2023 Knightly News Baseball Awards

By Paul Miller

Knightly News Co-Adviser and Knights Play-by-Play Commentator


Black and white photo of young man who wrote the story, Dylan Bowman

Photos by Dylan Bowman

Central Penn College Sports Photographer


As a person who gets to live out one of their life dreams every spring, to say that this baseball season was the best I could recall in the six years of broadcasting Central Penn Knights games would be an understatement. This season, Coach Robert Stern had a total of 36 players on the roster, including an all-time high of 21 freshmen. One might think that with such a young team, it might be an uphill battle to be successful. On the contrary, the season for the Knights was one that the school will never forget, setting school records for wins in a season (19), longest winning streak (11), and bringing home the team’s first-ever Eastern States Athletic Conference (ESAC) Conference Championship, with a victory over archrival Bucks County Community College on May 6.

With a young team, veteran leadership is paramount. Returning players like Zach Boyer, Ryan Stevens and Alex Lilja complemented freshman stars Nathan Wise, Gabe Kaufman and Cameron Smiley to put together a team that was tremendous in all facets of the game, including hitting (.292 team batting average) and on the base paths (school-record 109 team steals).

Early in the season, the Knights struggled with stiff competition, losing their first five contests and sitting with a 4-10 record on March 28. But over the course of the next month, the Knights rattled off 11 straight wins to get back above .500, ultimately winning 19 games and setting the record for most victories in a season in school history. The most memorable home game of the season came on Community Night on April 21, when the Knights welcomed all supporters of the college and the team to a packed FNB Field, winning both games of a doubleheader against Penn State Wilkes-Barre.

Because of this monumental season, The Knightly News is recognizing five players with special awards. The categories are as follows:

  • Most Valuable Player — Best all-around player
  • Cy Young Award — Best pitcher
  • The Shohei Ohtani Award – Best combined pitcher/hitter
  • Rookie of the Year – Best freshman player
  • Gold Glove – Best defensive player

This article will use important baseball statistics that may be new to some of our readers. Below is a key for abbreviations used in the article.

  • OBP — on-base percentage — the number of times someone got on base versus the number of plate appearances
  • OPS – on-base percentage + slugging percentage.
  • Slugging Percentage – total bases/at-bats

Award #1 – Gold Glove — Best Defensive PlayerRyan Stevens

As a senior, Stevens’ leadership was evident on and off the score sheet. While defensive metrics are often difficult to quantify, the most important indicator of an elite defender is a lack of errors. In playing 27 games, Stevens was perfect 36/36 in total changes, with 34 putouts, zero errors and two outfield assists. Stevens made several run-saving plays in close games throughout the season and has a well-above-average arm in center or right field to make any base runner think twice about taking the extra base or tagging up after a flyout.

Award #2 — Rookie of the Year — Nathan Wise

With 21 freshmen on the roster, Wise navigated a talented crop of incoming players to win this award in a landslide. Not only did Wise rank near the top of the Knights’ roster in nearly every offensive category, his strong defense and even a few solid appearances on the mound led to him being awarded this honor. Wise appeared in nearly every contest, leading the Knights with 28 games played on the season. While generally quiet and reserved as a person, his passion and enthusiasm came out on the field, as he quickly became one of the most complete all-around players in the Knights lineup.

Here are his team rankings for statistics this season:

  • Runs – 25 – Tied for 2nd
  • Hits – 34 – Tied for 1st
  • Doubles – 6 – Tied for 1st
  • Home Runs – 3 – Tied for 1st
  • RBIs – 28 – Tied for 1st
  • Average – .425 – 1st
  • OPS – .1147 – 1st

Award #3 – The Shohei Ohtani Award – Best Combined Pitcher/Hitter – Alex Lilja

The senior transfer student from Dillsburg was one of the best-rounded players on the team. While the larger team this year didn’t rely most players to hit and pitch, Lilja showed his prowess on both sides of the ball throughout the season.

Offensively, Lilja hit .373, with a home run and 14 RBIs, and tied for the team lead, with six doubles. Defensively, Lilja sported a .941 fielding percentage, including four outfield assists, exhibiting his lethal arm in left field, throwing out runners on the bases.

On the mound, Lilja started two games for the Knights and was looked to in several high-leverage situations. Statistically, he had a 9.69 K/9, which ranked third on the team for those with 10+ innings pitched. He picked up the win in a key victory on March 18, only allowing one hit in 3 2/3 innings. Then, on Senior Night, on April 21, versus Penn State Wilkes-Barre, he followed Ryan Stevens to pitch two innings, allowing only one run and striking out three in the victory.

