Prep Baseball & Softball

East coach believes his team can succeed in baseball postseason

Belleville East junior Austin Hitt, right, is one of three Lancers players batting .314 this season.
Belleville East junior Austin Hitt, right, is one of three Lancers players batting .314 this season. News-Democrat file photo

It hasn’t been a season to remember for Belleville East, but second-year coach Ryan Wiggs still believes the Lancers are capable of making some noise in the Class 4A playoffs.

The Lancers, who are 11-14 overall and 3-7 in the Southwestern Conference, have been compromised by an elbow injury to senior Cody Freppon and an offense that hasn’t always fired. But they’ve built momentum with four victories in their last six games, the only blemishes coming against Alton and conference leader Belleville West.

“We would like to have some more wins, but at this point in time, it’s really about putting yourself in the best position to end the season strong and try to make a playoff push,” Wiggs said. “We have really good senior leadership. They’re persistent and have a no-quit kind of attitude. The younger kids are following that, which has been great.”

Like most coaches, Wiggs is seeking consistency.

“At the beginning of the season, we were pitching well and playing good defense,” he said. “We’ve actually started to hit a little bit recently. (But) in a couple of games, our defense has let us down. We always talk about the three facets: pitching, defense and hitting. We need to get all three of them going at the same time.”

Freppon, senior Evan Lawrence and junior left-handers Ryan Culley and Ben Cruikshank were expected to give the Lancers a pool of solid starters. But Freppon, who had a 1.70 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 57 2/3 innings as a junior, has been limited to 18 1/3 innings this season.

“Freppon was our best pitcher last year; he was second-team all conference,” Wiggs said. “He pitched the first game against West in his second start of the season. He fielded a bunt and threw it to first and he strained something. He was in a sling for a while and it seemed like he was better. But then last week, he started against O’Fallon and he wasn’t even close to who he usually is. He’s going to take a break for a while and see if he can get healthy.”

Lawrence (4-2, 1.93 ERA), also a catcher, threw 6 1/3 shutout innings against Althoff on Friday and had a key three-run double. Culley (3-1, 1.75 ERA), who pitched just one inning last season, has been effective in most games and has only lost to SWC leader West. Cruikshank, a Missouri State recruit, is winless but has a 3.35 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 37 2/3 innings.

The Lancers’ leading hitters are senior first baseman Jordan Phillips (.314, six RBIs, .448 on-base percentage) and sophomore shortstop Zechariah Georgian (.314, 11 RBIs, .478 OBP).

“A staple in our lineup has been Jordan Phillips,” Wiggs said. “He’s been our No. 3 hitter from the get-go. We can always count on him to have four good at-bats a game. He’s really doing some great things after being mostly a JV player last year. He’s moved to first base and done an excellent job (defensively). He’s been our rock.

“(Georgian) gets on base a lot, too. He’s a smaller guy with a small strike zone, so sometimes he’s hard to throw to.”

Junior outfielder Austin Hitt also owns a .314 average, and Lawrence leads the team in RBIs with 12. Wiggs also credited seniors Trevor Sanchez and Braxton Chandler for providing leadership for a team that has 11 underclassmen.

“We could be a dangerous team in the playoffs,” Wiggs said. “I think our guys believe that. A lot of teams that are under .500 can’t wait for the season to get over with. It’s like, ‘Let’s just get through this.’ But our guys don’t have that attitude, which is nice to see.”

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