FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS — In a long-standing American Legion baseball rivalry that never lacks for intensity, Belleville jumped out to an early lead Tuesday and held on for a 6-4 victory over Fairview Heights.
A pregame ceremony to honor former Fairview Heights player Cody Schanuel and former O'Fallon Legion manager Matt Seipp drew a huge crowd to Everett Moody Park at Longacre that added another layer of emotion to the proceedings.
The situation may have also created some extra nervousness for both starting pitchers.
"I think the delay probably took the pitchers out of their timing a little bit, their normal routine," Belleville manager Zach Rakowski said after his team improved to 10-1. "It took both guys a little bit of time, but they both settled in the second inning and were a lot better."
It was a rough first inning for Fairview Heights (2-2) as Belleville took advantage of a leadoff error and two walks to load the bases on the way to grabbing a 4-0 lead.
Belleville's Adam Bauer reached safely when Fairview Heights pitcher Ethan Wild dropped the throw to first while covering the bag. Austin Bevenue and Aaron Meyer walked to load the bases before Wild walked Jason Klein to force in a run.
Two errors on a stolen base play led to another run and Parker Beine followed with an RBI single to left. An RBI single by Brendan Saak pushed the lead to 4-0 as the Hilgards eventually sent nine men to the plate in the first.
"We'd been talking a lot about getting better pitches to hit," Rakowski said. "The first inning we didn't get out of the strike zone too much and when (Wild) made some mistakes, we were able to drive the ball a little bit."
Fairview Heights stormed back with three in the bottom of the inning on a two-out, two-run single by Brenndon Tindall and a run-scoring single by Danny Hughes.
Bauer increased Belleville's lead to 6-3 with two outs in third when his shallow fly ball to right dropped safely for a two-run single.
"Ethan warmed up and then came in and had trouble finding the zone," Fairview Heights manager Craig Steiner said. "He battled through it, but his pitch count was up so we had to go get him."
Fairview Heights wasted a leadoff double by Tindall in the fifth. That got Belleville starter Ian Zimmermann out of the game, but reliever Cory Renois retired the next three hitters in order to escape the jam.
Renois allowed only one hit in three innings of relief, a two-out double to Marty Brunk in the sixth.
"Cory did an awesome job, we really needed a change of pace," said Rakowski, who also credited Zimmermann for his performance. "(Renois) came in and kind of dictated the rest of the game. I just think he felt like he could cut it loose a little bit and I'm sure pitching in a game like this he was excited."
Fairview Heights reliever Richard Boatman also pitched well with 4 1/3 shutout innings of relief.
"Cory came in and pounded the zone, just like our guy did," Steiner said. "Boatman came in and shut it down, too."
Rakowski is pleased with his club's 10-1 start, but believes there is still a lot better baseball to be played.
"You're always happy with a 10-1 start," he said. "We didn't have a lot of energy early, but we're starting to find it --which is going to serve this team well. When they play with energy and passion they can beat anybody we play."