Until the South Subsection 8 Class 3A baseball tournament, Kevin Ericson had been the Brainerd Warriors best-kept secret.
Before the subsection winners' bracket game against top-seeded St. Cloud Apollo, Ericson had pitched just 9 1/3 innings, all in relief. His foremost contribution had been as the Warriors' starting shortstop, batting .341 with team highs of 27 runs and 24 RBI.
Ericson twirled a magnificent 2-hit shutout against Apollo, the third-ranked team in Class 3A, striking out eight and walking none. It was the first time he had pitched against Apollo since a scrimmage five years ago.
"After the first couple innings, after I got them out 1-2-3, my confidence skyrocketed," Ericson said. "When I was out there it was just, 'Here I am, and here it comes.'
Sport -- Baseball
Position -- Shortstop-pitcher
Year -- Senior
Age -- 18
Height -- 6-foot-1
Weight -- 190 pounds
Grade-point average -- 3.0
Memorable sports achievement -- Playing in 1998 Class AA state baseball tournament
Favorite subjects -- History and science
Favorite food -- Nachos
Favorite movie -- "The Crow"
Hobbies -- Weightlifting, playing pool, fishing, hunting
Future plans -- Play baseball at University of Minnesota
Athletes he admires -- His father, Bruce; Seattle Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez; pro wrestler The Rock
Parents -- Bruce and Marlene Ericson
"Those two innings helped me out a lot. It gave me the feeling that I can do this and you're not going to stop me."
Three days later Ericson fired 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief against Apollo, striking out five, walking three and yielding three hits.
"Kevin has pitched 10-plus innings, given up five hits and no runs, earned or otherwise, against who we think is one of the best teams in the state," Warriors coach Lowell Scearcy said. "Obviously, he's a big reason why we're still playing at this time of year."
Scearcy said Ericson has periodically experienced tenderness in his right arm, which is why he hasn't pitched more.
"Until the tournament Kevin has been a little sore for a couple days after pitching," Scearcy said. "That's why we've used him pretty sparingly. I guess he's rounding into shape at the right time."
Ericson appears to have rallied at the plate at the right time. In five subsection games he was just 1-for-15 but hit several balls on the nose. In the section tournament against Bemidji he was 4-for-7 with a 2-run homer.
"I've been hitting the ball but right at people," Ericson said. "Against Apollo I think I lined to the first baseman at least four times in those three games. I've been hitting 600-foot-in-the-air fly balls to center field. I'm just missing. It's a split-second difference. I've got to get my reaction time back and start hitting them where they're not."
Ericson's dream has been to play at the University of Minnesota where his father, Bruce, pitched in the 1970s. Kevin was invited to play for the Gophers after meeting with assistant coach Rob Fornasiere during the NCAA Regional in Minneapolis.
Making the decision to attend Minnesota has been a relief.
"Throughout the season I was kind of waiting for a phone call," he said. "I was waiting for the Gophers to say they wanted me to play there. That's where I really wanted to go. I didn't want to make a decision on another college and make it that I couldn't sign with them.
"It was kind of weighing me down. When I talked to (Fornasiere) that night it was like the world came off my shoulders. I could just go out and play baseball again."
Ericson is completing his third season as a starter. In that time the Warriors have won 56 of 82 games (.683), won a Central Lakes Conference title and two subsection championships. He has averaged .350 with 12 home runs and 58 RBI in that span.
"Kevin is finally getting the recognition he deserves," Scearcy said. "He's one of our kids who have been picked to play in the Lions All-Star Game -- Kyle Berg is the other. He's been all-conference a couple times.
"He's one of the big reasons we've enjoyed as much success as we have the last three years. It's not been just one week. It's been a career for him."
Other notable efforts by Warriors:
Jesse Strowbridge, track and field, won the 100-meter dash and was second in the 200 at the Section 8AA meet.
Aron Stumvoll, track, was runner-up in the section 800 run.
Mike Weiss, track, won the 400 dash in the section meet.
The 4x200 relay of Mark Munsterteiger, Stumvoll, Strowbridge and Weiss won the section title.
The 4x400 relay of Jason Howard, Adam Guderian, Stumvoll and Weiss placed first in the section.
(Athlete of the week is honored by the Brainerd Sports Boosters Club.)
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