The Corvallis Knights won the West Coast League title in 2016. They also won it in 2017. And again in 2018. And again this season.
The 2019 Knights went 54-14 on their way to the title, tied for the best record in franchise history with the 2001 club. The amount of dominance Corvallis showed on the field this year has earned them another title, as well — Perfect Game Summer Collegiate Team of the Year.
Summer rosters flip over every year. You can’t rely on one good recruiting class to win you four straight championships. Summer league teams start from scratch each season, building from the ground up.
If you build a solid foundation though, you get a head start. Corvallis has a huge head start every year.
“You have to have talented players. So it’s players first. You have to put the players first and make sure they’re engaged because it’s a long season,” Corvallis CEO Dan Segel said. “I think the formula is to keep it fresh and exciting and fun. You also have to have the structure to make them believe putting in the time will lead to results. And we do have that structure. Our head coach is a professional-style coach. He coaches over in Australia in the professional baseball league. He has the ability to meld a group together and create that chemistry to where they are playing for each other. That’s hard to do in summer ball.”
The Knights had plenty of talented players this summer. Eight guys who logged more than 100 at-bats hit at least .280. Five of those guys hit better than .300.
Briley Knight, head coach Brooke Knight’s son, was one of the players leading the charge this summer, hitting .357 while pacing the team with 18 doubles, eight home runs, and 42 RBI. (No, the team isn’t named after the coach and son, although after seven championships under Brooke and the summer Briley had, it does make you wonder.)
Knight was bettered by teammate Jake Holcroft in batting average, who led the league with a .368 mark. Knight was second, and teammate Brooks Lee, a 2019 grad and 2017 Jr. National Showcase participant, was third in the league with a .342 average.
Heading into the season, Coach Knight didn’t know if Briley would be a big part of the team or not. Last summer, he hit .212 while doing most of his work behind the plate. A switch to the outfield this spring at Utah unlocked some versatility and a whole lot of pop at the plate.
“It was really neat being able to watch his development this spring at Utah. He had to scratch and earn his way into the lineup there,” Brooke Knight said. “And I didn’t really know if he would be a middle-of-the-order bat for us, I just knew he would earn a spot in the lineup somewhere if he performed. But it’s been really special. He’s a good kid and works hard on his craft. When you’re the coach’s kid, you don’t really have any other option.”
Every player who shows up in Corvallis each summer knows they are there to put in work and win games. Championships aren’t exactly expected each year (Segel even said there’s been a good amount of fortune during their run of titles), but there is an expectation for development.
And according to Knight, with development comes wins. With wins comes championships. Championships are fun. Wash, rinse, repeat.
These guys are doing something right.
“What I’ve always sort of scratched my head at is when people say, ‘Summer ball is all about development and that’s really all it is.’ Or some teams are all about winning and not so much about development,” Knight said. “I completely disagree with that. I think you absolutely have to be committed to both. They are not mutually exclusive. In fact, it’s the contrary. The more you develop, the more you win. And the more you win, the more you develop. That’s our intent when the season starts.”
The engine is really rolling down the tracks at this point. Segel said the recruitment process comes to them now, with coaches and teams requesting to place players with the Knights.
He said that’s mainly due to the relationships they have formed with different programs around the country, such as Cal Poly, or Portland, or Utah, or Oregon State, who they share a facility with.
As far as programs to partner with go, it’s not easy to find a better one than the Beavers.
“They know our program and pick out guys they think will fit good in that program and will take advantage of the structure and training,” Segel said of his relationship with Oregon State. “Our relationship started with Pat Casey and it became an amazing partnership…It’s really neat having that relationship because we share that facility. All credit goes to Pat Casey.”
Casey has since moved on from Oregon State, but Segel said a strong relationship has already been made with new head coach Mitch Canham.
It’s reset time for the Knights again. Within the next few weeks, according to Knight, the 2020 Corvallis roster will be set, with a number of Beavers sure to be penciled in, along with a number of other players from high-profile programs across the west coast.
The roster may change, but the formula and philosophy doesn’t. That’s what has built this dynasty, and what will continue to move it down the tracks.
“I knew coming in they had this great legacy and this great run of success making the playoffs every year, but I didn’t have any idea how they did it,” West Coast League Commissioner Rob Neyer said. “I think it’s difficult for an outsider, even a commissioner, to understand exactly what they’re doing. But I have a better understanding now and obviously it’s tremendously impressive. It’s a run of success like none other in collegiate summer baseball.
“Shortly after I accepted the job as Commissioner, a co-owner of another team in the league described Corvallis as the Yankees of the West Coast League. I had no idea just how right he was.”