BELLEVILLE Belleville East sophomore Jessica Belzer third baseman said she’s been trying to do more with hitting the outside pitch. On Tuesday in their first city showdown of the season against Belleville West, the Lancers hit almost every pitch.
Belzer keyed a five-run second inning with a two-run double to give the surging Lancers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish as they went on for a 10-7 win in a Southwestern Conference softball game.
Fresh off sweeping nonconference foe Murphysboro on Saturday when it collected 28 runs, East remained red-hot at the plate on Tuesday as it collected 10 runs in the first four innings off Maroons starter McKenzie Sisk then held off a late Maroons rally.
Trailing 10-3 after four innings, West chipped away, The Maroons scored two runs off East starter Angela Valderpluym in the fifth to close to within 10-5 then scored twice off relief pitcher Tori Lonsdale in the seventh.
But when Lonsdale got Megan Glaeser to pop out to end the game, East (12-8, 7-1) had its 11th win in 13 games after a 1-6 stretch to start the season. The win is also the Lancers sixth in a row.
“Coming into the season we knew we had a lot of inexperienced players and that we were playing a lot of good teams early. My main concern was to not let the girls lose confidence in themselves. We struggled early, but the girls have continued to work hard,’’ East coach Natalie Peters said.
“We’re htting the softball well riight now as a team. We’ve really worked on offense and the kids are confident at the plate right now. Jessica (Belzer) had a big night for us. She's been our most consistent hitter all season. She's a tough player.
Belzer, who finished the night 3-for-4 with three RBI, got the Lancers off to a good start. After Tawnee Kramer had a one-out double in the first inning, Belzer followed with a double to leftfield to give East an early lead.
“I think I've had some slumps,’’ Belzer said. “But I don't feel like I'm doing all that much. It's about the team. Everybody is giving a full effort."
And after Vanderpluym retired the Maroons in order in the second, the Lancers threatened to put the away in the bottom of the inning. The uprising started with two outs and a runner on when Quiozha Alexander and Brooke Laidley drew back-to-back walks after fouling off several pitches from Sisk.
Kramer and Belzer followed with two-run doubles and when Lindsey Mossman followed with an RBI single, East was in control with a 6-0 lead.
But West (11-5, 3-2) battled back. Keyed by a pair of costly Lancers errors, the Maroons closed to within 6-3 in the third inning on an RBI single by Glaeser, a run-scoring double by Emily Fulton and a RBI fielders choice by Alliyah St. John.
But the Lancers offensse kept rolling against Sisk who worked 4 1/3 innings before Bethany Dain took over on the mound.
“McKenzie (Sisk) struggled with her pitches today, but I thought (Bethany) Dain came in and did a good job in relief,’’ West coach Casey Garrett said. “We came into today playing pretty well. But its been a roller coaster type year up to this point. We’ll play for four or five games, then we’ll have a spell where we’ll play poorly for a couple of games.
“What I did like today is that we didn’t quit. We kept battling all day. There were a couple of calls on both sides that could have gone either way, but we gave ourselves a chance in the seventh inning. I was pleased with our effort.’’
Becca Dahm added a run scoring single in the bottom of the third inning as the Lancers lead grew to 7-3. But in the bottom of the fourth inning, East again came up with some clutch two out hits.
With one out, Belzer lined her third straight hit. Mossman then hit a pop-up which was caught and when Belzer wandered a little to far first base, she was apparantly doubled off.
But obstruction was ruled on the play and Belzer as ruled safe at first base. The call proved to be a big one as East went on to score three runs and take a 10-3 lead.
“We're coming up with more two-out hits,’’ Peters said. “The girls are relaxing more and they weren't doing that earlier in the season.’’