SAUGET-- The Southwestern Illinois College Blue Storm were hoping to add to an already solid start to the season when they faced the Lakeland College this weekend at GCS Ballpark.
What SWIC got instead was quite different and totally unexpected.
Lakeland slugger Darren Saunders led off the seventh inning with a solo home run and relief pitcher Luis Vilchez worked out of a jam in bottom of the inning to clinch the Lakers 2-1 win Monday and a sweep of the three-game series.
Entering the Great Rivers Athletic Conference opening series with 2-9 record, Lakeland won 8-5 on Sunday then routed the Blue Storm 13-3 in the opener on Monday.
Held in check by SWIC hurler Conner Buenger for 5 1/3 innings in the finale, Lakeland tied the game at 1 on a two-out single by Tyler Bushue in the sixth inning before Saunders provided his game-winning clout in the seventh.
SWIC (5-7), which stranded 20 runners on base in the doubleheader, had the tying run on second base with two outs in the bottom of the seventh but Vilchez retired Matt Spradlin on a fly ball to end the game.
"The story today was not getting timely hitting and the pitching was not as good as we had hoped. Every season has its ups and downs hopefully this weekend was the low point. Now we've got the rest of the season to build on this,'' SWIC coach Neil Fiala said. "The disappointing part of this is that we actually outhit them today and during the weekend. They got their hits with runners on and we just couldn't get a big hit. That happens sometimes.''
Buenger, a freshman from Lutheran North High School in St. Louis, wasn't razor sharp but was good enough to keep the Lakers off the scoreboard for almost six innings in the second game.
Given a 1-0 lead on a two-out single by Matt Reinholz in the bottom of the fourth inning, Buenger was in control until the former Alton standout reached base with two outs in the sixth inning. Moore then stole second base and scored on Bushue's clutch hit.
The Blue Storm had a great chance to retake the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning. Jake Daily and Adam Kunkel led off with singles and advanced to second and third base when Reinholz laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt.
With the potential go-ahead run on third base, former Belleville East player Marty Brunk attempted a suicide squeeze bunt. However the ball was popped up and caught by Vilchez, who fired to third base to double off Daily.
"It was the perfect time. If it works, the runner scores easily and we're up 2-1," Fiala said. "Other teams have squeezed on us four or five time already this season and it's worked every time. We try it for the first time and we get doubled off third base. That was the story of our day and weekend."
The Lakers didn't have to sweat out game of the league twinbill, which was played under ideal summer-like conditions at GCS Ballpark -- the home of the Gateway Grizzlies.
With Jonathan Mendoza's two-run home run highlighting a five-run third inning off SWIC starter Kyle Wilson, Lakeland jumped out to a 5-0 lead and never looked back in breezing to an easy 13-3 win.
The Blue Storm outhit Lakeland 13-9, but stranded 12 runners -- including seven in scoring position.
Adam Bauer had three hits, while Matt Spradlin drove in two runs and Brunk added a run-scoring single to lead the way for the Blue Storm.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or email@example.com