The Wartburg College baseball team opens up Iowa Conference play this afternoon. At one point, the Knights had claimed twelve consecutive league titles, but Wartburg has fallen short of the conference crown in each of the past two years. Wartburg coach Joel Holst says that the Knights will be relying on some new personnel to get them back to the top of the standings in 2011.

The Knights have six players in their starting lineup that are freshman or sophomores, and are also counting on some younger pitchers to give them needed innings out of the bullpen this season. In addition to his own squad, Holst says that Buena Vista and Central should be a couple of the Iowa Conference’s top teams this year.

Holst says that Buena Vista’s 2010 squad was one of the best teams to come through the conference in some time, and the Beavers return their entire pitching staff. He says that last year’s third place team, Central, also has a lot of players back for 2011. Wartburg has many of their top pitchers back from last season, but Holst says that many of them are making the transition from mainly relief work to becoming starters.

Holst says that his coaching staff knew that after last year, his pitchers would be a more veteran group than the guys swinging the bats. He says that Wartburg’s five lowest earned run allowers return for this season. Wartburg opens the conference season this weekend with a series at Coe, Coach Holst’s alma mater. He says that the first step towards a league title is getting off to a strong start in the conference schedule.

Holst believes that playing well to open the league season will help cure his team of some of the inconsistency that they have been dealing with in the preseason. The Knights and Kohawks open up the weekend series this afternoon with one nine-inning game. They’ll play a pair of seven-inning contests tomorrow.

By Jesse Gavin KCNZ Cedar Falls