EDWARDSVILLE — The Edwardsville Tigers and Alton Redbirds played three tight baseball games in 2017, but the outcome was the same in all 3 — Edwardsville wins.
EHS completed the trifecta on Wednesday, besting the rival Redbirds 5-3 in the Class 4A Edwardsville Regional semifinals. With the win the Tigers improved to 29-7 and will now meet the Belleville West Maroons at 10 a.m. on Saturday in the regional finals. The Maroons walloped the Granite City Warriors 13-1 in 5 innings in the other semifinal contest Wednesday. West has beaten Edwardsville twice this season in Southwestern Conference action.
Alton closed its season at 17-16 with the loss. It marked the third time in the last 4 seasons the Tigers have ousted the Redbirds from the postseason.
Wednesday’s game was highlighted by strong pitching and the long ball on a cool evening at Tom Pile Field.
Edwardsville head coach Tim Funkhouser was pleased with the effort of starting pitcher Kade Burns against a primarily young but pesky Alton lineup. Burns tossed 6 innings, fanning 8, walking 1, scattering 7 hits and surrendering 3 runs on 87 pitches.
“He’s a great competitor and he wants the ball and wants to go out there and execute pitches,” Funkhouser said. “He did a great job of executing his pitches like he’s done all year and we made some good plays behind him.”
The senior Burns said he knew what his job was on Wednesday. The Tigers staking him to an early 4-0 lead in the first inning helped settle him in.
“Every pitcher loves to pitch with a lead,” he said. “It kind of takes a little weight off of your shoulders. It’s always nice to pitch with a lead and we were fortunate enough to get one early on and maintain it.”
The early lead was crucial against Alton hurler Charlie Erler. The junior ace for the Birds threw 6 strong innings, striking out 12, walking 4, scattering 6 hits and allowing 5 runs on 102 pitches.
“There’s nothing but good things to say about the adjustments that Charlie made (during the season),” AHS head coach Todd Haug said. “That’s called being coachable. That’s all we can ask of the kid, go out and compete and then when we see things and make suggestions, hey, listen to us, we’re not trying to make you worse, we’re trying to make you better and help the team. Charlie is a great example of evolving over the year and big things, he’s only a junior so he’ll come back and he’s got the stuff to be a solid ace for us next year.”
After Alton’s Mikey Hampton was robbed on a nice diving catch by Edwardsville right fielder Dan Picchotti, the Birds squandered a 2-out double by Steven Nguyen to remain scoreless in the top of the first.
EHS wasn’t as quiet in the bottom half of the first. Erler started strong, fanning Dylan Burris and Drake Westcott — Edwardsville’s top hitters — but Joel Quirin then coaxed a walk to spark a 2-out rally. Will Messer and Dalton Wallace followed with singles. Wallace’s plated Quirin to make it 1-0.
Senior Andrew Yancik provided the big blow in the next at-bat, launching a 3-run homer to center field to catapult the Tigers ahead 4-0.
Yancik has enjoyed some success vs. Erler. He also homered off of Erler in a 4-1 win for EHS over Alton on May 8 at AHS.
“It was a first pitch curveball and he left it over the plate and I put a good swing on it,” said Yancik, who also earned the save, tossing the final 0.2 of an inning and picking up a pair of strikeouts. “Both pitches I hit home runs off of him were curveballs and they were strikes so it was a good pitch to hit and that’s really all I was looking for.”
Yancik admitted Erler can be a tough matchup for hitters like he was for many of the Tigers on Wednesday.
“His fastball is sneaky fast,” Yancik said. “He likes to work with the curveball and the changeup a lot and he takes a lot off of those pitches. Whenever he comes back with that fastball and slide steps with it, it looks a lot faster than it is.”
Alton changed the number on the scoreboard in the third. Erler and Hampton provided back-to-back, 1-out singles to set up Nguyen’s 2-out, 3-run home run to right field to cut the deficit to 4-3.
“Nguyen answered for them,” Funkhouser said. “He had a great career for Alton. I know he had some injuries along the way, but that guy is a great competitor and we have great respect for him. He put a swing on it.”
The only other score in the game came in the fourth when the Tiger leadoff hitter Burris deposited a solo homer over the right field fence to give EHS some breathing room at 5-3.
“Burris’ home run I thought was a big difference,” Funkhouser said. “It matters in the last innings how you position guys and do some different things. I was impressed with how our guys competed.”
The Edwardsville defense helped seal the win, too. Besides Picchotti’s diving catch in the first, Wallace threw out a pair of Alton base stealers, including one on a pitch out in the fourth. Messer also made a nifty catch in left in the seventh to thwart a late AHS rally.
“Man, Dalton Wallace, I didn’t give him the praise like I should have,” Funkhouser said. “That strikeout, throw out early in the game and then the pitchout was well executed.”
Another big play by the Tigers was when Funkhouser decided to bring in the southpaw Picchotti for one batter, the lefty Nguyen, in the sixth. Nguyen was 2-for-2 at the time with a double and 3-run homer and Picchotti was able to work him to a full count and get the strikeout.
Funkhouser immediately went right back to Burns after that.
“Picchotti has really been throwing well lately and he can get right handers out too, but today the way Burns set up against their lefty Picchotti was a good guy to come in,” said Funkhouser. “Sure enough he got it to 3-1 and then was able to execute. Then Burns was able to go back out and that takes some mental fortitude. Sometimes you try those things and guys may not respond very well.”
It was definitely a learning experience for a young Alton squad, which started a pair of freshmen and sophomores, along with a slew of juniors on Wednesday. The Redbirds do say goodbye to a couple of senior stalwarts in Nguyen and Steven Pattan though. Nguyen will play at McKendree next year, while Pattan is headed to SIUE.
“Steven Nguyen and Steven Pattan for this ball club they were the heart and soul,” Haug said. “Last year we had 13 seniors and we had 4 seniors this year and really only 2 with varsity experience. The Steve and Steve show have been around — Steven Nguyen for 4 years and Steven Pattan for 3 years. They truly exemplify what it’s like to be a Redbird and I’m sure anyone in the conference would love to have them on their team because they’re team players… I’m sad to see them go, but we’ve developed a family relationship and I don’t think they’ll be too far away.”
Now the Tigers set their sights on trying to knock off West. The Maroons are the No. 2 seed, while EHS is the No. 3 seed, so the host team will enter Saturday’s final as the underdog.
“We’re going to get ready these next couple of days and we know we’re going to find their weaknesses and try and to exploit them throughout the game,” Yancik said of West. “We’ll practice the next few days and try and get a good win against a good team.”
CLASS 4A EDWARDSVILLE REGIONAL
EDWARDSVILLE 5, ALTON 3
Redbirds 003 000 0 — 3 7 0
Tigers 400 100 X — 5 6 0
TIGERS (29-7) — Dylan Burris 1-4 HR RBI, Drake Westcott 1-2 IBB, Will Messer 1-3, Dalton Wallace 1-3 RBI, Andrew Yancik 2-3 HR 3 RBIs.
WP — Kade Burns 6.0IP 8K 1BB 7H 3R 3ER
Dan Picchotti 0.1IP 1K 0BB 0H 0R 0ER
SV — Yancik 0.2IP 2K 0BB 0H 0R 0ER
REDBIRDS (17-16) — Mikey Hampton 1-3, Steven Nguyen 2-3 2B HR 3 RBIs, Adam Stilts 1-3 BB, Brandon Droste 1-3, Ben Mossman 1-3, Charlie Erler 1-3.
LP — Erler 6.0IP 12K 4BB 6H 5R 5ER