BELLEVILLE — Fairview Heights climbed out of the losers' bracket to force another matchup against the Belleville Hilgards in the American Legion District 22 South Division Tournament.
Fairview Heights banged out 10 hits in beating the Freeburg-Smithton 76ers 9-7 Wednesday.
Freeburg-Smithton kept the suspense in the game by scoring two runs in the ninth. The 76ers had the tying runs at first and second with two outs when Fairview Heights pitcher Sam Bassett entered the game and got the last out on a grounder back to the mound.
"We just couldn't put it away,'' Fairview Heights coach Craig Steiner said. "They kept battling and we let them come back into it. We told the guys in the huddle after the game that if you have a chance to put a team away, you have to do it. You just can't lay back and be lackadaisical. They still got it done, though.''
Steiner said he went with Bassett because he was a strikeout pitcher.
"Richie (Boatman) was doing fine, but Sam is more of a strikeout pitcher and with the tying run at first base we just wanted to go for the strikeout,'' Steiner said. "We knew that we weren't going to burn Sam up doing that. Sam will start the game tomorrow night.''
Fairview Heights (14-16) advances to play the Hilgards (28-12) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Whitey Herzog Field. If Fairview Heights win, it'll play the Hilgards again Friday.
"It's the game of baseball, and stranger things have happened,'' Steiner said of having to beat the Hilgards twice to win the double-elimination tournament. "We'll just go out there and play all nine innings and see what happens.''
Fairview Heights starter Andrew Witkowski gave up two runs in the first inning, but allowed only one earned run over the next 6 1/3 innings before being relieved by Sam Boatman after giving up three straight singles with one out in the eighth.
"Witkowski threw a real good game,'' Steiner said. "He came out a little tight and had a hard time getting loose in the first inning, but once he got out of the first inning, he shut it down.''
The 76ers ended their season with an 8-13 record.
"We have a good group of competitors, there is no doubt about that,'' said assistant coach Bob Smith, who managed the 76ers against Fairview Heights because manager Dean Neuner sat out after being ejected along with his pitcher the previous night. "They weren't going to give in. They knew this was a do-or-die game, and they did what they had to do to keep the game alive.''
The 76ers will lose only two players next season.
"We had a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old who got playing time this year,'' Neuner said. "Joe Wolf, who played third base, just turned 15 and the kid who played center field, Austin Beccue just turned 16. We have a very young team, and for the next two or three years we should be very competitive.''
Freeburg-Smithton took a 2-0 lead in the first inning thanks to three straight singles by Augie Ward, Beccue and Nick Yung and a double into the left-center field gap by pitcher Dylan Demond.
Fairview Heights got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the third on an RBI single by Robert Guitheus.
The 76ers went up 3-1 when Ward scored on a single by Yung in the top of the fifth. Ward had reached base on an error.
Fairview Heights rallied for six runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to take a 7-3 lead.
The highlight of the outburst was a two-run double by Jacob Jarvis off the fence in left field.
Danny Hughes brought in Jarvis with a double to right-center field.
Fairview Heights added a run in the seventh when Jarvis scored on a single by Kyle Boewe, his third of the game.
The 76ers got two runs in the top of the eighth to cut their deficit to 8-5.
Demond, Jack Kemper and James Hogan all collected successive singles and Mitchell Pinkston later contributed an RBI single.
Fairview Heights padded its cushion to 9-5 with a run in the bottom half of the eighth as Guitheus walked, moved to third on a double by Marty Brunk and scored on a wild pitch.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.