BELLEVILLE — BELLEVILLE --With a strong wind blowing in from the outfield Thursday in a scoreless pitchers' duel at Belleville East, it took a hockey player to send everyone home.
Alec Pellegrino's sacrifice fly n the eighth inning scored Brandon Hoguet with the only run in a 1-0 Southwestern Conference victory over O'Fallon that cost the Panthers a share of the league title.
"He didn't play (baseball) last year, he's a kid that's really heavily involved in hockey, so he missed a lot of early games in the season," Belleville East coach Todd Blomberg said of Pellegrino, a talented forward who plays with the St. Louis AAA Blues and recently was drafted by Sioux City of the United States Hockey League. "He's done a great job for us, he's done everything we've asked. He had a big game up at Alton the other night and he deserved to get a look. I'm very happy for him."
East senior Sam Bassett (4-3) tossed a six-hit shutout, striking out five and walking two. Lancers catcher Lucas Weisbrodt also came up big, twice throwing out runners trying to steal in the sixth and eighth innings.
"Sam's been that way all year except for one inning against Triad.," Blomberg said after his 17-12 team improved to 8-6 in the SWC. "When you put him out there, you know if you can scratch out a run or two you probably have a shot to win the game, if you can play good defense behind him."
Bassett locked right arms with O'Fallon starter Tyler Herbert, who was just as stingy. Herbert (4-3) allowed just four hits while striking out four and walking six (two intentionally).
Herbert entered the game with a 4-1 record and 0.82 ERA in conference games.
"I really thought both pitchers were in control of the game today," Blomberg said. "We were fortunate to be in a position where a sac fly got the job done."
Hoguet walked with one out in the sixth and went to third when a hard-hit potential double-play ball off the bat of Marty Brunk instead took a bad hop over O'Fallon second baseman Isaiah Sarpy.
"I feel like we've got a double-play ball there in that situation and then I feel like Tyler comes back and he makes the pitch," O'Fallon coach Jason Portz said. "That's all you can ask your team to do, come out and make the plays. That didn't bounce our way today, literally."
With runners at second and third, Portz brought one of his outfielders into the infield, spreading five infielders out across the diamond hoping to cut down the runner at the plate.
But Pellegrino foiled the strategy by driving a pitch deep enough into left field to score Hoguet with the winning run.
"We were trying to make a good pitch to him there with a base open and he did a good job," Portz said of Pellegrino. "That's what you want your hitter to do there, to elevate a ball."
"He didn't panic, he just stood up there nice and calm and cool and did about the only thing he could do, which was try to hit a deep fly ball," Blomberg said. "It's not easy because when you get up there, you don't practice against five infielders. For him to get the job done in that circumstance is a real credit to him."
The teams combined to strand 13 runners, including seven by O'Fallon (23-11, 10-4).
The Panthers lost runners stealing in the sixth and eighth and hit into a double play in the seventh.
"With the way blowing in like it was today it wasn't a day for hitters, of course," Portz said. "We've got to execute a little bit better offensively to move on in the postseason and I don't feel like we did that extraordinarily well today."
Portz ordered two intentional walks that loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth and Herbert escaped the jam by getting Nathan Schmittling to fly out to left.
East had lost three straight conference games and four of its last five overall. Could a signature win like this provide extra momentum with the playoffs starting next week?
"We weren't trying to send a message," said Blomberg, whose team lost 4-1 to O'Fallon on March 29. "We've been struggling lately. We'd had a couple bad games and we needed to play well. We needed to have a good game against a real quality team and program like O'Fallon."