Warriors baseball shows no sign of slowing down

Warriors baseball shows no sign of slowing down

TUSCOLA — Duff Hoel knew his Tuscola baseball team would possess firepower at the plate.

The Warriors held a collective 190 RBI from eight of their returning players. Two of those athletes blasted seven home runs last year, and four posted a batting average better than .300.

"We feel real good offensively," Hoel said prior to today's Class 2A Tuscola Regional semifinal at Ervin Park between the top-seeded host school and No. 10 Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond. "We've scored a ton of runs this year. That's because they're buying into the philosophy and understanding what we're trying to do."

The Warriors (32-3) have tallied at least 10 runs in a game 24 different times this season. It's fair to say Hoel's stars are picking up where they left off in 2017 when it comes to swatting the ball. What Hoel wasn't anticipating was his pitching staff dominating opponents the way it has.

Hoel's hurlers have permitted three or fewer runs in 26 outings. Even if Tuscola — which has set a single-season win record this spring — was struggling to tally runs, there's a good chance it would still be well above .500 thanks to the guys in the center of the diamond.

"It all starts on the pitching mound and playing defense, honestly," said junior Brayden VonLanken, who has pitched in a team-leading 12 games. "We're all good hitters who see the ball really well. Our pitchers have been doing a good job with (supporting) that."

When Hoel lists all the youngsters he's used at pitcher in 2018, it reads like a who's who of Tuscola athletes.

VonLanken and seniors Cale Sementi and Noah Pierce each boast double-digit appearances on the mound. Seniors Andrew Erickson and Tyler Meinhold, juniors Haden Cothron and Cade Kresin and sophomore Logan Tabeling have all taken the bump seven or eight times apiece.

Hoel also has utilized junior Michael Ludwig and sophomores Lucas Kresin and Ryan Bartley as pitchers.

"We're absolutely tickled," Hoel said. "Our pitching staff has exceeded expectations. We've been able to put Andrew Erickson behind the plate (at times). We felt like he got tired toward the end of last year because he threw too many innings."

The area's casual high school sports fans might recognize many of the above names thanks to their involvement in Tuscola's run to the Class 1A football state title game last November.

VonLanken, a lineman for coach Andy Romine's gridiron Warriors, feels that experience has only helped the baseball squad this year.

"We're not all just focused on one thing," VonLanken said. "We're actively doing something in the (baseball offseason) and not just sitting around. We have guys that commit to get better in the (offseason)."

What's also helped Hoel's crew is the ability to keep things loose over the course of a multi-month season. Piling up victories certainly makes that easier, but a sense of brotherhood in the dugout also has proved vital.

"We're a pretty close team," VonLanken said. "I like to win, and we're doing a pretty good amount of that."

The Warriors aim to continue that today against ALAH, an opponent Tuscola defeated 16-0 two months ago to open the campaign.

Hoel isn't taking anything for granted, though. Especially not at Ervin Park.

"I feel like we have a home-field advantage, but you never know," he said. "Short porch, wind blowing out — you make one mistake to the little bittiest guy on the team and you've given up four (runs). You've really got to be careful."

But should the Warriors be able to navigate the minefield that is the early portion of the postseason, they'd be in prime position to duplicate — or maybe even improve on — the program's state runner-up finish in 2012.

"It'd be great. It'd be awesome," VonLanken said. "Football is fun, but to get back in baseball in the same year would be amazing."