FALL CREEK — Brady Nicks made sure Regis batters never got comfortable in the box Friday night on his home field. His command, plus his own RBI and some help from Rambler errors, put the Crickets in charge of their own destiny.
Nicks went six scoreless and struck out nine as Fall Creek earned a 3-0 home victory against Regis to move back atop the Western Cloverbelt standings and onto the inside track for a conference title.
The Cricket starter forced Regis batters to chase with his utilization of the top and bottom of the strike zone. A few early high strike calls, helping Nicks record four of his first five K’s looking, made it difficult not to swing by the late innings.
“(I) was just moving around and finding the spots they were not going to swing at,” Nicks said. “Finding that zone and repeatedly hitting that zone.”
Regis’ two hits against Nicks weren’t nearly enough to prevail in a matchup between the two top teams in the standings entering Friday.
The Crickets (10-2 in conference) have two games remaining on the conference slate, meetings with Stanley-Boyd on Monday at Cadott on Tuesday. Two wins assures an outright title, and one clinches at least a share.
Three other title candidates are still alive for at least a tie with one game left in their schedules: Regis (10-3), Osseo-Fairchild (9-3) and Altoona (9-4). A game back, the Ramblers and the Thunder need the Crickets to slip up just once.
Fall Creek opened the game in the first inning with a run, but not as early as the Crickets may have expected. Leadoff man Joey Kinderman attempted to score all the way from first after an errant Ramblers throw to first, but Regis was able to recover and throw him out at the plate.
Lucas Costley, on first thanks to the error, stole second and was driven home when Nicks rainbowed a low pitch into shallow centerfield.
A pair of additional errors throwing to first base padded the lead. Two innings later, Isaiah Katz made it to first safely on a dribbler thanks to an error on a bases-loaded opportunity. Nate Sorensen scored in the fourth when the Ramblers attempted to throw out Kinderman.
“We needed to score,” Regis coach Andy Niese said. “Even if we make those defensive plays, it’s probably a 1-0 game.”
Regis’ only scoring threats came in the fifth and sixth innings, but both were dangerous.
The first rally kicked off with Regis’ first hit of the game, a Joe Edge single. Payton Kostka moved him over to second on a line drive and both advanced when Robbie Burhop laid down a sacrifice bunt for the second out of the inning. Luke Rooney wasn’t able to capitalize, hitting into a 3-4 putout.
An inning later, Nicks walked Cade Osborn and Tristan Root back-to-back after getting Mason Bauer out on a strikeout to start the frame. Fall Creek coach Mike Johnson called his players in for a mound visit to try and calm his the righty senior down.
“It was just kind of getting in my head,” Nicks said. “Coach came out and just made me forget about it.”
Johnson said he reminded his pitcher of a clutch play Nicks made on the basketball court, sinking two free throws in the final minute of the game.
“He ended up smiling,” Johnson said. “As a coach, that’s a good sign. He kept his composure. That’s part of being a multi-sport athlete. Pressure is pressure no matter what sport you’re playing.”
Nicks gathered himself and responded well, striking out the following two batters to get out of the jam and end his work for the day.
“He was overpowering at times and our guys had lots of awkward-looking at bats against him,” Niese said. “What the guys were saying in the dugout, and how I phrase it too, is he’s sneaky quick. He’s a big kid. He’s got a kind of herky-jerky release point and he’s got a good breaking ball.”
Kinderman earned the save, retiring the side in order in the seventh to complete the shutout.
“That just shows us what we’re all about and what we’re capable of doing,” Nicks said. “It just boosts our confidence as we keep moving toward our main goal.”
Fall Creek was tested the past four days, going against Altoona twice and Regis once. By winning two of the three, the Crickets are in good shape.
“I said it was a big week and our guys responded,” Johnson said.
Fall Creek 3, Regis 0
Regis 000 000 0 — 0 2 4
Fall Creek 101 100 x — 3 4 0
WP: Brady Nicks (6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 9 K). LP: Cade Osborn (5.2 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 5 K). Leading hitters — Regis: Joe Edge 1-3, Payton Kostka 1-3. Fall Creek: Nicks 1-2 (RBI). Records: Regis 13-6, 10-3; Fall Creek 14-3, 10-2.