BETHALTO – Once winless in the Mississippi Valley Conference this season, the Civic Memorial Eagles are within one victory of a league baseball title.
The Eagles continued their improbable conference comeback Wednesday. They overhauled Mascoutah, 6-4, on Senior Day at the Bethalto Sports Complex.
“It would be a great feeling to win or tie for the conference championship,” CM outfielder Caleb Buhs said. “I don’t think anyone thought we would do that the way we started the season.”
CM, which has won eight straight and 13 of its last 15 games, improved to 17-13 overall and 6-3 in the MVC. The Eagles own six successive conference wins and get at least a share of the championship Friday with a triumph at Triad.
Waterloo’s final Valley game is Thursday at Mascoutah. The Indians are 17-13 and 4-5 after bowing to the Eagles.
“There’s not a lot of difference between the teams in the conference,” Mascoutah coach Don Eddy said. “The difference today was that they made the plays and we didn’t make them.”
Buhs’ bases-loaded triple in the sixth inning enabled CM to stretch its lead to 6-2 after the Eagles tallied three times in an unusual way in the fifth. They used one hit, four walks and a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to score three times. Two of those walks came with the sacks full.
“Their pitcher (Daniel Milas) is a good pitcher and he was throwing the ball well,” CM coach Gary Bruening said. “But then he lost his control…thank goodness. We were really patient at the plate.”
Buhs and Daniels drew bases-loaded walks and Connor Bryant delivered a sac fly to highlight the Eagles’ fifth. Mascoutah scored twice in the second, yet things eventually unraveled for the Indians.
“He (Milas) was pitching pretty well and nothing like that has happened to him this season,” Eddy said. “You can’t walk four guys in a row.”
One inning later, Buhs banged his three-run triple to center field and winning pitcher Zac Cato, now 4-3, had a four-run cushion.
“I would say that’s my biggest hit of the season,” the 6-foot-6 senior Buhs. “I was just trying to drive in some runs and I got the good part of my bad on the ball.”
Bruening added, “Caleb really picked us up and because of the situation, it was one of our biggest hits of the season. We wanted to add on to our lead and in the end, we really did need those runs.”
Mascoutah scored twice in the seventh and lefty reliever John Whitworth had to get the final two outs to preserve the win for Cato, his second over the Indians. Cato allowed five hits and four runs, two of them earned, in 6.1 innings. CM worked around three errors.
“I can’t say enough about the way Zac pitched,” Bruening said. “He really showed a lot of guts and gave us everything we needed from him.”
Cato said, “That’s a good team and I was just trying to throw strikes. We knew we could come back on them after they got the lead. We have more confidence now than we had earlier in the season. Winning has given us confidence and winning solves a lot of problems.”
There’s no secret to the Eagles’ success, Buhs noted.
“We’re playing more as a team and we have more self-confidence,” he said. “We know that if we get down in a game, we can have a huge inning and come back to win.”
Leadoff hitter Brandon Hampton went 2-for-3 and reached base three times to stir the CM attack. Tyler Andrus supplied a key double in the sixth and Corey Price provided a pivotal pinch-hit single in the fifth. Buhs finished with four RBIs.
“Lukas Jones also did a good job defensively at shortstop for us and he has been doing it all year,” Bruening said. “He has probably been our most consistent player.”
Bruening is stressing more consistency for Friday’s MVC finale in Troy.
“We have to take care of business,” he said. “We have put ourselves in a good position in the conference and we have a chance to finish strong."
CM 6, MASCOUTAH 4
Mascoutah 020 000 2 – 4 5 2
CM 000 033 X – 6 7 3
Mascoutah (17-13, 4-5) – Elbe 1-4 RBI, Dressler 1-3, Johnson 0-2 RBI, Mueller 1-3, Milas 1-2, Waltsgott 1-1. LP – Milas IP-4.1 H-4 R-3 ER-4 BB-4 K-3; Waltsgott IP-1.2 H-3 R-3 ER-3 BB-1 K-0
CM (17-13, 6-3) – Hampton 2-3, Jones 1-3, Buhs 1-3 3B RBI-4, Daniels 1-3 2B RBI, Bryant 0-2 RBI, Andrus 1-3 2B, Price 1-1. WP – Cato IP-6.1 H-5 R-4 ER-2 BB-3 K-3.; Whitworth IP-.2 H-0 R-0 BB-0 K-0