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Photo by Theo Tate
Edwardsville coach Tim Funkhouser (5) talks with his team before the sixth inning in Thursday’s game against O’Fallon.
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Photo by Theo Tate
Edwardsville senior Trey Riley delivers a pitch in the bottom of the second against O’Fallon on Thursday.
O’FALLON — The Edwardsville Tigers are hoping to celebrate their second straight Southwestern Conference championship this spring.
But it’s not going to be easy.
“It will be a long haul,” Edwardsville coach Tim Funkhouser said.
The Tigers are in a four-team race for the conference crown. After losing 12-2 to the O’Fallon Panthers on Thursday, Edwardsville is in a tie for third with Alton at 4-2. With the win, the Panthers are tied for first with Belleville West — which beat Alton on Thursday — in the league standings at 5-1.
Going into Thursday, Edwardsville, O’Fallon and Alton were in a three-way tie for first in the SWC.
“Obviously we would have been in better position today had we won,” Funkhouser said. “We want to be in contention for the last week (of the conference season) and that’s been our goal from day one and it didn’t change today.”
Edwardsville dropped to 13-4 and had its three-game winning streak snapped. The Tigers will look to bounce back at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, when they play the Hillsboro (Mo.) Hawks at Busch Stadium. The St. Louis Cardinals have a game against the Cincinnati Reds before the Tigers-Hawks’ contest.
“We’ll have a good practice tomorrow,” Funkhouser said. “Hopefully, we’ll enjoy some good weather, a good Cardinals game and go to work ourselves.”
The Tigers own conference wins over Belleville East, Belleville West, Collinsville and East St. Louis. Alton handed Edwardsville a 4-1 loss on April 5. The Tigers’ next conference game will be Tuesday at Granite City.
A year ago, the Tigers breezed through conference play with a 14-0 record. They finished with a 35-2 record after losing to O’Fallon in the Class 4A Illinois Wesleyan Sectional semifinals.
On Thursday, the Panthers (14-3) beat Edwardsville for the second straight time by scoring two runs in the third, four in the fourth, three in the fifth and three in the sixth. The game ended with two outs in the bottom of the sixth due to the 10-run rule.
O’Fallon pitcher Bradley Harrison picked up the win. He gave up two runs on five hits, struck out seven and walked two. At one point, he retired 11 straight batters.
“The bottom line is their pitcher is really good and we didn’t play nearly as well as we could,” Funkhouser said. “We’ll play better in the future and we’ll keep our head better and do some things on our end. We know that he’s a really good pitcher and they've got a good club and they had a lot of success. We didn’t meet the challenges today, but we’ll look to get better and build on it and be better in the future.”
The Tigers scored their only runs in the top of the sixth. With two runners on and no outs, senior Trey Riley — who suffered the loss on the mound for Edwardsville — hit a double to right field to score senior center fielder Collin Clayton, who reached first on a passed ball after striking out. Pinch hitter Mark Smith hit a single to left to score senior third baseman Jake Garella — who singled — for the second run.
Garella, who earned all-conference honors at pitcher and designated hitter in 2015, is the Tigers’ top hitter with a .529 batting average with three home runs and 18 RBIs. Junior second baseman Dylan Burris, who doubled in the first inning on Thursday, is hitting .435.
Junior Andrew Yancik is 3-0 with a 1.98 earned run average and 26 strikeouts. Seniors Jordan Yenne and Tyler Hosto are both 2-0 on the mound.
Funkhouser said in order to finish with another successful season, his team must continue to improve offensively and defensively.
“Just like any of our teams in the past, there are different areas that we can get better at and we’ll keep forging ahead and working on those,” the Edwardsville coach said. “Offensively, we strike out too much, so we need to cut down on strikeouts and have better at bats. Defensively, I thought we were going to be really sound and I think we still will be. But we’re not executing some plays as well as we would like, so we need to get better at that. We need to continue to mature as a team and learn how to compete. That’s kind of the journey that we’re on and we look forward to the challenge each day.”