BELLEVILLE — Jake Garella turned in another outstanding performance at the plate on Saturday against the Belleville West Maroons in the Class 4A Belleville West Regional championship game.
The Edwardsville senior third baseman went for 3 for 3 with a double, a run scored and an RBI, boosting his average to a career best .570.
“My approach is to put the ball in play and play hard,” Garella said. “I keep getting my pitches and I try to lay off pitches that are outside the zone and put the ball in play and play hard. That’s all what I was trying to do.”
But Garella’s effort wasn’t enough to help the Tigers pull off their third consecutive regional championship.
Belleville West came back from a 3-0 first-inning deficit to beat Edwardsville 8-4 to win its second regional championship in three years. The Maroons (24-8) will play O’Fallon in an Illinois Wesleyan University sectional semifinal game to be played at Tom Pile Field in Edwardsville on Thursday. The time of the game is yet to be determined. EHS ends its season at 29-9.
“We fought,” Garella said. “It may not show it on the scoreboard, but there’s no other team that I wanted to go down with. These guys fought hard. It was a shame that it had to end so soon, but I’m going to miss these guys.”
West, which was the visiting team, scored six runs in the top of the fourth and two more in the seventh to knock off the Tigers for the first time this season. Edwardsville beat the Maroons twice during the regular season. Both teams finished in a tie for second behind O’Fallon in the Southwestern Conference standings.
The Maroons advanced to the regional championship game by beating Belleville East 6-5 in 18 innings in a regional semifinal game that took two days to complete. The game was suspended with the game tied at 5-5 after 10 innings on Thursday due to darkness.
“We definitely had momentum going into today,” Belleville West senior Austin Guetterman said. “But there’s no feeling like this winning two games in a row.”
Eleven seniors played their last high school baseball game on Saturday for EHS, including Garella.
Edwardsville coach Tim Funkhouser said he’s pleased with the way his team performed despite having injuries from Garella and fellow senior Trey Riley.
“The team found a way to continue to battle and get second in our conference to put ourselves in a position where we can win a regional championship and go beyond that,” Funkhouser said. “We ask a lot of our guys that we demand a lot and they met the challenge each day and fought that fight which isn’t easy, especially when things aren’t going your way.”
Edwardsville took a 3-0 lead by scoring all of its runs in the bottom of the first. With one out, Garella drove home Cole Cimarolli with a single for the game’s first run. One out later, junior designated hitter Tyler Stamer cranked a two-run homer.
For the next six innings, Edwardsville got four hits and stranded 10 runners on base.
Belleville West junior Jack Lanxon went the distance, striking out eight and walking three and giving up four runs and six hits.
“Credit their pitcher,” Funkhouser said. “He threw two innings yesterday (against Belleville East) and flashed around the outfield over the last two days. What a great competitor and he made some good pitches.”
Lanxon also went 2 for 3 at the plate. With no outs in the top of the fourth, Lanxon drove home Logan Betz with a single that cut the Tigers’ lead to 3-1.
West trimmed the lead to 3-2 on a one-out, RBI single by Wyatt Parker. Then, Guetterman stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded. He grounded the ball on the infield, but the throw home sailed over the head of Edwardsville catcher Joe Wallace, allowing Lanxon and Lucas Vallandingham to score to give the Lancers a 4-3 lead.
Devin Hubbs scored on an EHS throwing error to boost the Maroons’ lead to 5-3. Guetterman then scored on a single by Buddy Gore to increase the lead to 6-3.
“That fourth inning was huge,” Guetterman said. “We had to turn around and play comeback. It’s big to come up with six runs in one inning.”
Collin Clayton’s one-out, RBI double in the bottom of the sixth cut West’s advantage to 6-4, but that’s as close the Tigers would get.
Edwardsville came back from a 6-0 deficit to beat Collinsville in the regional semifinals on Wednesday. Garella went 4-for-5 with three RBIs and two doubles.
Garella played with the Edwardsville program all four years. After hitting .218 in his freshman year, Garella quickly blossomed into one of the team’s top hitters. A year ago, he hit .366, went 5-1 on the mound and earned all-conference honors at designated hitter and pitcher.
This year, Garella was the only Edwardsville hitter to bat over .500. He also went 6-1 on the mound.
Garella said he came into this season with high hopes after having a strong junior season.
“I was trying to do the best I could for the ball club,” Garella said. “I knew I had the senior leadership going. I knew I needed to push some guys by example. I tried my best and I fought every day. This whole team fought every day. We worked so hard.”