Metro East defeated Fairview Heights, 3-1, Wednesday to win the Senior Legion District 22 playoff baseball title and get the top seed in the Fifth Division Tournament at New Baden. The Bears earned a bye for Monday’s opening day of play and are expected to face the Game 1 winner at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.
ALTON – Metro East embraced the moment with a full bear hug Wednesday night at Hopkins Field. The Bears are district champions.
They defeated Fairview Heights, 3-1, to win the Senior Legion District 22 playoff baseball title and get the top seed in the Fifth Division Tournament at New Baden. Metro East earned a bye for Monday’s opening day of play and is expected to face the Game 1 winner at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.
“The only thing we want to do is win,” said catcher Nick Paulda, a key performer in the Bears’ victory over Fairview Heights. “We all have the same goals, so it makes it easier for everybody to get along.”
The 22-6 Bears beat 26-9 Fairview Heights for the third time this season – all in Moore Park. Fairview is idle Thursday in the double-elimination tourney. Then it will play host to tonight’s Belleville-Highland winner on Friday night for a berth in next week’s action in Clinton County.
“It was a true team effort,” Bears’ manager Ken Schaake of the district playoff championship. “A lot of kids on this team haven’t experienced this before, so it’s great for them.”
Ray Bailey’s tie-breaking two-run home run in the seventh inning provided the margin of victory. His second homer in two nights drove home Paulda, who doubled to open the inning. Paulda went 3-for-4 with a trio of doubles. Bailey went 2-for-4 as they accounted for five of Metro East’s seven hits.
“It’s the biggest hit I’ve had this season,” Bailey said of his big blast. “And it was important that Nick got on base before me. He had a great game.”
Paulda said, “It was my best game of the year and it felt good. I’ve been working in the batting cage on taking pitches the other way.”
Schaake indicated Paulda could be the Bears' most underrated player. The catcher stroked an RBI double in the third to plate Drew Curtis, who singled.
“He (Paulda) was really the catalyst tonight,” Schaake said. “He did the job and he has been doing it all year. Nick really does a lot of things that go unnoticed, especially defensively.”
Jacob Trueb logged the win in relief of Tommy Flack, starting for the third time against Fairview. Flack gave up six hits and a run in six-plus innings. He escaped a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the third and held the visitors scoreless until the seventh.
“He pitched a great game,” Schaake said.
Fairview Heights manager Craig Steiner tipped his cap to the Bears.
“They executed when they needed to do it in this game. And we didn’t,” he said. “Flack kept our hitters guessing and he was around the zone all the time.”
Curtis pitched the final two innings. He struck out four and logged a save.
“I like coming in at the end of the game,” said Curtis, comfortable in the role of a closer.
He shined for state champion Edwardsville Legion last season and sees Metro East capable of making a deep run in the postseason.
“I think we’re about as confident now as we have been all season,” Curtis said. “We want to take that kind of attitude to New Baden.”