Mitchell Krebs finally did what no one else was able to do Tuesday at Tom Pile Field in Edwardsville — send everyone home.
Krebs roped a line drive over the right fielder’s head for a game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the 11th inning, giving Edwardsville a 2-1 Southwestern Conference baseball win over O’Fallon in a battle between the area’s top-ranked teams.
The left-handed Krebs got the hit off previously unbeaten O’Fallon lefty Bradley Harrison (4-1), who had just missed striking him out earlier in the at-bat.
“I’ve been fighting against these lefties,” said Krebs, hitless in his previous four at-bats. “I just tried staying on his curveball because I know he got me to roll over on my last at-bat against him. He almost got me on one, a close call.
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“I had a good feeling (the curve) was coming on that 3-2 pitch and I just stayed on it and got a good hit on it.”
Edwardsville coach Tim Funkhouser, whose team improved to 11-0 overall and 4-0 in league play, was impressed with Krebs’ performance.
“We had lefty-lefty (and) he had looked to bunt a couple times, which I thought was a good idea on his part, and didn’t get a pitch,” Funkhouser said. “He had rolled over three balls on the day, so for him to stay inside one and laser it there was good.”
A large crowd turned out for the game, which matched the top two teams in the News-Democrat Large-School Rankings. The game began in sunshine and finished under the lights as dominant pitching and defense limited the teams to a combined seven hits, four by Edwardsville.
O’Fallon (11-4, 3-1) took advantage of a hit and two errors to push across a run in the top of the first, then was held hitless for eight straight innings until Jacob Holl’s one-out single in the top of the 10th. Edwardsville also struggled at the plate, but tied it on a solo homer in the fourth by Aaron Jackson off of O’Fallon starter Chris Holba.
“That just shows you what kind of power he has,” Funkhouser said of Jackson, a Southern Illinois University Edwardsville recruit. “I didn’t even think it was a great swing. He got fooled, but he kept his hands back enough to still get enough barrel on it with the wind blowing in.
“He’s got good power, but I was still surprised it went out. That was a big at-bat for us.”
The Tigers failed to score early despite having a runner at third base in each of the first three innings.
With all the quality pitching and numerous elite defensive plays, this one had all the feel of a sectional championship. Each team threw their ace, with O’Fallon’s Holba taking on Edwardsville’s Daniel Lloyd.
Lloyd allowed one hit in six innings, with Jackson tossing four more scoreless innings and Jake Garella tossing the 11th.
“It was a hard-fought game from each team, just looking in the stands seeing all those people it makes you perform better,” Krebs said. “It’s always good playing O’Fallon, especially when we’re both pretty good this year.”
Edwardsville has outscored its opponents 114-16 and Lloyd, Jackson and Garella limited O’Fallon to three singles and one unearned run. The Tigers have held held eight of their 11 opponents to one or fewer.
“I think both teams knew going in it was going to be pretty hard to score runs with the pitchers out there and the wind blowing in,” Funkhouser said. “It was one of those games where we didn’t execute well at all; I think some of it was maybe getting caught up in the hype of the game or just trying to want to win so bad.
“I thought the pitching on both ends was outstanding. It wasn’t all just the wind blowing in, there were some great pitches made at big times and we were fortunate Mitchell came through with the big hit.”
Both teams turned in big defensive plays to save runs, extra-base hits or keep things tied.
In the fifth, O’Fallon second baseman Connor Breyer gunned down Krebs at the plate after handling a tough chance. Edwardsville first baseman Cole Hansel made a diving stop to rob Bradley Snyder of a potential double in the fifth and Breyer turned in another web gem with a diving catch of a hard liner by Fahd Shakeel with runners at first and second to end the eighth.
Garella escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the 10th when shortstop Jordan Hovey and Krebs combined to turn an inning-ending double play on a ball that rolled up Hovey’s arm.
“There were some plays out there,” O’Fallon coach Jason Portz said. “Our second baseman made a terrific play to save the game, Hovey has a ball run up his arm and turns a great 6-4-3 to save a run. Jackson made a couple plays to his left.
“We’re just trying to compete. It’s April 14th. We want to be able to play tough ballgames and put our kids in this type of environment to hopefully be ready for the next one —and be a litltle bit better for the next one.”