FORTVILLE — Demoted in the rotation but never in spirit, Mt. Vernon’s James Stricker bounced back with a standout performance Friday against Hamilton Heights.
A 2014 All-Hoosier Heritage Conference selection, the Marauders’ right-hander was 0-3 with a swollen ERA earlier this spring when head coach Ryan Carr pulled Stricker out of the conference pitching rotation.
Slowly, Stricker regained his form. He put it all together Friday in the Marauders’ 8-5 victory.
“It’s been a little bit of a challenge,” said Stricker, who allowed two hits and one earned run in five innings. “After (the start of the season), I just felt like I needed to work on everything little thing I could to make sure I got back up to what I need to be at.”
Stricker’s teammates backed him up at the plate against the visiting Huskies (6-10).
Mt. Vernon plated seven runs through the first two innings on eight hits, with a double by Zach Spears highlighting the three-run third and singles from Spears, Ty Franklin, Christian Smith, Sam McNeely and Ryan Beck capping the four-run seventh.
The defense of the Marauders (9-9) was equally stellar.
With two Huskies on base in the fourth inning, Mt. Vernon catcher Michael Cripe threw out would-be base stealer Treyton Trent to end the inning with the home team in front 7-2. Franklin, the centerfielder, made a diving catch for another key fourth-inning out. The Marauders also escaped a jam in the second inning with a double play. Hamilton Heights was limited to one run in each frame.
“Our middle (defense), I’d put it right up there with anybody else we’ve seen so far,” Carr said of Cripe, Franklin, shortstop Noah Powell and Smith, the second baseman. “It’s amazing what happens when you throw strikes, you get ahead and you get guys just rolling over on balls.”
Cripe doubled to lead off the sixth inning and came around on a Hamilton Heights error for the Marauders’ final run and an 8-2 advantage.
Spears and Smith each finished 2-for-3. Powell, the Marauders’ leadoff hitter, drew three walks, smacked a double and scored twice.
Combined with the Marauders’ pitching and defensive mastery, Stricker’s mound performance was too much for the Huskies.
In earning his first victory of the season, the senior finished with five strikeouts and two walks.
“You don’t want to give up on a talent like that,” Carr said of Stricker, a 6-foot-4 Goshen College commit. “We thought we owed it to him tonight to have a start again. Obviously, he was not happy with being demoted, but his demeanor around the team was great.
“You’d think a high school kid who goes from all-conference to not pitching a lot wouldn’t necessarily have the best attitude. But, the way be has bounced back is a testament to him as a person. He understood the situation, and just did his job and worked to get back.”
The Huskies, with two hits through the first six innings, registered three runs on three hits in the top of the seventh. Mt. Vernon’s Nathanael Lash and Kennedy Parker finished the game in relief of Stricker.
In a 13-0 win against Muncie Central on Thursday, Powell hit his first career home run while Spears and Parker combined for a one-hit shutout over five innings. … The Marauders will visit common Class 4A Sectional 9 foe Connersville on Monday, host Brebeuf on Wednesday, visit Guerin on Thursday and host a conference doubleheader against New Castle on Friday. The Brebeuf game was moved back one day from Tuesday due to the Braves’ city tourney schedule, and Guerin is a rain make-up. … Pendleton Heights will host Sectional 9 from May 27 to June 1. The draw is May 19.