Even though his team lost twice to Southwestern Conference rival Alton this season, Belleville East coach Todd Blomberg has a positive feeling about the third matchup.
With much higher stakes this time, Belleville East (21-13) and Alton (27-9) meet again in a 4 p.m. Class 4A sectional semifinal contest Wednesday at Belleville West High School.
The winner advances to Saturday's Bloomington Sectional championship at 11 a.m. at Illinois Wesleyan University against either Moline or Plainfield South.
"(Alton) is the only team that we haven't beaten in the conference, we've beaten every one else," said Blomberg, whose club lost 3-2 and 9-4 to the Redbirds. "It works out for us to play them again in the sectional. We really wanted another chance at them and felt like we didn't play our best against them during the year.
"We both know each other and we've seen each other's best all year."
Belleville East has won four in a row and five of its last six, including emotional playoff wins over Belleville West and Granite City.
Picked by many SWC coaches to win the conference this season, Alton instead finished sixth. But while the Redbirds were 6-8 in the league, they lost only once in nonconference play and have heated up in May with nine straight victories.
That includes a 2-0 win over Edwardsville on Saturday in the regional championship.
"The baseball conference was much like the SEC in football. It was a dog-eat-dog world and anybody could beat anybody on any given day," said Alton coach Todd Haug, whose team could tie a school record for wins in a season. "We lost some one-run games early and went through our down time. We fought through adversity and finished up sixth in the conference, but now we're playing the ball we thought we could and we've been doing it throughout the entire month of May."
It was Alton's first regional championship since 2007, while the Lancers won a regional for only the second time since their last state tournament appearance in 2003.
Belleville East is expected to send Sam Bassett (5-3, 1.77 ERA, 44 strikeouts in 47 1/3 innings) to the mound. Alton could use senior ace and Greenville College recruit Ray Bailey (7-4, 2.60 ERA; 53 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings), but Haug also indicated Brad Henry (7-1, 2.57 ERA) and Bryan Hudson (5-0, 1.40 ERA) are available.
Alton's lineup has perked up since Haug moved senior speedster Ron Wisnasky out of the leadoff spot and into the No. 3 hole ahead of cleanup hitter and senior catching standout Brent Gibbs.
"Wisnasky's like a waterbug," Blomberg said. "He's a guy you hope doesn't get of base and if he does, you've really got to pay attention to him. Those two guys are a great combination. They're very scary."
Gibbs (.427, 20 doubles, one triple, two homers, 33 RBIs, 32 runs) signed with Indiana and Wisnasky (.500, 13 doubles, four triples, one homer, 35 RBIs; 47 runs scored, 24 stolen bases) signed with Lewis & Clark.
Wisnasky has a school record 57 hits.
Alton also relies on Bailey (.400, seven doubles, three homers, 18 RBIs), Nick Droste (.363, seven doubles, 29 RBIs) and Nick Paulda (.316, four doubles, three homers, 25 RBIs).
The top offensive threats for Belleville East are Domonic Blaylock (.360, five doubles, five RBIs), Brandon Hoguet (.346, four doubles, one homer, 12 RBIs), Marty Brunk (.319, seven doubles, one homer, 16 RBIs), Danny Snyder (.309, 10 RBIs) and Anthony Garza (.266, five doubles, one homer, 21 RBIs.)
Alec Pellegrino has also become a clutch run-producer for the Lancers down the stretch.
Blomberg also has a rooting interest in the Class 4A softball sectional game also being played Wednesday at Belleville West. His daughter, Ryley, is the starting right fielder for Belleville East and the Lancers are facing Edwardsville at 4:30 p.m.
"It's going to be hard not to peek up and try to see the scoreboard up there," Coach Blomberg said.
Class 3A Effingham Sectional
What has become the Mississippi Valley Conference postseason tournament continues at 4:30 p.m. Thursday when Triad (26-11) takes on Mascoutah (22-14) in the Effingham Sectional semifinals.
Triad knocked off MVC rival Highland to win its regional, while Mascoutah knocked off Waterloo, another MVC foe, to win the Columbia Regional.
The Mascoutah Indians handed Triad one of its toughest defeats April 8 when the Knights couldn't protect a 7-0 lead in the sixth and lost 8-7.
Triad beat Mascoutah 3-2 when the teams met again April 24 as Jordan Felax (9-3, 1.51 ERA) held the Indians to four hits and struck out five to outduel Tyler Greene.
Triad's formidable offense is led by Southern Illinois University Edwardsville recruit Keaton Wright (.442, 18 doubles, seven homers, 38 RBIs), Tyler Carpenter (.388, 14 doubles, 32 RBIs), Dalton Johnson (.370, nine doubles, five homers, 26 RBIs) and Cody Massey (.339, 10 doubles, two homers, 32 RBIs).
Mascoutah will likely send junior SIUC recruit Ryan Netemeyer (6-1, 1.93 ERA, 63 strikeouts in 58 innings) to the mound.
Mascoutah's top offensive threats are Rob Pearson (.391, 16 RBIs), Zach Lindsay (.355, eight doubles, 14 RBIs), Maciek Milas (.333, six doubles, 12 RBIs), Brendan Dauber (.327, 16 RBIs) and Netemeyer (.324, 13 doubles, two homers, 22 RBIs).