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It's been a rough season at times for the defending YAIAA champions, but Spring Grove's 2-0 victory against rival South Western on Thursday leaves the Rockets a half-game up on South Western atop Division I.

Spring Grove (4-3, 4-2), which lost all but one starter to graduation, has lost two games by double digits this season. But the Rockets managed to pull out a few close ones, including two this week, and find themselves right back in first place.

The team's lone returning starter, junior Matt Brooks, has been integral in the team's successful transition, both in ways that are easy to see and in ways that aren't. He showed off one of his skills that's plenty easy to see by pitching a complete-game, one-hit shutout and striking out a career-high 14 batters Thursday.

"In the past I've sort of had some trouble with my curveball, but tonight I thought I really had it down in a good spot low," Brooks said. "Fastballs, I was hitting some pretty good spots, they were late on a lot of stuff so I just kept with that. Everything was working pretty well."

The only hit he surrendered was a leadoff triple by Matt Taylor in the fourth inning. He avoided damage by striking out the next two South Western (3-4, 3-2) batters, then throwing out Taylor on an attempt to steal home.

"Just trying to make something happen," South Western coach Mike Resetar said of sending a runner to steal home. "We had our four, five guys up, both guys struck out and we're just trying to put on a little pressure. Matt had pretty good speed, we hadn't hit him all game so just trying to make something happen."

On the offensive side of the ball, Brooks scored one of the Rockets' only runs after getting hit by a pitch. He took advantage of an error to move from first base to third base, and he scored on a groundout. It provided the Rockets with a run without the need of a hit.

Brooks' ability as a pitcher and a hitter is noticeable, as is his talent playing shortstop on days that he doesn't pitch. But what's not as noticeable is his transformation into a leader on a young team with many players still gaining their footing at the varsity level.

Brooks covers his mouth with his glove and shouts encouragement and reminders to his team from the field, and he'll talk to his teammates in the dugout when he sees them doing something wrong.

"He motivates us, he's one of the guys we look up to because he's been here before," sophomore catcher Derek Hoiles said of Brooks. "He's a great leader."

Brooks also sends group text messages out to his teammates and tries to emulate the leaders he played with as a freshman and sophomore.

"He's just a great kid to coach," Rockets coach Kevin Stiffler said. "He's a quiet kid who puts his work in, keeps his head down, very classy, he doesn't show up the other team. He's everything you want in a baseball player, we're lucky to have him."

Spring Grove 2, South Western 0

South Western0000000—013Spring Grove001100-—231

SG, Matt Brooks and Derek Hoiles. SW, Kyle Raubenstine and John Youngman.

SO-BB — Brooks 14-1, Raubenstine 5-1; W — Brooks; L — Raubenstine; 3B — SW, Matt Taylor.

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