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Confident Kennard-Dale baseball turning some heads

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When Blake Knecht took over as Kennard-Dale's baseball coach in 2016, one of his main objectives was to develop a winning culture.

After settling in for his first season, Knecht has his squad on the right path.

On Tuesday, the Rams handed Gettysburg its first loss of the season, 8-5. The team now sits at 8-3 overall, 5-2 in YAIAA play after Thursday's non-league loss to Pequea Valley.

Knecht has put Kennard-Dale in position to qualify for the district playoffs for the first time since 2013.

"We've scrapped, battled and fought in nearly every game this season," Knecht said. "That started last year, but we lacked in experience then. We've gained that now and with it, the guys realize that they can compete with anyone."

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The Rams have benefited from the return of senior Ben Stewart, who played his junior campaign at Calvert Hall in Baltimore. The third baseman and right-handed pitcher has posted a 4-1 record with a 1.55 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings on the mound, while batting .452 with 13 RBIs.

"It's nice to have Ben back this season, he's a real workhorse on the mound," Knecht said. "He's our ace, a real veteran and the leader of our pitching staff."

Stewart plans to continue his playing career next year at Messiah College where he will continue to play third base and pitch. He plans to major in health and physical education with an eye toward becoming a teacher.

Stewart had a lot of praise for Knecht, too.

"Coach Knecht has changed the culture, and we have confidence in ourselves that we can compete," Stewart said. "There was no energy two years ago and guys didn't even seem happy to be on the field and playing."

The Rams took a step back last year in Knecht's first year at the helm, going 4-14 after posting a 6-12 campaign in 2015.

This year, the team is hitting a combined .363 and scoring 9.1 runs per game with Stewart receiving help from Joey Thomas (.541 average, 11 RBI), Garrett Lowe (.423, 9 RBI) and Carson Fish (.391, 11 RBI), among others.

Following Stewart in the starting rotation has been Ethan Phillips (1-1, 0.79 ERA) and Kyle Boone (2-0, 5.83 ERA).

"We're trying to make a name for ourselves here at Kennard-Dale," Stewart said. "It seems like we get easily forgotten by many people."

They certainly helped that cause with Tuesday's win against Gettysburg.

"They have a nice ballclub over there," Gettysburg coach Ryan Brady said. "They can pitch and they can really hit."