Home turf could prove an advantage for East in Class 4A regional

News-DemocratMay 19, 2013 

— It's been six years since the Belleville East Lancers last played a playoff game on their home field.

But, they're back on home turf this year for the Class 4A Belleville East Softball Regional.

"Anytime you get to play at home in the playoffs, especially the first round, I think there is a comfort level," East coach Natalie Peters said. "We're definitely excited about it."

The last time the Lancers won a regional also was in 2007 in Class AA.

The Lancers (27-8) enter the regional as the No. 2 seed, and they'll play third-seeded Belleville West (14-14) in the first round at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Top-seeded O'Fallon (22-8) plays fourth-seeded Collinsville (17-18) at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The Lancers finished off a challenging final week of the regular season Saturday, losing to St. Charles North 1-0 and to Lemont 3-2 at a jamboree in Minooka.

"We actually outhit both teams," Peters said. "Alison (Mitts) pitched out of her mind. She threw all 14 innings, and I think she only gave up one earned run. And, we didn't make that many errors. It was like we made an error at a crucial moment, and they made a diving catch on our shot to the gap. It was kind of a weird day."

The weirdest thing of all actually happened the previous day to East leadoff hitter Kayla Fields.

"At the end of practice on Friday, a bug flew into her eye and her eye pretty much swelled shut," Peters said. "She could barely see. That didn't help. She had to wear her glasses (on Saturday), and she was only on base once."

The last week also saw the Lancers beat Mount Vernon 4-2 and O'Fallon 12-11 and lose to Alton 6-4 and Edwardsville 3-2 in 10 innings.

Peters feels like the Lancers head into the postseason playing their best softball of the season.

"It's kind of odd because we were 2-4 last week, but really the only game we felt we beat ourselves was the Alton game," Peters said. "I think we are playing the best teams that we could possibly play down the stretch. A lot of those games last week had that playoff atmosphere, that playoff feel. Hopefully, that will carry over for us this week."

Mitts, a junior, has been a stabilizing force on the mound all season. She's averaged better than a strike out an inning and her ERA is 1.36.

"The biggest thing for her right now is she has a lot of different pitches that are doing what they are supposed to do," Peters said. "She's a year older and year more mature. I think she's more confident this year than she's ever been before, and it has definitely been showing in the way she has been pitching."

Fields has set a school-record with 66 stolen bases. She also leads the Lancers in batting average at .520 and runs scored with 51.

Fields is headed to Gulf Coast State, a community college in Panama City, Fla., on a softball scholarship.

"She has had an amazing senior year," Peters said. "Sometimes for seniors it's hard. They put a lot of pressure on themselves and they don't necessarily perform their best. None of our seniors have done that. They've all had exceptional years and they are all playing the best softball they have ever played."

The Lancers' other two seniors -- Brittany Hodge and Katie Belleville -- also have made their mark.

Hodge, hitting out of the No. 2 spot in the batting order, broke the school single-season record with her 47th RBI over the weekend.

The old record of 46 was set by Jillian Boeschen in 2010. Peters held the record prior to that.

Belleville, batting in the No. 9 spot, has come up with several clutch hits. She'd driven in 24 runs heading into the weekend.

The Lancers have two other regulars hitting over .400 in Mitts and Haley Wroten, while Andrea Roberts, Haley Gegelman, Annie Eversman and Ryley Blomberg all are hitting over .300.

Erinn Henry has stolen more than 20 bases and Amanda Campbell has driven in a dozen runs in part-time duty.

Peters said the experience many of her players got last season has paid dividends this year.

"Getting a year under their belt, we hoped we would have an explosive offense this year," Peters said. "The girls have really come through. We have a lot of kids helping up and down the lineup."

Contact reporter Steve Korte at skorte@bnd.com or 239-2522.

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