Erickson holds No. 1 Southwood to 5 hits in loss
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
FULTON –- The Pioneer baseball team’s last game of the season was Monday. Their last hit of the season came Saturday.
Carson Rich was responsible for both things happening.
Rich, a senior left-hander, pitched a no-hitter with eight strikeouts to lead top-ranked Southwood to a 4-0 win over the Panthers in the Class 1A, Sectional 52 final at Caston Monday.
Alex Farr went 2 for 2 with two RBIs, Koby Thomas had an RBI, and Will Winer stole home for Southwood, who held their three sectional opponents to three runs combined.
Brayden Erickson pitched a five-hitter and took the loss for Pioneer. He walked one and struck out three.
Pioneer had 11 hits in their 4-1 semifinal win over North Miami Saturday, but Rich limited them to four baserunners.
“Their pitcher did well,” Pioneer coach Josh Hardy said. “He was locating really well. His curve ball was breaking way outside and hitting right on the outside corner, which is a tough pitch to hit for anybody. Defensively, they’re just a tough defensive team too.”
The part about Southwood being a good defensive team came into play into the bottom of the fifth and Pioneer trailing 3-0.
With nobody on and two out, Noah Pearson reached when Southwood’s third baseman bobbled his grounder for an error. Caden Couch then walked.
That brought up Wyatt Zeider. Up to that point, Pioneer had hit only one fly ball to the outfield, but Zeider cranked a fly ball just to the left of straightaway center.
But Southwood center fielder Mason Yentes made a running catch to end the inning.
“It was a great catch,” Hardy said. “There were two outs, so both of our guys were going to be scoring. … That hurt, but it’s baseball. … Some days, you make those, kind of like Saturday. Some days we hit gaps. Some days we hit it right to them. That was kind of today for us.”
Said Southwood coach Warren Dailey of Yentes: “I’m telling you what, that kid, he goes and gets baseballs. He’s our black hole in center field. That’s where fly balls go to die.”
That was the first of seven straight batters Rich retired to close out the game.
Southwood coach Warren Dailey rushed out of the dugout and lifted the diminutive Rich in celebration after he struck out Brenton Gaumer to end the game.
Afterwards, he said the game was a tribute to Rich’s competitiveness. Rich also played on Southwood’s sectional championship football team and was the leading scorer on Southwood’s regional championship basketball team.
“He’s Mr. Competitive,” Dailey said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s checkers or backgammon. He’s going to come to win the game. He’s wired for big situations like this, big games like this. And we just get to be along for the ride.”
Pioneer had a baserunner in each of the first two innings. Owen Mersch led off the bottom of the first by striking out, but he made it all the way to second on a third strike wild pitch when Southwood catcher Mo Lloyd couldn’t immediately locate the ball.
Rich responded by striking out Gavin Clem and Caleb Sweet and got Tyler Gaumer on a liner to shortstop.
In the second, Brenton Gaumer walked with one out, but Lloyd threw behind Gaumer taking his lead with Pearson up, and Southwood got Brenton Gaumer in a rundown before tagging him. Rich then struck out Pearson with Farr making a nifty pick at first base on Lloyd’s throw in the dirt at first base to complete the play and end the inning.
That started a streak of nine consecutive batters retired for Rich.
As for Erickson, he kept up with Rich, facing the minimum nine batters through three innings. That was helped by an unusual double play in which Farr was caught too far off third base to close the second.
For the game, Erickson, a freshman right-hander, had 1-2-3 innings in the top of the first, third, fifth and seventh against a Southwood offense that had scored in double figures 17 times in 27 previous games and had scored nine runs against Caston in the semifinals on Saturday.
“Age doesn’t matter,” Hardy said. “It’s all about experience. Brayden’s up there as a freshman pitcher. Yeah, he’s a freshman, but honestly, when he’s on the mound, he’s a senior. You can just see it. We can see it at practice. We saw the first few games. … They’re just a good, well-rounded hitting team. That’s the biggest thing. Brayden was hitting his spots well. A few times he missed obviously, and that’s where they hurt us the most.”
But they got to him in the fourth.
Yentes led off with a two-strike single. Connor Rich’s sacrifice bunt moved him to second. Logan Barley singled. Yentes moved up to third and stopped there, but when the throw was not cut off, Barley moved up to second.
Alex Farr’s sacrifice fly to center gave Southwood a 1-0 lead, and Barley advanced to third on an error. Lloyd, who came in hitting .495 with a team-high 13 homers and 51 RBIs, received what turned out to be Erickson’s only walk with first base open.
That brought up Thomas, who singled to score Barley and move courtesy runner Will Winer to third.
Then, with Cole Winer up, Thomas crept off first base and stayed in a rundown long enough for Will Winer to steal home. Thomas was eventually tagged out, but Southwood led 3-0.
Farr’s two-out RBI single scored Barley from second and made it 4-0 in the sixth.
The game was the prep finale for 10 Pioneer seniors: Mersch, Zeider, Pearson, Tyler Gaumer, Hunter Klepinger, Mason Schnurpel, Ethan Spencer, Daniel Reyes, Addai Lewellen and Ezra Lewellen. They shared a Hoosier North title with LaVille, North Judson and Winamac.
But the team’s top pitchers were Erickson and Sweet, a sophomore.
“Last year would have been my first year, but having this first year with this senior group, no other coach could imagine this. It was awesome to have this group, with the pitchers that we have and the hitters we have in this senior group and then also the overall competitiveness of this group. Obviously, this is the main football group too for the last couple years, so it’s nice to have them come to the baseball field and compete like we have all season.”
Southwood will play unranked Fort Wayne Blackhawk in a regional semifinal at South Bend Clay at approximately 1 p.m. Saturday. No. 2 Washington Township will play South Central (Union Mills) in the first semifinal at 11 a.m., and the winners return at 8 p.m. for the regional final.
At one point, Hardy asked the home plate umpire to rescind a foul ball strike. He showed the ball that was alleged fouled off to the umpire, saying it was a Little League ball and not a ball certified by the IHSAA. The umpire tossed the unofficial ball out of the batch being used for the game but did not rescind the strike.
Southwood 4, Pioneer 0
Southwood 000 301 0 – 4 5 1
Pioneer 000 000 0 – 0 0 0
WP – Carson Rich (7 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 K)
LP – Brayden Erickson (7 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K)
XBH – (none)