The middle part of the week didn’t go well for the Belleville East baseball team, but the Lancers finished it with a flourish.
Senior Nick Martin hammered a three-run home run in the Lancers’ five-run third inning that powered them to a 10-4 victory over Highland on Saturday at Glik Park.
The win was the second in two days for East, which defeated Waterloo 5-3 in 10 innings Friday. The Lancers lost back-to-back games to Gibault and Edwardsville on Wednesday and Thursday.
“I’m really proud of the way the guys bounced back,” Lancers coach Todd Blomberg said. “We had two rough ones in the middle of the week, but we bounced back really well (Friday) night against Waterloo and won in extra innings, then came out here and competed very well and won against a very good Highland team.”
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Senior Mitch Harlan’s sacrifice fly pulled East into a 2-2 tie in the third, and Martin followed with his long drive to left-center against Griffin Welz that made it 5-2. The Lancers added another run in the inning on junior Patrick Gaul’s single that made it 6-2.
“I was looking for an off-speed (pitch), but he threw me a fastball, so I turned on it,” Martin said of his second home run of the season. “As soon as I hit it, I kind of thought to myself, ‘It’s going.’ It just felt good off the bat. Even if it wouldn’t have gone over, I still would have been OK with it.”
East’s pitching took over from there. Senior Brady Schanuel went the first three innings for the victory, allowing three runs (one earned) on three hits, with two walks and seven strikeouts.
Junior Alex Phillips took over in the fourth and subdued the Bulldogs (15-3) on one hit over three scoreless innings, which included no walks and four strikeouts. Sophomore left-hander Mike Lassman allowed two walks and an unearned run in the seventh in his varsity debut, but struck out the side.
The Lancers finished with 11 hits, with senior Sheldon Howard going 3-for-4 with three runs scored and junior Drew Millas going 2-for-3 with two runs scored.
Blomberg said Martin has been swinging the bat as well as anyone on the Lancers.
“Nick’s good for that,” Blomberg said of Martin’s power swing. “He can hit the ball in the gap. He’s been a really good hitter for us lately. He’s making really solid contact.
“Even his outs are hard-hit. He smoked a ball up the middle (today) that they turned a double play on. If you hit the ball hard, good things will happen most of the time.”
Highland trailed 1-0 in the first but stole three bases and scored two runs to take the early lead. Very little went right for the Bulldogs from that point.
“We got beat by a better team today,” said Bulldogs coach Joel Hawkins, whose team also lost to Alton on Friday. “When you get Southwestern Conference (opponents), you’re obviously working against groups that are used to seeing upper-level pitching. This year, especially, I think the pitching in that league is really good.
“We saw their guy (Schanuel). He has a great fastball and breaking pitch. I was really proud of our kids, because I think we made him throw 71 pitches in three innings. Great at-bats. Then (Phillips) came in and threw strikes. The kid came in and did what you need to do. He didn’t put anybody on base and he was quick to the plate.”
Even though Highland only had four hits, all of them singles, Hawkins was particularly disappointed in the Bulldogs’ defense, which committed five errors.
“We certainly didn’t play any defense today,” he said. “They played a lot better defense. When you get to the end of a game against a good team, that’s what you’ll see: ‘OK, who played better defense?’ Well, they did. And (Friday) night, we lost because we didn’t play defense. We like to think of (defense) as a strength. It hasn’t been the last two days.”
East put the game out of reach with a three-run fourth against reliever Sam Green, as its lead grew to 9-3. One run scored on a throwing error before Schanuel and Harlan had RBI singles.
Both East and Highland also were supposed to play Carbondale. But the Terriers did not make the trip because of a discouraging weather forecast.
The Lancers-Bulldogs game began at 10 a.m. and was played uninterrupted, but rain began falling about an hour after the game ended.
“We had a hard time telling Carbondale to come up, with the volatility of the weather,” Hawkins said. “We decided it would be better if maybe we can play them down the road. We would have liked to play all the games, but I’m glad we played (one).
“We’ll see how our kids respond. We’re junior-dominated. I’m curious to see how those kids do now that they’ve been hit in the mouth.”