By PAUL HINES firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — CENTRALIA – A pair of juniors powered Mt. Vernon's baseball team to its fourth straight South Seven Conference title Tuesday.
The Rams knocked off Centralia 6-2 to clinch the conference crown.
“I'm really happy for this group,” Mt. Vernon coach Tim Holloway said. “They are a true team. There's a lot of good teammates here.”
Jake Pike, a junior, powered the offense with five RBI and a pair of long extra-base hits.
“He just threw me a pitch I liked, and that's when you just jump on it,” Pike said. “If it's outside, you just hit it where it's pitched. Just all you can do is adjust to what he throws.”
His classmate Brock Fulkerson hurled a complete game against the Orphans and was the winning pitcher.
“Brock's been doing great all year,” Pike said. “He's been throwing the ball over the plate, getting strikeouts.”
Pike put the Rams ahead in the second inning with a blast to left-center field with the bases loaded. Pike cruised into second base as the bases cleared, and Mt. Vernon seized a 3-0 edge.
Fulkerson mowed through the Orphans lineup in the opening three innings. The Rams hurler allowed just two hits in the early innings.
The Orphans only runs came in the fourth inning. With one out, Fulkerson fielded a ground ball back to the mound. Centralia had runners on first and third. The runner on third made a break for home. Fulkerson tossed the ball to catcher Collin Young, who tried to chase down the runner. The Orphans runner, Ryan Miller, scampered safely back to the bag. The mistake on the run down allowed the Orphans to load the bases.
“It's kind of surprising because our defense is so solid,” Holloway said. “You don't expect that, but that's something we work on all the time.”
A sacrifice fly and bloop single later and Centralia sliced the deficit down to 3-2.
“This is not easy when you're going for a fourth straight conference title with a big target on your back,” Holloway said.
The score stayed that way until the sixth when Hayden Poninski launched an RBI double. Pike chased two more runners home with a booming triple to make the score 6-2.
Fulkerson finished off the Orphans with three groundouts around a single in the seventh. He ended the game with three strikeouts and nine ground ball outs.
“Brock's been durable,” Holloway said. “He's thrown a lot of complete games. If you look in the conference, he hasn't given up many runs at all.”
Mt. Vernon is 24-5-1 this season and 8-1-1 in conference play.
The game against Althoff will end officially as a tie. The Rams travel to Breese where they will play Mater Dei on Friday.