By Zach James
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
FULTON, Ill. — All Fulton needed to beat Erie/Prophetstown on Thursday was a balk.
With Devon Ballard standing on third base in the first inning, Panthers starting pitcher Kallen Jepson tried to balance his attention between the base runner and the batter, Jake VanZuiden.
Ballard pranced down the line trying to distract the pitcher. It worked, Jepson balked and it was the only run scored in the Three Rivers Conference baseball game.
The Steamers’ ace got on base in the No. 3 spot on a five-pitch walk, then advanced to second base on a wild pitch. Then, while standing on second base, Ballard got some extra motivation — albeit playful — to steal third base.
“The shortstop, (Jordan) Chandler, was talking to me, telling me that I couldn’t steal a base,” Ballard said. “I took advantage of that, and I took advantage of Jepsen’s high leg-kick.”
Thursday marked the first time this season that Jepsen took to the mound for the Panthers.
“I was very happy with how we performed as a pitching staff,” Panthers Coach Jason Orman said. “Jepson has had some arm problems, but he did well.”
Ballard, meanwhile, struck out nine Panthers in his complete-game shutout.
“My arm surprisingly felt great,” Ballard said. “It was a really great team win.”
Ballard has appeared on the mound in all five Steamers games and has a 3-0 record and a save. He has thrown 181/3 innings, allowed just five hits, struck out 24 hitters and walked seven.
“I didn’t really want him to throw a complete game, but I couldn’t take him out in that situation,” Fulton Coach Kyle Miller said. “He’s a bulldog, and he wanted the ball, and that’s why he’s one of our best pitchers.”
The Panthers had a rally going in the seventh inning with a Jepson single, but the Steamers infield rolled a 6-4-3 double play to end the game.
“I was kind of expecting a low-scoring game,” Orman said. “They’re a well-coached team, obviously a big rival, and normally we have similar low-scoring games like that every year. Hats off to them.”
Fulton had nine hits, including two apiece from right fielder Devin Bly and VanZuiden.
“Nobody really hit the cover off the baseball in this game,” Miller said. “No one really set any offensive records ... but we’re sitting here at 5-0 right now, and it’s a pretty good feeling.”
FULTON 1, ERIE/PROPHETSTOWN 0
E/P 000 000 0 — 0 2 1
Fulton 100 000 x — 1 9 0
Kallen Jepson (3 ip, 2 h, 1 r, 1 er, 1 bb, 2 so), Orman (2 ip, 3 h, 0 r, 0 er, 0 bb, 3 so), Jordan Chandler (1 ip, 2 h, 0 r, 0 er, 0 bb, 1 so) and Grady Todd. Devon Ballard (7 ip, 2 h, 0 r, 0 er, 2 bb, 10 so) and Jake VanZuiden. Multiple hits — Fulton (Devin Bly 2, VanZuiden 2). 2B — E/P (Jared Forward).