Belleville East senior Ben Cruikshank talks about game against West
Faced with an 8-3 deficit after three innings on a cool and breezy Wednesday afternoon, Belleville East went to work instead of fading away.
Senior Ben Cruikshank struggled on the mound, failing to complete two innings. But the Missouri State recruit contributed a double, two triples and three runs scored as the Lancers overcame the five-run deficit to defeat host Belleville West 11-9.
The Southwestern Conference game had been rained out on three previous occasions, including Monday and Tuesday.
"We don't stop fighting," Cruikshank said. "We keep grinding it out until we come out on top. We had energy the whole game. This will help (Thursday) against Collinsville. They're right behind us, so it should be a little boost."
The Lancers (14-6, 6-1) took the lead for good with a four-run sixth against Maroons junior Caleb Harsin. Junior Dillon Donjon's RBI single put East ahead 10-9, and freshman Drew Gray, an Arkansas recruit, followed with a run-scoring triple.
Junior Evan Gray, Drew's brother, threw two scoreless innings for the save. Senior Austin Hitt, who relieved Cruikshank in the second, allowed one run in 3 1/3 innings and earned the win.
"East-West games are always big games," Lancers coach Ryan Wiggs said. "I'm proud that we came back and scored some runs. We got some big hits up and down the lineup."
The game had 19 hits, 16 walks, three hit by pitches and five errors.
"You would like to think you're sitting pretty, (ahead) 8-3," West coach Todd Baltz said. "But you know they're going to come back, so you've got to keep playing. You've got to keep throwing strikes, you've got to keep making plays. We weren't able to do that."
The Maroons, who scored two in the first and six in the second, fell to 6-13 and 2-6.
Senior Tyler Adams had two doubles and five RBIs for West, all in the first two innings. Sophomore Colin Shea and senior Nick Westerheide had two hits apiece, and junior Will Lanxon had two walks, a single, one RBI and three runs scored.
West, however, was 2-for-19 at the plate in the last five innings.
Hitt, who started in center field, was the unsung hero of the game as he throttled West and enabled the Lancers to rally. He also had two hits, two RBIs and reached base four times.
"He came in and stopped the bleeding," Wiggs said. "He's a one-inning guy for us, so for us to extend him three innings ... Every inning, (we asked), 'How's your arm? How's your arm?' (He said), 'I'm fine, I'm fine.' So for him to come in like and stop the bleeding was huge."
Senior Hunter Davis had three RBIs for the Lancers. Junior Gage Cruz reached base four times and sophomore pinch-hitter Sam McAnulty had a key RBI single in a four-run fourth that brought East within 8-7.
Senior Hunter Grupe started on the mound for West. He lasted three innings, allowed three runs (earned) on three hits, walked six and struck out five.
Cruikshank allowed eight of the Maroons' runs, six of them earned. He walked two and fanned four.