BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
FULTON –- Brayden Erickson’s nickname is Bubby.
He plays basketball, but his favorite sport is baseball.
He plays for a travel baseball team called the Indiana Mustangs that is based out of Westfield. He’s a pitcher who said that his mentality is that he’s going to pitch a no-hitter every time out.
And Pioneer fans might want to get to know him if they don’t know him already. Because he’s only a freshman, and he tossed a masterpiece in his first career start against conference and sectional rival Caston Thursday.
Erickson pitched a one-hitter with 13 strikeouts, and Daniel Reyes and Wyatt Zeider homered as part of a six-run seventh to lead the Panthers past the Comets 9-0 in the first game of a two-game Hoosier North series.
The lead was a more precarious 3-0 in the bottom of the sixth when Erickson walked Talon Zeider to lead off the inning. Sam Smith struck out, but Kade Zeider reached on an error, which moved Talon Zeider to second. Spin struck out, but Carter See walked to load the bases.
That brought up Jackson Rentschler, who had lined a single against Erickson in his previous at-bat.
Erickson got even, whiffing Rentschler to end the inning.
“Just the fastball on the corner and that curve ball were really working for me,” Erickson said. “I threw the change-up every once in awhile, but mostly the curve ball.”
Said Pioneer coach Josh Hardy: “He’s a good pitcher, a travel kid pitcher. He’s pitched a lot in travel for his travel team as well. In practice, we saw a lot of good things from him. ... In JV, we saw a lot of good things when he was up there pitching. So we decided to give him a chance … it would’ve been three weeks ago. He pitched well against West Central. He pitched well against LaVille on Saturday when we got the win. And we knew we had confidence in him for this first game against Caston to get that win.”
Pioneer then scored six runs in the top of the seventh to knock Caston starter Spin off the mound.
Reyes led off the inning with a homer to straightaway center. Caleb Sweet singled, and Zeider then homered to about the same spot in center that Reyes’ ball landed.
Hunter Klepinger singled to end Spin’s pitching performance. He went to second on a wild pitch and third on a passed ball before scoring on Owen Mersch’s sacrifice fly to Adam Rush in right field.
Mason Schnurpel’s sacrifice fly and Noah Pearson’s RBI double down the third baseline capped the inning.
But the story was Erickson, who handcuffed Caston’s hitters.
“You know what, I thought it started offensively for us,” Caston coach Blake Mollenkopf said. “We just didn’t really have a great approach at the plate. We let a lot of fastballs kinda eat us up. … We’ve got to have a better approach. We’ve got to put the ball in play more.”
Erickson got what turned out to be the only runs he would need in the first. Reyes reached on a three-base error and scored on Caleb Sweet’s bloop single. Zeider’s double moved Sweet to third, and Hunter Klepinger’s bloop hit just evaded the diving attempt of Carter See in center field to make it 2-0.
Klepinger’s RBI double to deep left in the fifth made it 3-0. Klepinger and Zeider led Pioneer with three hits each. Reyes, Sweet and Schnurpel had two hits each.
Hardy has implemented drills he learned from coaches like Dan Frye and Jim Turner from Logansport.
“Honestly, as soon as I started this, the main thing I told the guys was offense, offense, offense,” Hardy said. “We’ve been working a lot with hitting.”
Pioneer 9, Caston 0
Pioneer 200 010 6 – 9 15 2
Caston 000 000 0 – 0 1 2
WP – Brayden Erickson (7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 13 K)
LP – Joey Spin (6+ IP, 13 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 5 K)
2B – Wyatt Zeider 2 (PIO), Hunter Klepinger (PIO), Noah Pearson (PIO)
HR – Daniel Reyes (PIO), Wyatt Zeider (PIO)