Posted Online: March 27, 2013, 9:53 pm

Erickson gets Rocks off to fast start

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By DJ Jarvis,

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Mizener
Rock Island senior pitcher Matt Erickson is this week's Metro Pacesetter for The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus. Erickson struck out 14 out of 18 batters in the Rocks' 16-0, 6-inning win over Knoxville in their season opener.
Last summer, the Rock Island Post 200 baseball team made its pitch to Matt Erickson to get him to join its pitching staff.

Instead, Erickson opted to play at a lower level. He wanted a bat in his hand during games as well as a glove.

"Matt could have played for them and done very well," Rock Island baseball coach Jay Wayland said. "But he stayed down to help his team, to work on his hitting. How many high school kids would do that? I wouldn't have."

Erickson is one of those young, selfless hard workers.

A season ago, he struggled at the plate, leading the Rocks to employ the designated hitter on days he pitched. That didn't deter him to become a hitter.

So when the Legion called, Erickson declined in favor of the Junior Legion team to improve his hitting and all-around play.

Erickson is Rock Island's No. 1 pitcher and won regional openers in each of the last two seasons for the Rocks. The left-handed senior struck out 14 batters on Friday night in a 6-inning win over Knoxville at the Galesburg Invitational. He also was 2-for-3 at the plate with a sacrifice fly in their 16-0 win, helping him to be this week's Metro Pacesetter for The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus.

"It felt good to have a start like that," Erickson said. "I was just trying to get ahead in the count and hit my spots."

Erickson has a small advantage when it comes to other players.He grew up with his own personal hitting coach, pitching coach and catcher. Now the same "coach" shares the field.

That role is filled by Matt's twin brother Mitch, who is Rock Island's left fielder and also is a pitcher for the Rocks.

"It's nice knowing that I have one of my best friends behind me in my brother," Matt said. "We always try to pick each other up when the other is having a rough day."

From playing catch as kids to playing catch before games in high school, the brothers always are there for a word of advice or just a pick-me-up.

"I can't imagine them apart," Wayland said of the twins."They do everything together."

The brothers will continue their careers together next year at Black Hawk College.

"It's nice to have someone who I can always talk to," Mitch said, "and have someone who will let me know when I'm doing something wrong so I can fix it."

The 14 strikeouts for Matt was a career-high, meaning all but four outs came via the strikeout. Coming in the Rocks' first outside exposure made it even more special.

"We've been working hard indoors and making the most of our time and reps," said Matt, who helped the Rocks to a 3-0 record over the weekend in Galesburg. "After having a weekend like that, it gives our team a lot of confidence knowing we can play well together."

Metro Pacesetter -- Rock Island's Matt Erickson

Favorite food: Mongolian Grill 
Favorite TV show: ESPN's "Baseball Tonight"
Favorite class: Anatomy and Physiology
Favorite sport other than baseball: Basketball
Favorite baseball team: Chicago Cubs
Parents: Dan Erickson, East Moline, and Deb Heggen, Rock Island

In the running
Drew Owens, Moline:
The senior infielder collected five hits in a wins over Brimfield and Bartonville Limestone.

Kelsi Smith, Moline: Scored two goals and added two assists in the Maroons' 11-0 win over Bartonville Limestone.

Mystique Thompson, Rock Island: Won the 100-meter dash and ran a leg on the first-place 4x200 relay at the Southwestern Illinois Relays.