While there was plenty of good pitching on both sides Tuesday, a five-run first inning proved to be the difference for the Belleville West Maroons.
West senior left-hander Jack Lanxon allowed three hits and struck out 10 in a complete-game performance as the Maroons knocked off Belleville East 8-2 in the Southwestern Conference baseball opener for both teams.
“If you could do that every time it would be nice,” Belleville West coach Todd Baltz said of the emotional five-run first. “We came out with a good approach and we jumped on it early. That certainly made things a little bit easier, but if you look at the scoreboard there’s a lot of zeros sandwiched in there.
“You’ve got to keep your foot on the gas and don’t get complacent or be happy with just one good inning.”
Belleville West improved to 4-4 while Belleville East, which lost an 18-inning thriller to West in the regional last spring, dropped to 3-4. The game was scheduled to be played at West, but soggy field conditions caused it to be moved across town.
“We’re not satisfied with one (conference) win,” Baltz said “We’re back to .500, but that’s not our goal. Our goal is to be way better than that and finish near the top of the conference. This is just one step in that direction. “
Following a single to lead off the game by West’s Will Lanxon, an error by East shortstop Austin Hitt on a potential double-play ball was followed by a walk to load the bases by Lancers’ starting pitcher Cody Freppon.
West junior center fielder Nick Westerheide smacked a two-run double to left and Ty Shylanski followed with an RBI single. A dropped fly ball by center fielder Ryan Mead led to more trouble as Buddy Gores sacrifice fly made it 5-0 in the first.
“The ball sounds different coming off his bat,” Baltz said of Westerheide, hitting .385 with eight RBIs in eight games. “I don’t know what it is, but that’s why he’s in the middle of the order. He’s got a long way to go and a lot to learn about approach and different things like that, but he’s seeing it pretty well right now.”
Westerheide thought he might get something to hit with the bases loaded.
“I was just trying to hit a ball hard and put in play,” he said. “Luckily it found the gap.”
East made three errors, all of which aided big West innings. Freppon’s throwing error allowed two runs to score during the three-run seventh.
Freppon, signed with Southwestern Illinois College, allowed only one hit from the second inning through the sixth and finished with eight strikeouts.
“I thought Cody pitched really, really well after that first inning,” East coach Ryan Wiggs said. “We made a couple mistakes behind him; after he settled in he pitched a lot better. It’s easy to kind of get down and say ‘Man, things aren’t going my way’ but he didn’t do that. He battled back and pitched well for us.
“We have to play better defense behind him, there’s no question about that.”
Westerheide had a double and three RBIs for West while Lanxon’s work on the mound was exemplary.
“I knew when I was warming up my arm felt pretty good,” Lanxon said. “I knew all I had to do was come out and throw strikes.”
Trevor Sanchez drove in both runs for Belleville East on RBI groundouts.