EDWARDSVILLE — Metro East right-handed starter Ben Cusac made a long day a little less frustrating Sunday at SIUE's Roy Lee Field.
After the Bears lost 4-3 on a two-out, walk-off walk in the 11th inning of the first game of a doubleheader with Fairview Heights, Cusac threw seven innings and allowed one run on six hits in a 4-1 win to salvage a split.
"I was just trying to make sure that I was throwing strikes and getting my off-speed pitches in there. I was trying to work the count better, not throw a lot of pitches and let my defense do some work," said Cusac, who struck out six and walked one.
With the Game 2 victory, the Bears (18-6, 6-2) clinched the District 22 championship and will post host to the district playoffs, which starts Tuesday. They play Highland at 7:30 p.m. in the opening playoff game.
Metro East coach Ken Schaake didn't downplay the importance of winning the district.
"We won't have to travel, and the kids play better at Gordon Moore or (SIUE). Gordon Moore is their home park and they've been playing there with the high school and in the summer," he said.
Fairview Heights (16-10-1, 4-4) jumped ahead early in the second game.
Kyle Boewe singled in Dominc Blaylock, who led off with a walk and then stole second. Cusac would settle in after that, retiring 12 of the next 14 hitters. He had four of his strikeouts during the stretch.
"Ben did a great job of keeping us in the game," Schaake said. "He kept them off-balance throughout the game."
Aaron Jackson provided the run support for Cusac in the third.
Consecutive walks to Drake Hampton and Jordan Hovey followed by Matt Zielonko loaded the bases for Jackson. Jackson didn't miss a fastball offering from Fairview Heights starter Chris Dye, driving a three-run triple into the right-center field gap to give the Bears a 3-1 lead.
"I was gearing up for a fastball and knew that I could hit his. He gave me one middle-away, and I was able to take it the other way," said Jackson, who arrived in the sixth inning of Game 1 after playing
a doubleheader earlier in the day for his club team.
Schaake said Jackson's three-run triple helped take the stress off the team.
"You could just feel the relief within the dugout. The guys knew they had to win one," he said.
The Bears added to the lead in the fourth with a two-out rally. Hampton tripled to the left-center field gap and Hovey followed with a RBI single to right to up the lead to 4-1.
Fairview Heights threatened in the sixth with back-to-back leadoff singles by Blake Deatherage and Nick Martin. Cusac, though, would get Boewe to line out and Jackson Penrod to bounce into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
"(That double play) was huge. My defense is awesome," Cusac said. "I like to let the batters hit and have my defense pick me up. They definitely did a good job today."
Cusac then worked around a two-out single in the seventh to secure the complete game victory.
"I like to take the game a little deeper and throw a lot of pitches. My arm can withstand it," Cusac said. "I will do whatever is asked of me."
Fairview Heights coach Craig Steiner said Cusac was a difference-maker on the mound.
"Give Cusac credit. He threw a really good game. He kept us off-balance and did the things he needed to do to win the game," he said.
The Game 2 win helped the Bears ease some of the sting from a loss in Game 1.
Despite taking a 2-0 lead into the sixth, Metro East couldn't hold it and Fairview Heights was able to force extra innings with two runs.
Metro East grabbed a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth on a bases-loaded walk to Hovey to force in Chance Foss, but Fairview Heights tied it in the bottom-half on a suicide squeeze by Dye.
After the Bears worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth inning, they weren't as fortunate in the 11th.
Nick Crabtree tripled with two outs, and Metro East elected to intentionally walk Blaylock and Deatherage to set up a force out at any base.
The Bears couldn't get out of the jam, with Sheldon Howard walking on a full court to score Crabtree with the game-winning run.
"Everybody was battling," Steiner said. "We got the break on the call. That's all that I can say, that we got the break on the call."
Jackson, who entered in the 10th inning for the Bears, said it was a difficult way to lose.
"We were disappointed with how the first game ended," Jackson said. "I take responsibility for that. I walked the guy. I hate walking people. That's just something that can't happen in that situation."
Jackson erased some of that pain with a three-run triple in the third to send the Bears on their way to the division championship and a much-needed split.
"That (loss) should have motivated us more, and I think that it did," Jackson said. "We wanted to win and get the high seed for the playoffs."
FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS 4,
METRO-EAST 3 (12 innings)
BEARS 000 101 001 00 — 3 5 1
GIANTS 000 002 001 01 — 4 8 0
BEARS — Drake Hampton 2-5 2 BB 2 SB, Jordan Hovey 0-3, 3 BB SB, Nick Paulda 0-4 BB, Caleb Buhs 0-4 BB, Connor Melton 0-3 2 BB, Anthony Kindle 1-4 2 SB SAC, Chance Foss 1-3 BB HBP, Kyle Zach 2-5 RBI, Aaron Jackson 0-1 BB.
LP: Aaron Jackson 1.2 IP 4K 3BB 1H 1R 1ER
Jacob St. Peters 2.0IP 3K 0BB 3H 0R 0ER
Zac Cato 3.0IP 1K 0BB 1H 0R 0ER
Jordan Hovey 3.0IP 1K 1BB 2H 2R 1ER
Connor Melton 1.0IP 1K 3BB 1H 1R 1ER
GIANTS — Dominic Blaylock 0-4 2 BB, Blake Deatherage 0-4 2 BB, Brady Schanuel 2-5 Sheldon Howard 0-0 BB RBI, Kyle Boewe 1-4 BB SB, Nick Martin 1-4 SAC 2 RBIs, Derrcl Rozycke 1-4 BB, Jackson Penrod 1-5, Chris Dye 1-4 SAC RBI, Nick Crabtree 1-5 3B.
WP: Miles Brunk 2.0IP 1K 1BB 0H 0R 0ER
Tyler Herbert 2.0IP 3K 1BB 0H 0R 0ER
Grant Robison 3.0IP 2K 4BB HBP 2 H 1R 1ER
Jeff Carringer 4.0IP 4K 3BB 3H 1R 1ER
FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS 1
GIANTS 100 000 0 — 1 7 2
BEARS 003 100 X — 4 4 0
GIANTS — Dominic Blaylock 1-2 2B BB, Blake Deatherage 1-3, Nick Martin 1-3, Kyle Boewe 1-3 SB RBI, Derrick Rozycke 3-2 2B 3B, Nick Crabtree 1-3.
LP: Chris Dye 6.0IP 4K 4BB 1HBP 4H 4R 4ER
BEARS — Drake Hampton 2-3 3B BB, Jordan Hovey 1-3 2 SB BB RBI, Matt Zielonko 0-1 BB HBP, Aaron Jackson 1-3 3B 3 RBIs, Caleb Buhs 0-2 BB, Seth Boschert 0-2 SAC.
WP: Ben Cusac 7.0IP 6K 1BB 7H 1 R 1ER