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The Santa Ynez baseball team counted a lot on then-junior Cole Knightley in 2018.

He delivered.

Knightley hit a team-leading .409 and had a team-best 1.93 ERA among the pitching staff as the Pirates used a late-season push to finish second in the Los Padres League behind league champion Templeton.

For all Knightley did, he is the co-MVP of the Lee Central Coast Newspapers All-Area Team, along with Lompoc senior Jeffrey Ray.

Knightley earned a spot on the All-Los Padres League First Team.

"If you watched our team this year, you could see Cole had a lot of responsibilities," said Santa Ynez coach Warren Dickey by phone.

"He had more at-bats because more of our games went to extra innings. He's a top-notch baseball player. He carries a big load for us.  He was our shortstop, our closer and he hit third," in the lineup.

Dickey said, "You could count on him every game."

The Pirates won six of their last eight league games and passed Lompoc late in the season to finish second. Knightley played a big part in the Pirates' strong finish.

"I was pretty happy," with the individual season he had, Knightley said by phone as he was heading to the Junior Olympics in Arizona. Knightley plays for the Southern California-based Jared Sandler BPA 17U team in the offseason.

As for his junior season, "I was just glad to play with our seniors one last time," said Knightley.

"I've played with them since I was 7 years old, in our Santa Ynez PONY League days. It was cool to have a last ride with those guys."

After their strong late regular season, the Pirates lost 8-1 at Santa Ana Segerstrom in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 4 Playoffs.

"We ran into a couple of hiccups during the regular season, trying to find our identity a little bit more," said Knightley. "But we had a good season.

"We ran into some tough competition in the playoffs and didn't have the outcome we wanted."

Santa Ynez hit .298 as a team, slightly above the national average, according to MaxPreps. However, Knightley led the way for a pitching staff that had a stellar ERA of 2.04.

Santa Ynez pitchers yielded two runs or less 17 times in 2018. Knightley posted a 4-2 record as a pitcher and led the team in pitching appearances with 15. 

He is the only one of the Pirates' leading pitchers from 2018 who is scheduled to come back next year. The rest of them graduated.

Meanwhile, Knightley averaged nearly an RBI a hit in 2018. He was easily the team's RBI leader, with 34. He tied senior Travis Welker for the team lead in hits with 38.

Knightley led the Pirates in doubles with nine.  He also led the squad in slugging percentage at .591 and OPS (On-base percentage plus slugging) at 1.054.

He would like to keep playing ball after his days at Santa Ynez are over, and Knightley has started thinking about his post-high school life.

"I've been talking to a couple of colleges," he said. "I really want to go to Sacramento State or Cal State Bakersfield. I really like that area, too.

"A friend of mine, Gavin Haimovitz who went to Dunn and then transferred to Oak Park his senior year, is going to play for Cal State Bakersfield," next season.

Knightley said, "Next month I'm going to Georgia to play in the Perfect Game Tournament and try to get a little exposure in that area." Knightley said that tournament is a 17U one.

As far as where Knightley figures a collegiate team will put him, he said, "Infield's my main position, but I would love to pitch at the next level too."

Knightley acknowledged that the Pirates took a hit from graduation. "We lost 11 seniors," he said.

However, "We have a good group of juniors coming back," Knightley said.

Knightley will be one of those returning juniors, and Dickey is looking forward coaching Knightley another year.

"He's played on the varsity for us since he was a freshman, and he's improved every year," Dickey said.

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Sports Reporter