TUSCOLA -- Firing from his left, Noah Pierce's fastball is at its most dangerous shooting around the last 10 feet before crossing the plate.
And on a day and a place which was begging for runs to score, Pierce used that fastball to turn in a nearly flawless game.
With the Tuscola flags lining the outfield fence signaling the strong wind carrying straight out the back of the tiny Ervin Park field, Pierce allowed just three balls to shoot past the infield. Tuscola unloaded at the plate with four home runs to give the Warriors an 11-4 victory against Maroa-Forsyth on Monday afternoon.
"Throwing into the wind, his ball's moving a ton," Tuscola coach Duff Hoel said. "Andrew Erickson would come back in between innings and say his ball's all over the place, he's hard to catch. Those lefties, they throw funny, you know?
"But we were able to take advantage of some pitches they got up in the zone, and Noah didn't get up in the zone very much. Noah pounded the bottom half and kept the ball in the park."
Maroa's Braden Willoughby turned the only big hit, a homer in the second at-bat in the game.
After that, Pierce fooled the Trojans left and right. He allowed three hits in 5 2/3 innings, striking out eight. That strikeout savvy allowed the junior to navigate out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam after Pierce struck out Maroa's four and five hitters.
The performance came when Hoel let Pierce go the distance pitch count-wise for the first time. The temperature got to the pitcher more than fatigue -- Pierce struck out his final batter on three pitches.
"Hands are cold, arm's pretty cold," he said.
"Yeah, this is the most pitches I could possibly pitch. My arm feels in shape, but I could obviously make it stronger."
Hoel said there's not a designated No. 1 in the rotation, but Pierce pitched like one Monday.
"Today, it just happened to be his turn. And today was an ace-level performance," Hoel said.
It's easier to deal with the elements when Tuscola's offense produces the way it does. Brayden VonLanken launched two homers, Andrew Erickson knocked one to the opposite field and Cale Sementi may have hit the longest one of the bunch straight to dead center.
Even with a week-long layoff between games, VonLanken's power carried through. The sophomore's up to seven home runs and eight doubles while batting .453 on the season.
And when he smacks a three-run shot in the first inning to give Tuscola an early lead, that does more than add to the scoreboard.
"It makes it way easier to get started earlier in counts," Pierce said.
Logan Tabeling and Cole Thomas finished off the game for Tuscola from the mound. Maroa was able to generate a couple of runs through walks, but couldn't connect ball to bat.
Logan Allsup got the start for Maroa, going four innings and allowing five earned runs.
You have free articles remaining.
"Tough field to pitch in, but you know what, we've got to hit in that field, too," Maroa coach Sean Martin. "And we didn't do that. No excuses, we just didn't play well in any aspects -- didn't field the ball, didn't pitch, didn't hit. They beat us fair and square."
Tuscola's heating up at the right time. The Warriors checked off game No. 10 in their winning streak and they've been winning most of those games by a wide margin.
They've scored at least 10 runs in eight of the 10 games, while allowing more than four runs just once.
"We're not counting," Hoel said.
It's a busy week for Tuscola: Warrensburg-Latham today, St. Teresa on Wednesday and Meridian on Thursday.
Cale Sementi checked off a career first -- a home run. The junior drilled his shot in the third before nearly hitting another in the fifth, falling right at the base of the fence.
"We see it in practice all the time," Hoel said. "He barrels it up, and it was a line drive. There was only one that was probably cheap, and that was Andrew's to right. For the most part, the guys were barrelling it up. I was pretty happy."
Kameron Boline dove straight ahead for a great catch in the sixth inning, robbing VonLanken of his third hit and likely sixth RBI of the day.
Tuscola's defense is anchored with one of the better gloves and a rocket arm at short with Dalton Hoel.
Add in a couple of double plays started by second baseman Tyler Meinhold, and Tuscola's infield defense scrubbed away multiple baserunners to end innings.
"The best thing about that is two-fold," coach Hoel said. "That means Noah's putting the ball where we want it and secondly, Tyler's getting rid of the ball a little quicker.
"That was nice to see. Those inning-ending double plays are sweet."