FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS — Coming up two outs short of a no-hitter, Fairview Heights pitcher Anthony Garza settled for the next best thing Thursday at the Senior American Legion Fifth Division Tournament.
Garza surrendered a solo home run to Murphysboro's Gavyn Ellet with one out in the ninth inning, but retired the next two hitters as Fairview Heights kept its title hopes alive with a 2-1 win at Moody Park.
"It was a fastball. He (Ellet) had been crowding the plate. I tried to go inside on him and it was too far over the plate,'' Garza said. "I just wanted to do what I could to help my team win today and we were able to do that.''
Garza also was the offensive hero for Fairview Heights, driving in both of its runs, as the host team moved into the final day of the double-elimination tournament.
Fairview Heights (17-18) will play Edwardsville at 1 p.m. Friday at Moody Park. A Fairview Heights win would force a second game which would follow.
Edwardsville remained undefeated in tournament play by eliminating Belleville 5-4 in 10 innings in the late game Thursday.
The Fifth Division winner advances to the Senior American Legion State Tournament, which begins Wednesday in Trenton.
Garza, who struck out four and walked three, was nearly as impressive at the plate. His first-inning single drove in Brenndon Tindall with the first run of the game. Garza then made it 2-0 in the seventh with a sacrifice fly.
"It was Anthony Garza's day. He did it all for us today,'' Fairview Heights manager Craig Steiner said. "He comes within two outs of a no-hitter, drives in two runs. He did everything. He pitched a great game. He got ahead of the hitters and our defense made the plays.''
Fairview Heights scored in the bottom of the first inning after two outs. Tindall singled and advanced when Tanner Hudson drove in the first of his four hits.
Garza then made it 1-0 with his RBI single.
Garza's effort overshadowed that of Murphysboro ace Kyle Miller. Fairview Heights collected 13 hits against Miller, who time-and-time again made big pitches to keep his team in the game.
"I'm telling you that Kyle Miller pitched a heck of a game. They (Fairview Heights) got 13 hits, but when Kyle needed to make a pitch, he did,'' Murphysboro manager Butch Brasal said. "Their kid (Garza) did the job and you've got to give him credit.
"If you are going to lose a no-hitter in the ninth inning, that's the way to lose it. The home run by Ellet was crushed. There was no doubt about it.''
There also was no doubt about the resolve of Garza, who after giving up the home run retired Murphysboro's fourth and fifth-place hitters -- Jake Stewart and Kaleb Jarret --to end the game, as Fairview Heights continued its improbable postseason story.
"We came into the tournament with not a very impressive record, but we told the kids that there wasn't any pressure on us because nobody really expected us to do anything,'' Steiner said. "We've played very well this week. Hopefully we can come out tomorrow (Friday) and do the same thing.''