win against Enterprise State in his second start — and his first complete-game in a win over Chattahoochee Valley.

"In my first game after that opening loss, I kept thinking, 'Just stick with what you've done your whole life. Just throw strikes and let the defense make plays.' After that, I thought, 'I can pitch at this level,'" Knighton said.

"The Chattahoochee game was probably the best game I've ever pitched. It was a great game and we played well as a team. That's when I really figured it out. It was a real confidence boost for me. They were a top 10 team and I moved them down for nine innings. I think that was a confidence boost for the team, too."

Against Chattahoochee Valley, Knighton allowed two earned runs on six hits while striking out 10.

On the season, Knighton is 12-1 with one save. He boasts a 2.56 ERA and has allowed 89 hits and 25 walks while striking out 84 batters in 101 2/3 innings.

"Somebody would have called you crazy if you said I was going to come to junior college and go 12-1 as a freshman," said Knighton, whose keys to success have been location and a knack for throwing strikes.

"At this level, you can't come in and mow everybody down with just a fast ball. I throw my fast ball in the mid-80s. That's pretty average in college. Everybody sees 85 to 88 mph on a consistent basis. Throwing strikes and hitting spots, that always pays off for pitchers. I also have an outstanding defense and a great hitting team behind me."

At Walker High School, Knighton played for head coach Pat Ware and pitching coach Ryan Hall. In his senior season in 2012, Knighton opened the year with 33 scoreless innings. He finished the year with an 8-2 record and a 0.72 ERA. In three years as a starter with the Vikings, he was 18-10 with a 2.56 ERA.