Edwardsville freshman phenom Drake Westcott blasted his eighth home run of the season and knocked home a pair of insurance runs an inning later to give the Tigers a 9-4 win over O’Fallon on Tuesday at Blazier Field.
The Tigers (21-5, 9-3) kept pace with Belleville West in the Southwestern Conference while simultaneously knocking the second-place Panthers (24-4, 8-2) two games back.
Tuesday’s victory and the stretch-run boost it gives his team was enough for Edwardsville coach Tim Funkhouser, though.
“We always want to play so that the last week matters in the conference, but we understand that we’re three games back right now,” said Funkhouser. “If we can get back into that situation where we can compete for conference, that’s great. Right now, our focus is to just keep playing better baseball and prepare for the postseason.”
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O’Fallon coach Jason Portz took the loss in stride as well.
“(Winning the conference) is important, but if you try to keep up but you don’t worry too much about that stuff,” Portz said. “If you’d have told me we’d come through our conference season with two losses, I’ve been around enough to know that wins the conference a lot of years.”
Westcott broke a 3-3 tie in the top of the fifth when he dropped a Hayden Juenger pitch over the left-center field wall to put the Tigers on top. O’Fallon responded in the the bottom half when Juenger scored on a ground out by Brayden Arnold.
But the breaks beat the Panthers in sixth.
Edwardsville catcher Dalton Wallace beat out an infield hit and scored on a single by Kade Burns, the Tigers’ starting pitcher, who helped himself with three hits and a pair of RBIs batting ninth.
With runners on second and third with one out, Portz intentionally walked Dylan Burris to load the bases and Juenger got Andrew Yancik to hit into a force out at the plate for the second out. But Westcott lined an off-speed pitch up the middle to drive home both Burns and Burris to make the score 7-4.
“On the home run I was looking for something away because they were pitching me outside all day. “ Westcott said. “(In the sixth) I was looking off-speed and was able to wait back on it and square it up. Hayden (Juenger) did a good job keeping our hitters off balance for the most part, I just got a couple of pitches I could hit.”
Edwardsville added a pair of insurance runs in the top of the seventh.
Juenger, who beat the Tigers on April 13, lasted 6 1/3 innings. He was charged with all nine Edwardsville runs on 13 hits and struck out four while walking four.
Burns pitched six full for the Tigers, allowing four earned runs on six hits. He struck out nine, walked two and hit one.
“He wasn’t as efficient with his pitches as he normally is and he wasn’t sharp early, but he came back and to keep us in the ballgame and give us a chance,” Funkhouser said of his starter. “He executed when it mattered.”
Edwardsville is at Belleville East at 4:30 p.m. Thursday. O’Fallon is at East St. Louis at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.