EDWARDSVILLE — Freshman Jake Garella has impressed Edwardsville coach Tim Funkhouser enough to earn a spot on the Tigers' varsity roster.
Left fielder Garella boosted his standing Thursday when he delivered a go-ahead single in the sixth inning, highlighting a three-run outburst that gave Edwardsville a 5-2 victory over O'Fallon in a Southwestern Conference game.
"The thing about Jake is he's had great presence and hasn't been in awe of what we're doing," Funkhouser said. "He's been at our camps for several years and has a pretty good understanding of what we're trying to do. He's worked hard on his own to get to the point where he is. He's got good composure and he produced for us.
"His demeanor is calm, cool and collected. He was staying with his approach, trying to figure out what the pitcher's doing and try to hit it. That was a big hit for us. We needed to get a win today."
Edwardsville improved to 5-3 overall and 1-2 in the SWC. O'Fallon, whose six-game winning streak ended, fell to 7-5 and 2-1.
The game was knotted 2-2 entering the bottom of the sixth. Senior Drew Curtis opened with a walk against junior Tyler Herbert and was replaced by courtesy runner Austin Werner.
Alec Pizzini grounded out to third as Werner took second. Alex Meyers, who had an RBI single in the fourth, was walked intentionally to set the stage for Garella.
Garella lined a single to right that scored Werner. Right fielder Blake Deatherage overran the ball, allowing Meyers to score all the way from first to make it 4-2. Deatherage's throw home was wild as Garella advanced to third.
That set up the Tigers' final run, a squeeze bunt by Jordan Hovey that boosted the lead to 5-2. Zack Sparks relieved Cole Hagen to start the seventh and retired the Panthers in order.
"The kid kind of fists one out there, and that's the breaks of the game sometimes," O'Fallon coach Jason Portz said of Garella's clutch hit. "I don't think we played poorly; we didn't do anything to win the game. Too many wasted at-bats in some situations when we could have gotten some runs home."
Hagen yielded two runs (one earned) on seven hits in six innings. He walked two, struck out four and had just one perfect inning. O'Fallon stranded six baserunners.
"Hagen doesn't throw a lot of straight balls," Funkhouser said. "He was able to get a lot of ground balls today (10). He's a fun guy to play defense behind, throwing ground ball after ground ball."
O'Fallon took a 1-0 lead in the second. Tanner Hudson singled and reached third on a balk and a wild pitch by Hagen before Herbert delivered the go-ahead single.
The Panthers moved ahead 2-0 in the fourth. Hudson singled and stole second, and one out later, Herbert walked. O'Fallon then attempted a double-steal, and Edwardsville catcher Pizzini went for Herbert at second. But his throw sailed into center field for an error as Hudson scored.
Edwardsville tied the game at 2 in the fourth on Meyers' RBI single that scored Curtis and Garella's double-play grounder that plated Pizzini.
They were the only runs allowed by senior right-hander Ethan Wild, who permitted five hits and two runs (earned) in 4 1/3 innings. He walked none and struck out four.
"We didn't have some good at-bats early in the game, and that's a credit to Wild," said Funkhouser, whose team had one single and three strikeouts through three innings against Wild. "He pitched really well against us last year when we faced him.
"He's one of those guys who makes pitches, and you can get yourself out a ton if you're not too careful. I thought as the game went on, we had a better understanding of what we were trying to do and we were able to execute that a little better."
Portz said it's important for the Panthers to bounce back as they play host to Civic Memorial on Friday before facing Normal West on Saturday at Illinois State University.
"The key is, this loss can't carry over to tomorrow and Saturday," Portz said. "We've got to come out and prepare and understand that baseball's a long season, and when you drop a game like this, it's a loss. You've got to continue to get better."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.