Each year, long before the first practice of the new season, a challenge is issued to a new group of Edwardsville High School baseball players.
It is a challenge that serves as extra motivation through offseason conditioning and weightlifting. It stresses competitiveness and team unity, all with the hope of reaching the Class 4A state baseball tournament.
For the first time since 2007, the Tigers have met the “Joliet Challenge.”
Edwardsville will end a 10-year state tournament drought Friday when it takes on (Burbank) St. Laurence at 5 p.m. in the second of two state tournament semifinal games at Joliet Slammers Stadium.
Edwardsville (33-7) is making its 15th state tournament appearance and sixth under coach Tim Funkhouser, who in 19 seasons has a career record of 581-147. Funkhouser, who led Edwardsville to a second-place finish in 2002, knows firsthand how difficult it is to reach the state tournament.
“I think we go into every season thinking that we have an opportunity to reach the state tournament. But in a single-elimination tournament with so many quality programs as we have in our Southwestern Conference, getting out of the regional is an accomplishment in its own,” Funkhouser said. “I’m excited for our players and excited that they have the chance to enjoy this ride.
“But it’s not only about these players. We’ve had a number of alumni reach out in the last few days with their support. We’re not only playing for ourselves, but we’re playing for the guys who have won it and the guys who never had the chance to get here.”
The Tigers, winners of Class AA state championships in 1990 and 1998 under legendary coach Tom Pile, earned their state tournament trip with an 11-3 win over (Orland Park) Sandburg in the Champaign super-sectional Monday. They will take on St. Laurence, of the Chicago Catholic League.
The Vikings (35-5) are making just their third state tournament appearance and their first since 1993.
“We’ve been trying to find some more information on them (St. Laurence) in the last couple of days. I do know they have two good pitchers — a lefty and a right-hander,” Funkhouser said. ‘We just have to prepare the best we can and make adjustments during the game, which will help us be successful.”
The winner of the Edwardsville-St. Laurence game will play the winner of the first Class 4A semifinal between Crystal Lake South (34-5) and (Winnetka) New Trier (30-4) for the state championship at 5 p.m. Saturday. The third-place game is set for 3 p.m.
Edwardsville is playing its best baseball of the season heading into Joliet.
The Tigers got their revenge for a pair of regular-season losses to Belleville West with a 5-1 win over the Maroons in the regional championship, then defeated O’Fallon (6-2) in the first round of the Bloomington sectional. The Tigers have overwhelmed their last two opponents, Normal West and (Orland Park) Sandburg, by a combined 18-3 margin.
I think we go into every season thinking that we have an opportunity to reach the state tournament. But in a single-elimination tournament with so many quality programs as we have in our Southwestern Conference, getting out of the regional is an accomplishment in its own.
Tim Funkhouser, Edwardsville head coach
“We’re playing very well right now and have been for a time now. It’s all about executing in all areas of the game and being as mentally and physically prepared as you can be. Our players have done a good job in doing those things,” Funkhouser said. “There will be some butterflies, and the adrenaline will be there, but we just to keep doing what we’ve been doing, and we’ll be fine.”
Senior outfielder Dylan Burris (.459, 14 triples, 36 RBIs) leads the Edwardsville offensive attack, which also features seniors Will Messer (.360), Andrew Yancik (.298, 22 RBIs), Joel Quirin (.345. 36 RBIs) and freshman Drake Westcott, who leads the team with 11 home runs and 40 RBIs while hitting at a .444 clip.
“Drake is very advanced as far as his power, but he also has a great approach at the plate for a freshman,” Funkhouser said. “But I’ve really been pleased with many of our hitters and their hitting approach the second part of the season. We’re having a lot of very good at bats right now, and we’re hoping to continue that this weekend.”
Yancik (5-1, 1.17 ERA) will be the Tigers starting pitcher Friday. Kade Burns (10-1, 1.11 ERA) is expected to get the nod Saturday.
“They’ve gotten the bulk of the work here recently,” Funkhouser said of Yancik and Burns. “Andrew (Frank) has also done good for us, and the guys in the bullpen are primed and ready to go when we need them.”
Class 4A Baseball Final Four
Edwardsville Tigers (33-7)
Colors: Orange and black
Coach: Tim Funkhouser
Last season: Lost to Belleville West 8-4, in regional final
Top hitters: Drake Westcott (444 11 HRs, 40 RBIs); Dylan Burris (.459, 5 HRs, 14 3Bs, 36 RBIs)
Top pitchers: Kade Burns (10-1, 1.11 ERA, 92 Ks); Andrew Yancik (5-1, 1.17 ERA, 62 Ks)
Burbank St. Laurence Vikings (35-5)
Colors: Black and gold
Conference: Chicago Catholic
Coach: Pete Lotus
Last season: Lost to Plainfield North 2-0 in super-sectional
Top hitters: Matt McCormick (.453, 7 HRs, 47 RBIs); Johnny Peterson (.326, 8 2Bs, 26 RBIs)
Top pitchers: Angel Sandoval (11-0, 0.88 ERA, 55 Ks); Joe Vascik (7-1, 1.64 ERA, 44 Ks)
Crystal Lake South Gators (34-5)
Colors: Green, gold and white
Conference: Fox Valley
Coach: Brian Bogda
Last season: Lost to Fox Lake Grant 8-7 in regional semifinal
Top hitters: Brian Fuentes (448., 20 2Bs, 48 RBIs); Ryan Parquette (.435, 6 HRs, 35 RBIs)
Top pitchers: Kyle Lang (9-0, 1.18 ERA, 51 Ks): Andrew Engelking (8-0, 1.84 ERA, 54 Ks)
Winnetka New Trier Trevians (30-4)
Colors: Blue, green and gray
Conference: Central Suburban Legue
Coach: Mike Napoleon
Last season: Lost to St. Charles North 4-3, in super-sectional
Top hitters: Kevin Donahue (.429, 15 2Bs, 21 RBIs); Dylan Horvitz (.326, 8 HRs, 31 RBIs)
Top pitchers: Thomas Nugent (12-1, 0.74 ERA, 50 Ks); Joe Bullard (4-1, 2.33 ERA, 31 Ks)