EDWARDSVILLE — Timing meant everything for the Metro East Bears on Tuesday in their American Senior Legion District 22 League baseball opener.
The Post 126/199 Bears made the most of a productive sixth inning to defeat Highland, 3-1, at Roy E. Lee Field on the SIUE campus. Metro East hiked its record to 6-1. Highland fell to 5-4.
Visiting Highland outhit Metro East 9-5, but the Bears parlayed a pair of hits and a walk for two runs in the sixth to bust open a tie game. Jake Garella also provided a run-scoring triple in the first inning.
“I think we got the hits that we needed to have to win the game,” Bears’ third baseman Drake Hampton said.
The Alton High graduate and Lewis and Clark Community College player was right in the middle of it.
His ringing sixth-inning double followed a walk to Garella and gave the Bears runners at second and third base with no one out. One out later, Chance Foss hit a sacrifice fly to make it 2-1.
Mitchell Krebs followed with a single and when Highland tried to catch him advancing to second base, Hampton roared home from third with an insurance run.
“We really had aggressive base running in that inning,” Metro East manager Ken Schaake said. “Drake hit a shot to center for his double, Chance came through with a sacrifice fly in a good at-bat and Mitchell came through with a big hit.”
Hampton said he was just trying to put his bat on the ball during his momentum-changing double.
“I switched bats and went to a longer and heavier one,” he said. “And I was able to drive that pitch.”
Maverick McSparin, the third and final Metro East pitcher, logged the win. He allowed 1 hit in 1.2 innings. Starter Jake St. Peters yielded 4 hits and no runs in 3 innings. Then Storm Coffman gave up 4 hits and 1 run in 2.1 innings.
“All of our pitchers did well,” Schaake said. “It was like a bullpen game for us.”
The defense also played a major part in the victory. St. Peters picked off two Highland runners at second base in the third inning and Jake Garella’s heads-up play in the sixth kept Post 439 from scoring and taking the lead.
Austin Gusewelle of Highland hit a leadoff triple to start the top of the sixth, but never advanced. He was at third with one out when teammate Jordan Smith hit a sinking liner to left field.
Garella charged the ball and scooped it so quickly — nearly a trap — that he froze Gusewelle at third base. Smith made it to first base on the single. Highland still had runners on first and third with one out, but McSparin wriggled out of trouble.
“We were very fortunate in the top of the sixth,” Schaake said. “Jake made the key play of the game to keep them from taking the lead.”
Highland manager Harry Painter lamented his team’s inability to come through in the clutch.
“It seemed like a game of inches that didn’t go our way tonight,” he said of the missed opportunities. “And it was rough, but it was good to be in a close game. It seems like all of our games have been one way or the other so far, with either us blowing out the other team or getting blown out ourselves.”
Blaine Ray and Smith both had two hits for Highland. Ray supplied a run-scoring single in the fifth. Pitcher Griffith Welz worked all 6 innings, allowing 5 hits and 2 earned runs. He benefited from three doubles plays, all on line drives or fly balls.
“I thought he pitched well,” Painter said of Wells. “We made too many mistakes and it turned out to be a tough loss to a good club.”
Although it was the league opener for both teams, they have just three District 22 dates remaining. Metro East, Highland and Belleville are the only teams in the league. The double-elimination district playoffs are set for mid-July at the site of the top team.
“There was more emphasis on this game because you want to try and get the No. 1 seed for the playoffs,” Schaake said. “That way you won’t have to play the first game. It will be between the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds.”
Painter looked at it this way.
“With just three teams in the district and since we all play each other twice, I don’t think the seeding is that important,” he said.
METRO EAST BEARS 3, HIGHLAND 1
Highland 000 010 0 – 1 9 1
Metro East 100 002 X – 3 5 0
Highland (5-4, 0-1) — Cody Bentlage 1-4, Austin Gusewelle 1-3 3B, Jordan Smith 2-3, Matt Augustin 1-3, Will Greenwald 1-3, Mike McGill 1-2, Blaine Ray2-3 RBI. LP – Griffith Welz IP-6 H-5 R-3 ER-2 BB-5 K-4
Metro East Bears (6-1, 1-0) — Cole Cimarolli 1-3, Jake Garella 1-2 3B RBI, Drake Hampton 1-3 2B, Chance Foss 1-2 RBI, Mitchell Krebs 1-2. WP – Maverick McSparin IP-1.2 H-1 R-0 BB-0 K-2; Jake St. Peters IP-3 H-4 R-0 BB-1 K-0; Storm Coffman IP-2.1 H-4 R-1 ER-1 BB-0 K-1