South Charleston’s Brandon Knapper made his name known on the basketball court, but this spring the switch-hitting sophomore continues his athletic endeavors on the diamond after an injury prevented him from playing baseball last year.
The hardwood remains his heart’s home, but Knapper maintains his focus on improving in his other sport. For Knapper, this baseball season marks his first at the varsity level after a preseason hip injury last year forced him to sit out, and Thursday he started at second base as the Black Eagles (10-8) defeated Princeton 6-5.
“I’ve been playing since I was little,” Knapper said. “Me and my dad work as hard as I do in basketball. You can see basketball is my favorite sport, but I want to take baseball serious too, because there’s not a lot of switch-hitters that play the game of baseball, so I feel like I have to come out here and show my game.”
Knapper said he’s eager to display his game, too, in his first year. During a preseason practice last year, Knapper pulled cartilage from his hip, on the pelvis bone, while catching fly balls in the outfield. As a result, Knapper missed six months of athletics.
The injury healed in time for basketball season, as Knapper proved his athletic prowess with his shooting and guard play. Now, in baseball he returns healthy to shine in the lead-off spot as one of the area’s few switch-hitters.
“It’s very rare in high school,” Black Eagles coach Ken Samms said of switch-hitters. “I think he’s a little bit better hitter from the left side maybe because you see more right-handed pitchers, but he does a good job both ways.”
Knapper said he feels he is a better hitter from the left side, though draws more power as a right-handed hitter. Through 18 games, Knapper has posted a .240 batting average, with four RBI and five stolen bases, but his baseball talents don’t end there.
“He’s just got good baseball skills,” Samms said. “He’s got great knowledge. He’s got great hands, of course you need that for basketball. He’s got great feet. He’s just got natural ability for a baseball player and hitting from both sides don’t hurt.”
Defensively, Knapper provides the Black Eagles a versatile option at second base and shortstop.
“He does a great job,” Samms said. “He would probably be a great center fielder, but I don’t have him out there, because I’ve got Zach Wright doing a great job out there. Any time you get good athletes like that, you can use them.”
Samms certainly welcomes Knapper’s contributions to the baseball team, and basketball coach Vic Herbert encourages Knapper to pursue his other athletic opportunities, Knapper said.
“He’s behind me,” Knapper said of Herbert’s support. “He tells me to take a few weeks off of basketball. He’s glad I’m playing baseball and playing another sport, so I won’t be mad or still worrying about what happened last season, take my mind off of it a little bit.”
In a trend where many athletes focus year-round on a single sport, Samms said it’s refreshing to see young players like Knapper make time to devote attention to multiple sports.
“Everything is all year anymore and all the time they put in basketball, sometimes it’s hard to get out of that training for basketball to come and train for baseball,” he said. “It’s kind of a hard deal for some of them, but Brandon, both ways, is a hard worker.”
After sitting out last baseball season, Knapper said he’s happy to call himself a two-sport athlete again.
“I came out to every game and watched every home game, cheered my team on,” Knapper said. “It was kind of tough not being able to play my first year of baseball. It’s going pretty good (now). I think it could go better, but I’m glad we’re winning, and I just want to go to states. We got one senior on the team and I want to have him leave with a good turn out.”
As many see basketball a key part of Knapper’s future, Samms said Knapper has the potential to excel in college in his other sport, too.
“He could make somebody a great, great (baseball) player at the next level, just like he probably will in basketball, but he’s got to put time in for baseball, too, if he wants to play it in the future,” Samms said. “I guess that will be up to him.”
Knapper and SC next play at East Carter (Ky.) at 6 p.m. today.