Prep Baseball & Softball

Edwardsville unbeaten despite loss of star catcher

Despite the loss of one of the area’s top players, the Edwardsville Tigers are spending no time moping over what might have been.

It would be easy to do so after senior all-state catcher and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville recruit Brock Weimer was lost for the season after recently undergoing knee surgery to repair meniscus damage. He hit .430 last spring, tied for the team lead with five homers and had a team-high 33 RBIs.

Instead, the Tigers — ranked first in the News-Democrat Large-School Poll — are 10-0 and showing no signs of slowing down headed into Tuesday’s Southwestern Conference showdown against second-ranked O’Fallon (11-3) at Edwardsville.

“He’s been upbeat and positive,” Edwardsville coach Tim Funkhouser said of Weimer, hitting .462 with three homers and nine RBIs in his first 13 at-bats this season. “I’m sure it’s a hard thing to go through for him right now, but he’s handling it well. We didn’t have any time to sulk, we got back to work and it was fun to see the success.

“Our balance in the lineup has been key. The guys up and down the lineup have been tough outs and the pitching has been outstanding.”

Funkhouser compared the loss of Weimer to another tough injury for the Tigers several years ago, when then-Arkansas recruit Shaun Seibert was injured during his senior year.

“He was such a strong contributor on the field to our team,” Funkhouser said of Weimer. “It was what he did for the presence of our pitchers and for the whole club with him in the lineup.”

Funkhouser has named Weimer an unofficial assistant hitting coach and is encouraging both his input and ability to fire up his teammates.

“I think he’ll feel more comfortable with that as we move on,” Funkhouser said. “Whatever it is, he’ll add insight and having him in the dugout commands a lot of respect, so that’s a positive.”

Edwardsville pitching has limited opponents to one run or fewer in seven of the 10 wins.

Senior ace and Parkland College recruit Daniel Lloyd (3-0) has not surrendered a run in nine innings while striking out 17. SIUE recruit Aaron Jackson is also 3-0, allowing only one run in 14 innings with 12 strikeouts.

Juniors Trey Riley (2-0) and Jake Garella (two saves, 1.62 ERA) also have pitched well.

Among the offensive leaders have been senior outfielder Collin Clayton (.586, one homer, 14 RBIs), sophomore outfielder and leadoff man Dylan Burris (.500, 12 RBIs) and senior outfielder Matthew Zielonko (.440, one homer, 11 RBIs).

Funkhouser is also impressed by the major jump made by Zielonko from his junior year to now.

“He’s been a big run producer for us and has been a solid bat” Funkhouser said. “He’s provided a lot of pop in our lineup. He’s strong, but he’s more flexible this year and has a better feel for his swing. That’s fun to see when a guy works as hard as he does and is rewarded with some success.”

Joe Wallace, the son of former Granite City, Oklahoma State and St. Louis Cardinals minor-league catcher Joe Wallace, has taken over for Weimer behind the plate.

“He’s done very well for us,” Funkhouser said. “He’ll continue to get better in all facets and he’s a very solid catcher.”

Columbia Eagles flying high

Solid pitching and timely hitting are recent trends for the Columbia Eagles (7-2), who rode a one-hitter by senior Brendan Wilhelm to a 7-1 win over Monroe County rival Gibault on Friday at GCS Ballpark in Sauget.

A third-inning single by Chandler Purcell accounted for the lone Gibault hit as Wilhelm struck out nine.

“It was nice to see him bounce back and throw well again,” Columbia coach Keith Jany said of Wilhelm, who struck out 10 on a four-hitter in his previous outing against Wood River. “It’s a rivalry game (with Gibault) and the kids get ramped up with playing at GCS, so it was nice to see him throw well.”

Junior center fielder Cameron Touchette has been an early offensive catalyst for the Eagles. He was hitting .692 (18-for-26) before Monday with one double, two homers and six RBIs, also scoring 13 runs and stealing 13 bases in nine games.

“I’ve been telling people for a while now I think he could be one of the best players I’ve been able to coach at Columbia,” Jany said. “He’s got all the tools and he’s a great player. It doesn’t surprise me one bit what he’s doing because I know he’s that good.”

Jany said Touchette compares favorably to recent Columbia star and former News-Democrat Player of the Year Bryce Bastien, now playing for Kentucky.

“There’s so many similarities,” Jany said. “They’re both left-handed and they’ve got a lot of speed coming out of the box.”