The ace of the Belleville East Lancers pitching staff, senior Ryan Culley, came up big once again Thursday against city rival Belleville West. But this time, it was with a bat in his hands.
Culley broke a 3-3 tie in the sixth inning with a run-scoring single off West reliever Caleb Harsin, as the Lancers went on for a 6-3 win in a Southwestern Conference game.
Settling down after allowing three runs in the first two innings, West starting pitcher Joey Kossina had retired nine of 10 East batters he had faced entering the bottom of the sixth inning. But after striking out leadoff hitter Hunter Davis, Kossina walked two of the next three hitters to put runners on first and second.
With Kossina right at 105 pitches, West coach Todd Baltz took out his southpaw in favor of Harsin, who after falling behind in the count 1-0, allowed Culley's game-winning single. Two batters later, freshman Drew Gray drove in a pair of insurance runs with a single to make it 6-3.
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Junior Ben Cruikshank then pitched a scoreless seventh inning for East, which at 5-1 remains 1 1/2 games behind O'Fallon (7-0) in the SWC. East, which saw its three-game winning streak end with a 5-2 loss at Gibault, is 11-6 for the season.
The win is also the Lancers' second in five days over their city rivals. East defeated West 11-6 on Sunday in a game played at Busch Stadium. The two teams will play for the third time in nine days when East travels to West on Tuesday.
"The game on Sunday was more like an exhibition game where everybody gets a chance to play. Nevertheless, it's nice to get a second win over the city rivals and one (that) counts in the SWC," Lancers coach Ryan Wiggs said. "Right now, we're just looking to be more consistent with our play.
"We've had games where we play very well when we beat Edwardsville last week. Then last night we struggled and didn't play well against Gibault. If there is one thing we need to work on, it's out consistency."
Inconsistent play has also been a problem for West (6-12, 2-5). East, taking advantage of a Maroons mental lapse in the first inning, grabbed a 2-0 lead on a two-run double Hunter Davis. A run-scoring single by Drew Gray in the second inning increased the lead to 3-0. Kossina held the Lancers in check for the next three innings, but the damage had been done.
"This kind of game has kind of been the story of our year. When we get good pitching like tonight, our hitting and defense lets us down; and in games when we score runs, our pitching isn't as strong. I thought Joey (Kossina) pitched very well tonight," West coach Todd Baltz said. "But tonight in the first inning, we give them an extra out when we don't cover first base on a sacrifice bunt.
"If we make that play, it's maybe 1-0, and it could have been a whole different ballgame."
Culley, who struggled with his control, still had seven strikeouts through the first three innings. But the Maroons tallied three times in the top of the third inning to tie the score.
With one out, Will Lanxon singled and scored the Maroons' first run when Kossina laced a triple. West scored its other two runs when Culley issued bases-loaded walks to Nick Cortese and Grant Engel.