Two key hits in the late innings and the pitching of senior Kade Burns extended the Edwardsville Tigers’ postseason run Wednesday.
Senior Daniel Reed had a two-out, two-run single in the sixth, and senior Joel Quirin added a two-run single in the seventh to back Burns’ sterling 6 2/3 innings, as the Tigers outscored O’Fallon 6-2 in the semifinals of the Class 4A Normal Sectional at Woodland Park.
Burns, a right-hander, allowed two runs (one earned) on three hits, walked three and struck out eight before senior Andrew Frank secured the final out.
“I kind of made adjustments throughout the game,” said Burns (8-1), who spotted the Panthers a 1-0 lead in the first. “I figured the mound out a little bit. It was a little different than what I’m used to pitching on. I switched from throwing off the windup to throwing off the stretch the whole game. That seemed to work. It was a fun game to pitch in.”
Edwardsville (31-7) will play Normal West (22-14) in the championship game at 11 a.m. Saturday at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington. Normal West defeated Moline 4-0 in the other semifinal Wednesday.
Edwardsville coach Tim Funkhouser cringed when he had to relieve Burns after Burns reached his 105-pitch limit with just one out remaining.
“He’s done a great job for us this year, but boy, he was really sharp,” Funkhouser said. “After the first inning, he really started making his pitches. His breaking pitch spins so well, and when he locates it the way he does, I don’t know how you’re going to hit that.
“I told our guys, ‘I’m glad I’m coaching and not playing because I wouldn’t have done anything with those pitches if I would have touched them.’ He’s just a great competitor. He kept his poise. You give Burns even more credit because that’s a tough lineup.”
O’Fallon finished 32-6.
“Early, he didn’t have great command of his breaking ball,” Panthers coach Jason Portz said of Burns. “As the game progressed, he was able to gather his command, and he was a whole lot tougher after the third inning. He really settled in, and he was good. We didn’t give ourselves a whole lot of opportunities offensively.
“Credit Edwardsville. I don’t think we played poorly, by any means. They were just very opportunistic. We weren’t quite as opportunistic as you need to be in the postseason.”
A walk to sophomore Josh Gibson led to an RBI single by junior Brayden Arnold that put O’Fallon ahead 1-0 in the first. Edwardsville, however, took the lead for good in the third on freshman Drake Westcott’s RBI single against Arnold and a double-play grounder by Quirin.
Reed’s bases-loaded two-run single against junior reliever Hayden Juenger’s increased the margin to 4-1 in the sixth. O’Fallon got within 4-2 with an unearned run in the sixth that scored on Arnold’s double past third. The Tigers made it 6-2 in the seventh on Quirin’s two-run single against junior Jaysn Miller.
“I saw a new pitcher was coming in,” Reed said of his at-bat against Juenger. “I was just like, ‘It’s another AB.’ I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I got in there, and the ball was running in on me a little bit. I was looking fastball. I ended up getting it and putting it back up the middle.”
Arnold (8-1) allowed four runs (all earned) on five hits in 5 2/3 innings, with four walks and four strikeouts.
Westcott, Quirin and Burns had two hits apiece for the Tigers. Senior Will Messer made a sensational running catch in left field to end the Panthers’ fifth when the Edwardsville lead still was only 2-1.