Pine River pitchers play key role in drive to regional crown

LEROY — Erickson and Ruppert.

That might sound like a good name for an attorneys’ firm or a doctor’s office.

At Pine River, it’s a good name for the one-two pitching punch of Lincoln Erickson and Devin Ruppert.

The two senior righthanders remain a formidable mound combination in having led Pine River to a 24-5 record, a regional title and a trip to Michigan State University for the Division 3 quarterfinals against Grandville Calvin Christian.

The two combined for 14 innings of shutout baseball in 3-0 victories over Kent City and Montague Saturday at Holton in the Division 3 regionals. Erickson pitched a one-hitter and struck out 13 batters in the first game.

Ruppert, also a catcher, had an 8-0 record in the first 36.2 innings of the season, allowing 14 hits, 11 earned runs, 79 strikeouts, 17 walks and a 1.47 ERA. At the plate, he’s been hitting .394.

Erickson had a 5-2-1 record after the first 37 innings of the season with a 5-2-1 record, 16 hits, seven earned runs, 74 stirkeouts, 10 walks and a 0.93 ERA.

“He had a sore arm for much of the year but has been back to his old self lately,” said Pine River coach Shawn Ruppert. “He really improved his hitting this year.”

Erickson called his performance on Saturday “better than normal.”

The pitching staff has been a key strength, along with the defense, for the Bucks all season.

Erickson has liked the effectiveness of his off-speed itches.

“I’m throwing harder than last year,” Erickson said. “My fastball is working pretty well.”

Erickson has been batting around .300.

Winning the baseball regional “is probably one of the best” moments, Erickson said. “It’s right up there with beating McBain for the district championships.”

Ruppert had a 1-0 shutout against Montague in the bottom of the fifth with two outs on Saturday. Shawn Ruppert, also has dad, brought Erickson to pitch and Devin went back to catching. Mitch McDonald, who had been catching, went to centerfield.

“Our best defense is when Lincoln is pitching and Lincoln’s arm felt fine even after throwing the first game,” Devin Ruppert said. “Our best defense is with me behind the plate and him pitching and Mitchell in center. I thought I pitched well. I mixed my pitches well. I was always around the strike zone.”

Erickson said he enjoys pressure like the situation against Montague.

“I knew I was coming,” he said. “One run is good for me. I’m used to it.”

Pine River played Grandvile Calvin Christian Tuesday at Michigan State Unversity in state quarterfinal action.

Looking ahead, “I think we can make a run,” Shawn Ruppert said. “We didn’t hit the ball as well as we would have liked today. If we do hit the ball, because of our defense and pitching, we have a lot going for us.”

“I’m really excited to go to quarterfinals at Michigan State,” Erickson said. “It’s going to be good exposure for our team. We have a lot of good baseball players.”