BELLEVILLE — Jake Garella’s hitting drew ample attention Wednesday in an American Senior Legion District 22 baseball game at Whitey Herzog Field.
Yet his heroics couldn’t save the Post 126/Post 199 Metro East Bears. They suffered a 4-3 setback when their last-inning rally came up shy against the Hilgards.
“We had a lot of chances and opportunities, but they (Hilgards) took advantage of the opportunities we gave them,” Bears’ manager Ken Schaake said.
Belleville, improving to 8-6 overall and winning for the fifth time in its last six games, prevailed in its league opener. Metro East dropped to 9-3 and 1-1. The Bears won their league opener against Highland, the third team in District 22.
Not even Garella’s 4-for-4 outing, including a double and RBI, could change the outcome with Belleville. He even worked 2.1 innings of scoreless relief in following Maverick McSparin. The Bears’ starter gave up 6 hits and 4 runs, 3 of them earned, in 3.2 innings. He struck out four and walked three, with all three of those runners scoring.
“Jake had a nice game and our kids didn’t quit,” Schaake said.
Neither did Schaake. He officially protested the game, disputing a couple of calls. One of them involved the Bears’ Tyler Stamer, called out for interfering with Belleville catcher Jack Ysursa when Stamer swung at a third strike in the fourth inning.
“The (home-plate) umpire said the batter interfered with the catcher during the batter’s back swing,” Schaake explained.
A first-inning Belleville bunt that resulted in the batter ruled out for being outside the baseline — but another runner getting to advance from first to second base — also drew his ire.
“You can’t let the umpires get in your head,” Schaake said. “That being said, I think Belleville’s pitcher threw a good game.”
Nobody would argue with that assessment about gritty right-hander Jake Frazier, especially Hilgards’ first-year manager Jonathon Schweppe.
“He was a bulldog and Jake has emerged as our ace,” Schweppe said of Frazier’s 123-pitch performance. He struck out 9 and scattered 10 hits in 6.2 innings. Reliever Tai Kezirian got the final out on a strikeout as the Bears stranded two runners after scoring twice. Overall, they left nine runners on base.
“We took too many called third strikes and we can’t afford to do that,” Schaake said. Five of the 10 strikeouts were Bears’ batters caught looking.
Schaake added, “You have to tip your cap to their pitcher. He was around the plate all night.”
Frazier kept his composure when the game was on the line.
“I was kind of nervous in the seventh inning, but when I got (Collin Clayton) to hit into a double play, that was the biggest play of the game,” he said.
Schweppe said, “This game was like a district playoff game and we played our hearts out. It’s a huge win for us.”
Metro East outhit Belleville, 10-7, with Drake Hampton pitching in with a pair of singles. Stamer provided a run-scoring single in the sixth and Chance Foss supplied a RBI single in the seventh.
Wyatt Parker of the Hilgards went 2-for-4 with a pair of run-producing singles and Kezirian stroked a two-run double in the fourth as Belleville built a 4-0 advantage. Metro East battled back, but couldn’t score the tying run.
“Our team came together after the tournament in Kokomo, Ind., and we’re playing better,” Frazier said.
While Belleville is scheduled to play district foe Highland on Thursday, the Bears are idle until next week. They are slated to go to Highland on Monday in a 7:30 p.m. game and then welcome Belleville at 8 p.m. Tuesday on SIUE’s Roy E. Lee Field.
BELLEVILLE 4, METRO EAST BEARS 3
Metro East 000 001 2 – 3 10 2
Belleville 110 200 X – 4 7 1
Metro East (9-3, 1-1) – Collin Clayton 1-4, Jake Garella 4-4 2B RBI, Drake Hampton 2-4, Chance Foss 1-3 RBI, Tyler Stamer 1-3 RBI, Mitchell Krebs 1-3. LP – Maverick McSparin IP-3.2 H-6 R-4 ER-3 BB-3 K-4
Belleville (8-6, 1-0) – Jack Toenjes 1-3 RBI, Wyatt Parker 2-3 RBI-2, Tia Kezirian 1-3 2B RBI-2, Jake Frazier 1-2, Rory Keen 1-3, Jack Ysursa 1-2. WP – Frazier IP-6.2 H-10 R-3 ER-3 BB-1; Kezirian IP-.1 H-0 R-0 BB-0 K-1