Pitching leads Pine River to district baseball title

LEROY — If they can’t hit you, they can’t beat you.

That was the sentiment of Pine River baseball coach Shawn Ruppert following a pair of wins on Tuesday in which the Bucks did not allow a single run to cross the plate. That combination of pitching and defense helped Pine River reclaim the Division 3 district title after a one-year absence.

Pine River’s Devin Ruppert gave up just two hits in a 12-0 win over Lake City to advance to the district final. Lincoln Erickson took it from there for the Bucks, giving up three hits in a 3-0 win over McBain to secure the title.

Following the clutch pitching display, Ruppert said he feels confident with either pitcher on the mound with the season on the line.

“Our pitchers will always keep us in it,” he said. “If we hit the ball and push some runs across here and there, we’ll be fine.”

In the title game, Ruppert said Erickson showed good command in not allowing many base runners throughout the evening. He struck out 12 batters and walked just three.

“I thought (Erickson’s) control was better (Monday),” he said. “We didn’t give up a run — Devin (Ruppert) gave up two hits and Lincoln (Erickson) gave up three. Lincoln has thrown to Devin since they were 7-years-old, so they’re pretty comfortable with each other out there.”

Erickson, who struck out 16 batters in a pre-district game against Reed City last week, said he felt his control was even better on Monday.

“I think my control was better (Monday), but it’s still not as good as it should be,” he said. “I’m always told that the first batter to walk is the first batter to score, so whenever I get a walk it’s pretty devastating.”

Against McBain, the Bucks got on the board in the top of the second with an RBI single from Zane Kanouse with two outs.

Derrick Waldfogel increased the lead to 2-0 with an RBI single in the top of the third. Brandon Hoaglund added a sacrifice to make it 3-0.

Kanouse said he’s excited to be moving on to regionals, where Pine River will face Shelby on Saturday at Evart High School. It will be Kanouse’s last attempt at a postseason run.

“This is my first district title ever,” he said. “To be one of the last three seniors in our school still playing high school sports is pretty crazy.”

In the semifinal, Ruppert went five innings, issuing just one walk while striking out 11 batters.

The Bucks were led offensively by Waldfogel, who went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. Grant Gugle and Hoaglund each had a hit and two RBIs, while Kanouse, Ruppert and Tyler Lewis each had a single and an RBI.

Ruppert said he expects Saturday’s regional to be a low-scoring affair with two good pitchers taking the mound.

“There’s not going to be a lot of scoring,” he said. “It’s going to come down to who gets the bunt down or who can steal that base.”

With the wins, Pine River improved to 23-9-1 on the season.