Corey Knebel came into pitch for Texas in the 12th inning of a 4-4 tie with Hawaii on Feb. 26. It was only the freshman’s second time seeing action on the season, but his coaches had confidence he could throw three innings.
He could throw three, but he couldn’t throw four.
Knebel surrendered a single and threw two wild pitches to lose the game in the 15th inning for Texas. There were two outs when Knebel made the mistake.
“I had that freshman mentality of trying to get that last batter, and I overthrew it,” Knebel said. “I’ve learned to relax now and calm down in those situations.”
He’s certainly seen more of those situations. Knebel was named the Longhorn’s closer a week after the Hawaii series, following two saves he picked up against then-No. 9 Stanford. He now leads the team with five saves and is second in appearances. He will look to add to those totals tonight as No. 8 Texas (17-7) hosts Oral Roberts (8-9).
Knebel has had a pretty good start to a career that almost wasn’t played at Texas. Growing up in nearby Georgetown, he’d always wanted to come to Texas, but wasn’t recruited highly by the Longhorns. Knebel was ready to play at Angelina College, when Texas called in April.
“Texas came along and it was like a dream come true,” he said.
Once Knebel arrived on campus over the summer, Texas had questions surrounding who would take over as closer, as Chance Ruffin departed for the major leagues. Set-up men Andrew McKirahan and Stayton Thomas were both early candidates for the job, but Knebel beat them both out with his strong arm and focused mind.
“I just go in there and throw strikes, and that’s what every closer has to have,” Knebel said. “I don’t try to do anything, I just go in there and I know I’m going to do it. That’s just the mindset that I have and it helps me a lot.”
Texas pitching coach Skip Johnson said that Knebel even reminds him of Ruffin, in the way that he carries himself.
“He gets in there and gets after it when he gets in the game,” Johnson said. “He competes one pitch at a time, and you’ve got to have a guy that finishes the game when you’ve got a one- or two-run lead at the end of the game.”
Nicknamed “Bird Dog” by associate coach Tommy Harmon for the way he’s always smiling, Knebel takes a lighthearted approach to life and baseball. His intro song is “Numa Numa,” the Romanian dance song made popular by an overweight guy sitting in front of a computer screen, blasted by the speakers at Disch-Falk Field every time he enters the game.
“It gets me fired up. In my head I’m thinking, ‘I want to dance so bad’,” Knebel said. “I’m a happy person, and dancing makes me happy, so I just think about that and it gets me pumped up.”
Knebel’s goal this season is to win the college national championship, but a more personal one he’s set for himself is to tie Ruffin’s record of 10 wins and 10 saves in a season.
“It’s something I’ve talked with my parents about, but if it doesn’t happen, at least I’m still helping the team,” he said.