TRENTON — The Edwardsville Senior Legion Post 199 baseball team made a living during the regular season by frustrating opponents with good pitching and defense.
This week at the American Legion State Tournament at Pete Schumacher Field, that Edwardsville squad took the old adage that "pitching and defense wins championships" to a whole new level.
Cole Hagen put the final exclamation point on a week of domination by the Post 199 pitching staff with a seven-hit shutout, while tournament most valuable player Drew Curtis and Alec Pizzini drove in two runs apiece as Edwardsville claimed the state title with a 4-0 win over Moline at Trenton City Park.
Aided by a pair of acrobatic diving catches by center fielder Blake Graham and a brilliant running catch by left fielder Danny Robertson, Hagen fired Edwardsville's third shutout in the last three days. The squad advances into the Great Lakes Regional, which begins Thursday in Terre Haute, Ind.
So dominating was the Edwardsville staff that in 34 innings, it allowed just one unearned run. Edwardsville also outscored its four opponents 27-1, while improving to 33-6 for the season.
"I think we felt coming into the season that we would be a very good team. But we've taken it to another level in the last couple of weeks and since the playoffs began,'' Hagen said. "I didn't have my best stuff today, but the infield and then the two catches that Blake (Graham) made and the catch that Danny (Robertson) made were just amazing. And they were all with two outs and runners on base.
The state title is the first for Edwardsville since 1998, when current coach Ken Schaake's team went on to win the national championship that was held in Las Vegas.
Following Saturday's win, Schaake called this title special.
"It's special because it's still fun to be able to see a group of kids work hard toward a goal and then achieve it," Schaake said. "We knew we were moving on after we won yesterday (Friday), but we wanted to finish it off right. It's a state title. There aren't many kids on this team who had won a state title and some of them had never come close. But now they are state champions and they get to move on to the next stage."
The 2012 state champion, Moline had to be stunned by the events of the last 24 hours.
Blanked 11-0 by Devin Breihan and Edwardsville on Friday, Moline also qualified for the Great Lakes Regional by beating Wheaton 6-3 on Saturday to reach the championship round.
But Robertson's catch in the second inning and Graham's defensive gems in the fifth and seventh, along with the tenacity of Hagen, proved too much.
Graham's catches were even more remarkable in that he changed gloves earlier in the game.
"I had one glove and I went with the other glove, Actually, it's about 1 1 1/2 inches longer,'' Graham said. "The pitching was just incredible the last four days. To give up one unearned run in 34 innings is just amazing. We've been a team which has relied on pitching and defense all year. It's said that hitting is contagious. Good pitching is contagious too.''
Held in check by Moline starter Mitchell Owens through four innings, Edwardsvile got on the scoreboard in the fifth.
With two outs, Graham singled and Chase McPeak reached on an error. Curtis, headed to St. Louis University on a baseball scholarship, then took a 2-2 pitch and lined it down the right-field line for a two-run double.
"They had been pitching on the outside half of the plate all day. I just went with the pitch and was fortunate enough to hit down the line,'' Curtis said. "It felt good to be able to come through and help my team in that situation.''
Pizzini then drove in a pair of insurance runs in the eighth. When Hagen got Moline's Austin Fanches on a fly ball to left to end the game, Edwardsville players stormed the field in celebration.