STERLING – With his team leading by six heading to the final inning, Kaleb Francque had no idea he would be called upon to save the day.
But, that's exactly what he did, coming on for the last out with the bases loaded in Sterling's 9-7 nonconference win over Fulton in the Golden Warriors' home opener Tuesday evening at Gartner Park.
"I really wanted to pitch," Francque said. "I was just ready to throw strikes, and I was able to get the job done."
Trailing 9-3 heading to the seventh inning, Fulton (0-4) scored four runs before Francque struck out Steamers leadoff hitter Ethan Jones looking to end the game with the bases full.
Jones had started the inning with a single. The only other hit of the inning was Seth Sanderson's RBI single. Fulton took advantage of three walks and a pair of Sterling errors.
"The only thing I'm happy about is winning the game," Warriors coach Robbie Minor said. "We didn't play well again. We walked a lot of guys, we didn't have very many quality at bats, and we kicked the ball around defensively. That's kind of been our story. We need to clean it up on the defensive end."
Sterling (3-2) went up 2-0 with a run in the first and another in the second. The first-inning run scored on an error, and Tanner Morse had an RBI groundout in the second.
Fulton took a 3-2 lead in the third, scoring three runs despite T.J. Huizenga's RBI double off the glove of Sterling centerfielder Bryant Lilly being the lone hit in the frame. The Steamers drew three walks and capitalized on a hit batsman and an error.
Paul Velasco had a sacrifice fly and Matt Dail drove in a run when he reached on an error.
Sterling erupted for six runs in the fourth, sending 10 batters to the plate and piling up five hits and three walks while also taking advantage of a Fulton error.
The Warriors' 6-9 spots in the lineup started the blitz. Lilly led off with a single. Rafa Sosa and Trevor Delgado walked to load the bases. No. 9 hitter Brandon Dennis went up and belted a high pitch for a two-run single.
"It was a little high, but I just wanted to do my job," Dennis said. "It was still in the zone. I had to protect with two strikes."
With two outs, David Gottemoller slashed a two-run double. The last two runs of the inning scored on Francque's RBI single to right-center that was misplayed for an error.
Sterling made it 9-3 with its final run in the fifth, as Zach Rehmert drove in a run when he reached on an error.
Warriors starting pitcher Alex Knickrehm allowed three runs in 2 2/3 innings. Eldon Oltmanns got the win, working 1 1/3 shutout frames. Dennis allowed four runs, two earned, in 2 2/3 innings before Francque sealed the deal.
Fulton starter and losing pitcher Cody Huff allowed six runs, five earned, in three-plus innings.
Steamers coach Jayme Farrell was happy with the way his team battled back.
"That was something that we addressed [Monday] night," he said, referring to Fulton's 15-1 loss to Rockridge. "We thought we kind of gave up a little bit. This time, they responded very well. We made it a game."
Star of the game: Brandon Dennis, Sterling, key 2-run single in 6-run 6th, 2 2/3 IP
Key performers: David Gottemoller, Sterling, 2-run double; Paul Velasco, Fulton, 2 RBIs
Up next: Sterling at Rochelle, 4:30 p.m. today; Fulton at Riverdale, 4:30 p.m. Thursday