Award #4 – Cy Young Award – Best Pitcher – Zavier Hernandez

It is difficult to look back at the Knights’ historic season and not point to Hernandez as a key reason for their success. He led the team in innings pitched with 33 1/3, while also leading the team in several key categories on the mound. It had not been since Quinton Heckard in 2019 that a Knight has thrown for that many innings, a sign of the confidence that Coach Stern places in the junior pitcher.

One of his more memorable appearances on the season came on Senior Night on April 21 versus Penn State Wilkes-Barre, where he blanked Penn State Wilkes-Barre for the final 3 2/3 innings to close out a victory in Game 1, striking out five.

Stern consistently leaned on Hernandez to start crucial games or to come in from the bullpen to hold a lead. In recognition of these accomplishments, Hernandez received top honors in the conference, being named ESAC Player of the Year on May 15.

Here are his team rankings for statistics this season:

  • Innings Pitched – 33.1 – 1st
  • Total Appearances – 9 – 1st
  • Wins – 3 – 1st
  • Strikeouts – 45 – 1st
  • K/9 – 12.15 – 2nd (with 10+ innings pitched)

Award #5 – Most Valuable Player – Zach Boyer

Zach Boyer, in his third season with the Knights, carried the team offensively throughout the season. Tied for the team lead in home runs, RBI and hits, the middle-of-the-order lefty showed his veteran presence consistently throughout the season.

Boyer’s best game of the season came back on April 11 in an 8-5 victory at Penn State-York, in which he went 3-for-5 with 5 RBIs and was a single short of the cycle. Then, in a crucial home contest against Christendom on April 18, Boyer went 3-for-3 with 3 RBIs, a walk, two runs and two steals.

But it is not simply his offense that makes him the 2023 Knightly News MVP — it is his all-around game. Boyer notched 12 steals in 2023, being thrown out only once. He was solid at the hot corner, making only five errors on the season, carrying an .891 fielding percentage. And, of course, there are things that do not show up on the stat sheet, like his leadership.

Being a part of the 2020 Knights team that featured Chris Rosario, Christian Fulp and Connor Graham had an impact on Boyer, who carried that knowledge and leadership into the 2023 season. With a team of so many freshmen, the contribution of his veteran presence was invaluable to the squad.

Here are his team rankings for statistics this season:

  • Runs – 25 – Tied for 2nd
  • Hits – 34 – Tied for 1st
  • Doubles – 5 – 3rd
  • Triples – 3 – 1st
  • Home Runs – 3 – Tied for 1st
  • RBIs – 28 – Tied for 1st
  • Total Bases – 54 – 1st
  • Extra Base Hits – 11 – 1st

As the season wraps up, it is clear to see improvements on both sides of the ball. The offensive integrated a number of new players while having a strong veteran presence. Players like Owen Zell, Adam Hoover and Kevon Davis will provide veteran leadership next season. Bright up-and-coming stars like Wyatt Koser and Gabe Kaufman show that the future is bright for the Knights.

What is most memorable, though, is that this historic team will never be forgotten. Setting the school record for most wins in a season and bringing home the team’s first-ever ESAC Championship to Summerdale will clearly be remembered by anyone associated with Knights athletics. And a special congratulations to Coach Robert Stern, who was awarded the ESAC Coach of the Year on May 15.

On a personal note, it was also a year of growth for the Knightly News, as during the 2022-23 season our news organization livestreamed every baseball and men’s and women’s basketball game, a goal that we were proud to reach. We implemented a multi-camera system for baseball that allowed for varying perspectives, and we have a sideline reporter for postgame interviews.

It is obvious that the future is bright for the Knights. We look forward to seeing you back at FNB Field in March for another season of Knights baseball!

The Knightly News would like to thank the following members for their roles in baseball coverage during the 2023 season:

Paul Miller, Thomas Davis, Ph.D., Steve Hassinger, Tyler Coleman — commentary

Dylan Bowman — photography

Andrew Hunter — reporting and game wraps

Gabryelle Breski — producing and sideline reporting

Comment or story ideas? Contact KnightlyEditors@CentralPenn.Edu.

Edited by media-club co-adviser Professor Michael Lear-Olimpi.