He was given the starting assignment for the Edmonton Riverhawks for three of the biggest games of the 2023 season.
During the season-opener on the road against the Bellingham Bulls, the Riverhawks’ home-opener against the Kamloops NorthPaws, and the season finale in Edmonton against the Victoria Harbourcats, Halen Knoll did what he did best.
He gave his team a chance to win while going deep into ball games.
While he may have gone 1-1 to go along with a no-decision in those three games, the 23-year-old dazzled every time he stepped on the bump for the Riverhawks during their second season.
In 15 games, he picked up a 5-4 record with a 2.19 earned-run average, while striking out 52 batters in 73-plus innings of work, leading the team in several categories including innings pitched, starts, wins and strikeouts.
As a result of his outstanding performance, Knoll was recognized at the end of the season as the West Coast League Pitcher of the Year.
“I was shocked because I wasn’t even leading (the league) in any of the stat categories other than innings pitched,” he told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast.
“I was completely shocked and so happy I won it.”
While he was correct in that he wasn’t leading any of those statistical columns, Knoll did rank second in wins, second in strikeouts and fourth in ERA, during a summer he won’t soon forget.
DOMINANT FROM THE START
Knoll set the tone early in the season with his debut during the Riverhawks’ opening day visit to Bellingham.
He went seven innings while allowing no runs on four hits while striking out three, getting a no-decision in a 2-1 loss to the Bulls.
The 6-foot, 200-pound righthander struck out a season-high 10 batters in his second start, a 6-0 loss to Ridgefield.
His third outing was the Riverhawks’ home opener, where he went eight strong innings, allowing five hits and one run while striking out eight, in a 4-1 victory.
Knoll’s success continued through the season, both as a starter and as a reliever, before he made his final appearance, a start at home to finish the season on August 6th, where he allowed just one unearned run on four hits with a strikeout in over seven innings in a 3-0 loss to Victoria.
He attributes that success to his ability to throw any pitch in any situation.
“I think my ability to keep hitters off-balance is my biggest asset,” Knoll said. “I don’t throw really hard and all my stuff is pretty good, so I’m able to throw any pitch in any count and that can make it very frustrating for a hitter.”
A FIERCE COMPETITOR
Knoll says confidence was also a major factor in his success in 2023.
As the summer progressed, the Riverhawks didn’t add other arms like they did the previous season, which he split between the Riverhawks and the Fort McMurray Giants of the Western Canadian Baseball League.
Staying at home allowed him to get into a routine and focus on the task at hand, which he says was a challenge earlier in his career as he says he was sometimes scared throwing to hitters.
As he gained more confidence, Knoll was giving some of the best hitters in college baseball fits.
“It’s basically a race to two strikes and if I can get to two strikes, the hitter’s in trouble,” he smiled. “That’s the confidence I need.”
Riverhawks head coach Jake Lanferman says Knoll is a fierce competitor who provided them with a veteran presence.
“Every time that Halen was on the mound this summer, he competed for us,” Lanferman said in a video tribute for Knoll’s award on social media.
“Having him out there, his energy feeds through the players, and every time he’s on the mound, we have a good shot to win games.”
IN THE COMMUNITY
While Knoll was able to turn in a winning season, the Riverhawks had their challenges during the summer, posting an overall record of 18-36, including 11-16 in the second half.
However, the team was a huge success at the turnstiles, setting a WCL single-season attendance record with 104,748 fans.
Knoll, who was also named a WCL All-Star alongside fellow pitcher Riley Barrett, says they knew they had the record with a few games left in the season.
“We definitely have the best ballpark in the league and we have the best fans,” he said.
“We have so many fans every game and it’s such an honour to play 27 home games here every year.”
Riverhawks general manager Steve Hogle says the community bought into the team, while the team, led by Knoll, bought into the different ideas (like wearing pink on a Barbie-themed night) they brought to the table.
So he wasn’t surprised to see the local hurler pick up the league honour.
“Halen is everything you’d want a Riverhawk to be – he’s a wonderful pitcher yet he’s humble and he’s a great teammate to those on and off the field,” Hogle said in the tribute video.
“To see the WCL recognize him as Pitcher of the Year is a testament to not only his skills as a player, but also his character as a person.”
Even in the offseason, Knoll tried to be involved as much as he could, including speaking with us just before he visited with wildfire evacuees who were being treated to a day at RE/MAX Field.
HEADED FOR HOME
It was fitting that Knoll found about his award while he was on an overnight bus from Niagara Falls to Toronto, where he was planning to take in a Blue Jays game.
He’s grown accustomed to life on the road in his baseball career, as he has spent his summers with the Fort McMurray Giants (2019 and 2022), Sylvan Lake Gulls (2021) and the Riverhawks (2022-2023).
During his post-secondary career, Knoll started things off with the Edmonton Collegiate Hawks of the Canadian College Baseball Conference in 2019 and 2022, where he led the league in strikeouts during his second season while being named an All-Conference All-Star.
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That earned him a scholarship to the University of Mary, where he went 3-3 with a 5.88 ERA in 12 appearances this past spring.
Knoll then decided to go into the transfer portal, and after getting a few enticing offers to stay stateside, he ultimately decided to head back home to the Collegiate Hawks this fall.
He’s hoping to work on a few things before turning his attention to getting into professional baseball in the next year or two.
“I just need to throw a little bit harder and I think I can crack that egg,” Knoll said. “Whether it be just in the weight room and getting stronger and faster, I think I can get there.”
Being an Edmonton product, he would also enjoy getting the chance to pitch in another big game or two for the Riverhawks in 2024.