J. Erickson, Sweet combine on 1-hitter, lead Pioneer past Caston
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
FULTON — Jake Erickson and Caleb Sweet combined on a one-hitter, and the Pioneer baseball team took advantage of a Caston error to score the go-ahead run in the top of the sixth as they pulled out a 2-1 win over the host Comets on May 8.
Brayden Erickson added an RBI single for Pioneer, who completed the Hoosier North sweep of Caston. They beat Caston by an identical 2-1 score in Royal Center on May 2.
Erickson went the first four innings, allowing one hit and one run. He walked four and hit a batter, but none of those five baserunners came around to score. He also struck out three.
Sweet tossed the final three innings. He hit Gavin Mollenkopf with a pitch in the fifth, but courtesy runner Jonathan Pacheco was thrown out trying to steal to end the inning.
He also plunked Jackson Rentschler in the sixth but got Pete DuVall to foul out to the catcher and Caleb Stinson to ground into an inning-ending forceout.
He then pitched a 1-2-3 seventh to finish the game with second baseman Derek Duncan making a sharp play on Grant Yadon’s grounder for the second out.
“It’s not like we had a ton of strikeouts,” Caston coach Blake Mollenkopf said. “We put the ball in play. I think the wind factored on both sides tonight. There were some balls that were well struck that hung up for outfielders to get, but you’re going to need more than one hit to win ballgames.”
Noah Herd pitched a five-hitter but took the loss for the Comets. He walked two and hit a batter while fanning four. Only one of the runs he allowed was earned.
He retired 13 consecutive batters at one point before Duncan broke that streak with a one-out single in the sixth and Caston leading 1-0.
Duncan stole second and then tried to score when Sweet pulled a single to left. Stinson threw home to catcher Mollenkopf, who took a jarring hit from Duncan while tagging him for the second out.
Sweet advanced to second on the play, and Mollenkopf stayed in the game after the trainer checked him out.
Brayden Erickson then singled to score Sweet and tie the game, and he advanced to second on the throw home.
Jake Erickson walked. Brayden Erickson went to third on a wild pitch.
Noah Miller then reached on an error to score Brayden Erickson and give Pioneer their first lead.
“We told them to keep fighting, keep going, we’ll have an inning here or there,” Pioneer coach Josh Hardy said. “And having most of our hitters seeing him three times helped a lot, and finally, we were able to execute there with some baserunners and get some runs there in that sixth inning. It was huge. But really, a lot of times, just seeing the pitcher over and over again helps most. There really weren’t much adjustments. … He pitched a great game for them. We just did real well executing in that sixth inning.”
Yadon drove in Caston’s lone run on a sacrifice fly to left in the bottom of the second. That followed Stinson’s single, a wild pitch and a fly ball to right from Preston Holderfield that moved Stinson to third.
After Yadon’s sacrifice fly, Jake Erickson walked Byrum and Talon Zeider and struck out Mollenkopf swinging, and Caston never got another runner in scoring position.
Stinson did draw a leadoff walk in the fourth, but Jake Erickson struck out Holderfield and got Yadon to hit into a double play on a failed hit-and-run where Stinson was caught off the bag on a pop-up to Sweet, who was playing first base.
Pioneer now has 12 wins overall and eight in conference play. They won 10 games total and seven conference games all of last year. Next up is a two-game set with conference leader North Judson on Thursday and Friday.
“I think the chemistry on this team is just unmatched,” Brayden Erickson said. “Because it’s just a bunch of seniors, and then a couple juniors and a couple sophomores. Just one big friend group, and we all just love each other. We love playing baseball and love each other.”
Hardy praised his team’s pitching and defense. Brayden Erickson is the team’s ace, and he won the first Caston game six days earlier. Noah Miller and Brenton Gaumer are also pitching options for the Panthers.
“It’s different because of this rivalry,” Hardy said. “The Caston-Pioneer rivalry has made it a little bit different of a game. But I would say most of our games, we’ve kept them from scoring five runs at the most for most games. … It’s been a defensive battle for most of our games. Our pitching … has been tremendous for us, and our defense has been great. Offensively, we’ve just been doing well, staying in there like today and able to execute towards the sixth or seventh inning.”
Despite the loss, Caston coach Blake Mollenkopf praised Herd, a sophomore who could give the team a third pitcher with big-game experience joining the junior combination of Talon Zeider and Pete DuVall.
“I thought he was real good,” coach Mollenkopf said. “He has made such a great leap from his freshman to sophomore year. We’re just putting more and more trust in him.”
DuVall played third base in this game and made a showstopping play when he made a diving stop on Brayden Erickson’s hot grounder to open the fourth and threw from his knees for the out.
“Credit to Pete,” Mollenkopf said. “He works hard all the time. He’s just one of those kids where things like that are going to happen because in his mind he thinks he can make every play.”
Pioneer 2, Caston 1
Pioneer 000 002 0 – 2 5 1
Caston 010 000 0 – 1 1 2
WP – Caleb Sweet (3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 HBP, 1 K)
LP – Noah Herd (7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 HBP, 4 K)
XBH – (none)