Jack Lanxon was on the mound for Belleville West’s baseball regional championship win over Edwardsville last spring. That’s a place the senior left-hander could find himself in a lot in the early portion of the 2017 season.
Lanxon held favored Edwardsville to seven hits and four runs as the Maroons stunned the Tigers 8-4 to win the regional. With expected Belleville West senior ace and first team BND All-Area selection Luke Vallandingham (8-0, 2.14 ERA) out for up to six weeks with a fractured wrist, Lanxon (3-0, 4.10 ERA) figures to slide into the No. 1 starter’s role.
“We’re trying to take a positive outlook with this,” Belleville West coach Todd Baltz said of the offseason injury to Vallandingham, which also created an extra vacancy in the outfield. “It’s an opportunity for somebody else to shine and an opportunity for someone else to have success.”
Belleville West is coming off a 24-9 season that saw the Maroons reach the sectional semifinal before losing to Southwestern Conference rival O’Fallon. West is scheduled to open the season with a 4:30 p.m. home game Wednesday against Althoff, weather permitting.
Lanxon, who signed to play football at Division II Truman State, leads a solid returning cast and will also start in center field when not pitching. Lanxon was second on the team in hitting last season (.343), also leading the team in runs (36) and doubles (11) while adding two triples, one home run, 14 RBIs and nine stolen bases.
The goal is to get further, not to get (to the sectional) again, because we fell short of the ultimate goal. As happy as we were to have that success last year, we’re hungry to get further.
Belleville West coach Todd Baltz
“He showed some good signs toward the end of the season, especially pitching the regional championship win over Edwardsville,” Baltz said. “Jack’s a gamer and plays the game the right way. He’ll do fine.”
Key losses to graduation were pitcher-catcher Cal Kossina, now starting at Southwestern Illinois College, Tai Kezirian and first baseman Wyatt Parker (Illinois College).
Senior Matt Sisk (.231, 11 RBIs) returns as the starter in left field while second baseman and shortstop Buddy Gore (.307, one homer, 13 RBIs) and third baseman Logan Betz (.294, 12 RBIs) also return.
Vallandingham, who signed with McKendree, injured the wrist on his non-pitching (left) hand in February. He was 8-0 with a 2.14 ERA as a junior, striking out a team-leading 77 batters in 72 innings.
Along with Lanxon, the mound staff includes juniors Hunter Grupe and Tyler Adams and seniors Devin Hubbs (2-0, 0.49 ERA), Jake Jenkins (1-1) and Sam Bernosky (2-0, 2.33 ERA). Sophomores auditioning for roles include Luke Trapp, Caleb Harsin and Justin Geoger, with freshman Joey Kossina also in the mix.
The outfield will include Lanxon when he’s not pitching. The other candidates include junior Nick Westerheide along with Eaton Buss, Olandis Harris and Lance Glaeser.
Just as the Maroons featured three Matecki brothers from Millstadt several years ago, the third of three Kossina brothers from Millstadt — Joey Kossina — enters the program as a freshman. The youngest Kossina brother is an outfielder-pitcher.
“Baseball’s in their blood I guess,” Baltz said.
Senior catcher Ty Shylanski, a transfer from Waterloo, also signed with McKendree. Other catchers include juniors Ryan Mentzer and Dylan Sunnquist.
Grupe (.286, two RBIs) has the inside track at first base, with Adams also competing at first. Sophomore Will Lanxon and junior James Withouse also are battling for time at middle infield spots.
The Maroons opened some eyes last spring with their emotional playoff run, which included an 18-inning regional semifinal win over Belleville East. The win over Edwardsville provided another huge shot of momentum.
“Any time you get a win over them it gives the guys confidence,” Baltz said of the Maroons, who return a lot of players that saw varsity time last spring. “The goal is to get further, not to get (to the sectional) again, because we fell short of the ultimate goal. As happy as we were to have that success last year, we’re hungry to get further.
“That’s been the tone of the team so far, especially the guys that were involved in it.”