BELLEVILLE — Darius Box had a bit of an old score to settle against the Belleville Hilgards on Wednesday.
Box kept Belleville from clinching the American Legion District 22 South Division baseball title with a clutch pitching performance in a 4-3 victory at Whitey Herzog Field.
The win kept Fairview's hopes alive for the South Division title and No. 1 playoff seed. Fairview Heights is 12-3 in league play and 21-8 overall, needing a victory Thursday night at Edwardsville to wrap things up.
However, a Fairview loss to Edwardsville creates a tie with Belleville (33-11 overall, 12-4 in league play). Both teams are 5-1 in South Division play, both beat each other by one run and allowed a total of 10 runs in those games.
If the teams finish tied, Fairview Heights manager Craig Steiner said a coin flip would be required to determine the No. 1 playoff seed.
Box shut out Belleville West twice this spring during the high school season, then lost to the Maroons in the postseason. The Belleville Hilgards are made up of players from West and Althoff, so that was about all the incentive Box needed.
He threw six strong innings, allowed just two hits before the fifth and got some late relief help from Sam Hopkins to nail down the victory.
"D-Bo (Box) really threw a good game tonight," Steiner said. "He wanted the ball; he told us last week he wanted to throw this game tonight. He wanted the ball and he wanted to do the job. We wanted to give him a chance to finish it off and we probably let him go one pitch too long."
Box left after surrendering a leadoff double to Belleville's Alex Heitzman to start the seventh. With the tying run at second, Hopkins got a ground-ball out before Fairview second baseman Vinnie Birk threw out Heitzman at the plate trying to score on a slow bouncer to a drawn-in infield.
"These guys faced Darius a bunch of times in high school and he did a really good job all spring," said Belleville manager Zach Rakowski, whose team beat Fairview 7-6 earlier this summer. "Until the fifth when we finally pushed one across he did a really nice job and he really bore down when it was important, but that's something you can expect from him. He's a good pitcher."
Fairview scratched out a run with two outs in the fourth.
Birk singled leading off the inning for his team's first hit and Aaron Krummrich followed with a two-out single. The runners moved up to second and third on a wild pitch by Hilgards starter Caleb Tatum before Birk cruised home from third on a passed ball.
Fairview took advantage of another two-out uprising in the fifth to push its lead to 4-0.
Tatum retired the first two hitters before Darin Pitts and Birk reached on consecutive singles. Tatum hit Reno with a pitch to load the bases and Southeast Missouri State recruit Alex Siddle followed with a two-run double to the gap in right center.
Fairview shortstop Logan Reno was caught in a rundown before being awarded home plate on an interference call to make it 4-0.
A two-out error helped Belleville get a run back in the bottom of the fifth and the Hilgards added two more in the sixth.
Adam Bauer's double put runners at second and third and Atlee Champion blooped an RBI single to right. Another run scored when the throw from the outfield was wild to third base, cutting Fairview's lead to 4-3.
Belleville had the tying run at second and no outs, but Box struck out Austin Bevenue and retired Cameron Lofton on a groundout. Aaron Meyer was called out on a close play at first to end the inning.
"(Box) maintained his composure really well and gathered himself after we threw the ball around a little bit there," Steiner said. "He helped himself and got himself out of it."
Rakowski said his team failed to take advantage of numerous chances, including the chance to nail down the division title.
"We had good opportunities, we sometimes gripped the bat a little too tight and tried a little too hard," Rakowski said. "Those things happen. Our energy got a lot better at the end, probably (wasn't) where it needed to be to start the game. I think they were more interested than we were. That's something we've got to work on."
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at email@example.com or 239-2454.