Pierce is rising tide that lifts Warriors to state

Pierce is rising tide that lifts Warriors to state

TUSCOLA — The Tuscola baseball team has had one consistent theme of words spoken since the Warriors advanced to state for the third time in program history.

Thank goodness Noah Pierce is on their side.

Perhaps no player or coach in the black and gold has uttered that exact phrase.

But ask anyone in a Tuscola jersey about how the team won its Class 2A super-sectional Monday night against Pleasant Plains, or how the Warriors (37-3) have gotten to today's 2A state semifinal at 5 p.m. against Spring Valley Hall (28-3) at Peoria's Dozer Park, and Pierce's name almost always comes up.

Tuscola coach Duff Hoel lauded his senior pitcher's mental fortitude moments after a walk-off 2-1 win over Plains, against whom Pierce tossed 114 pitches in seven innings and recorded 10 strikeouts.

Two days later, Pierce's teammates still were adding to the love.

"Noah threw one heck of a game," junior Brayden VonLanken said. "Earlier in the year, we lost to Champaign Central and he threw a one-hitter, and we didn't want to let that happen again."

"Every game this postseason, and really every game this whole year, he's done a good job," senior Dalton Hoel added. "He set our school record for wins as a pitcher. That ... shows on its own how dominant he's been the entire year."

Pierce is more modest. Though he leads the Warriors in pitching wins (11), innings thrown (57 1 / 3), strikeouts (91) and ERA (0.98), the left-hander rarely is satisfied with his mound performances.

Take the matchup with Plains. After retiring two Cardinals to open the second inning, Pierce got a little wild. He walked a pair of foes and hit a third with an 0-2 pitch.

"Not gonna lie: Beginning of the game, I was kind of disappointed in myself," Pierce said. "I'm lucky I only got away with one run out of that."

Maybe.

But considering Pierce allowed just two hits across the third through seventh frames, perhaps the Kaskaskia College signee should be giving himself a bit more credit.

It's not that Pierce has unreachable expectations. He, like the rest of the Warriors, just really enjoys winning.

"We just kind of expect, and I think he expects of himself, to come out there and compete and do well every time," Dalton Hoel said.

Of course, Pierce isn't only focusing on what he does with the ball in his hand.

Pierce's .283 batting average with four home runs and 32 RBI is a solid hitting line, even for a Tuscola squad that has manufactured double-digit runs 26 times this year.

But, again, Pierce isn't satisfied. And he bristles at the idea that star pitchers can't also be forceful in the batter's box as well.

"I was more nervous for myself going up to bat because I haven't been batting the best," said Pierce, referencing a seventh-inning plate appearance Monday against Plains. "I ended up ... getting on base. That was a big relief for myself."

A big relief for Duff Hoel, his staff and his other athletes: that Pierce could participate in baseball at all this season.

Suffering a fractured foot in the Warriors' 1A state championship football game last November could have derailed the rest of Pierce's high school sports career.

Instead, he's cemented himself as Tuscola's bona fide baseball ace. And while he won't be able to pitch today due to restrictions relating to Monday's heavy-duty outing, Saturday's opponent should watch out if Duff Hoel calls for a lefty.

"Hopefully that's the state championship game," Pierce said with a wide smile. "(That would be) the biggest game I've ever pitched in before. So I'm just going to go out there and play like it's any other game."

-