Longtime Waterloo High coach Mark Vogel can’t remember the last time he’s experienced a Mississippi Valley Conference baseball race like the one staged by the league’s clubs this spring.
Despite dropping its first three MVC games, Civic Memorial nearly emerged as the league’s outright champ thanks to a late-season surge. The Eagles (17-14 overall, 7-3 in league play) won six straight conference games and had an eight-game winning streak before suffering a 10-9 upset loss to last-place Triad on Friday.
Triad’s victory — and only its second conference win this season against eight defeats — forced a three-way tie atop the final MVC baseball standings between Civic Memorial (6-4, 17-14), Highland (6-4, 20-9) and Waterloo (6-4, 19-10).
“We weren’t too far off from a four-way tie,” said Vogel, and his point is well taken.
Jerseyville (17-12) and Mascoutah (18-14) were 5-5 while an extremely young Triad team finished out of the race at 7-21 overall and 2-8 in the league.
“We joined the conference in 1998 and I’ve not seen this kind of parity,” Vogel said. “Usually there’s been some separation between teams as the year’s gone on, but not this year.”
Each team fought for the lead at various times, but the hyper-competitive clubs kept knocking each other off along the way to force a standings logjam.
While Civic Memorial won six of its final seven conference games, Waterloo dropped its last three, including an 8-7, eight-inning defeat to the Eagles.
Highland began the season 9-0 and won 15 of its first 16 games, then lost eight of nine before rebounding with a four-game win streak that included three MVC victories.
Mascoutah also tapered off a bit after a strong start, but the Indians are among several teams in the conference with legitimate hopes of winning a regional title.
Mascoutah is the No. 3 seed at the 3A Freeburg Regional behind top-seeded Freeburg and No. 2 seed Waterloo.
Civic Memorial is only the No. 3 seed at the 3A Jerseyville Regional, where the Eagles will battle top-seed and league rival Jerseyville along with MVC rival and No. 2 seed Highland, among others.
“There were some comebacks in games that made it a little more improbable,” Vogel said of the MVC’s wild and wacky spring. “Nobody was really, truly outstanding. There usually has been a team that had that stud pitcher and was just a quality team and this year nobody really stood out. Obviously that shows in the final records.”
Vogel said a year like this could produce an MVC squad capable of making a deep run in the playoffs.
“You’re always seeing somebody’s No. 1 and 2 and it always has a little bit of an extra feel to it,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that playing in this conference goes a long way to preparing all of us for playoff time. You never really got a break because we were all so even.
“We just picked the wrong time to go into a little bit of a hitting slump.”
MVC big bats
One Waterloo player not in a hitting slump is junior slugger Tyler McAlister, headed to Missouri State on a pitching scholarship. McAlister is among the top hitters in the St. Louis area with a .494 average that includes six doubles, seven home runs and 33 RBIs. Waterloo outfielder Ryan Aycock is hitting .451 with 18 RBIs.
Some of the other top hitters in the MVC include Mascoutah’s Jeff Hightower (.407, one homer, 26 RBIs) and Wyatt Elbe (.319, 15 doubles, five homers, 30 RBIs) and Highland’s Andrew Winning (.453, eight doubles, 17 RBIs) and Grant Geppert (.402, 25 RBIs).
Civic Memorial’s top run producers have been Devin Daniels (.354, nine doubles, 26 RBIs) and Caleb Buhs (.319, seven doubles, seven triples, 25 RBIs) along with Lukas Jones (.355, eight doubles, 12 RBIs).
Former area players excel
Former O’Fallon catcher Austin Bossart, now a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, was recently named Ivy League Co-Player of the Year along with being named first-team all-conference catcher for the second straight season.
Bossart shared the league’s Player of the Year honor with Columbia senior outfielder Gus Craig.
Bossart hit .358 with 13 doubles, four home runs and 27 RBIs. He also threw out 17 baserunners this season, including 10-of-17 trying to steal in Ivy League play.
He is only the fifth player in Penn history to win Ivy League Player of the Year and first since 2010. Penn was 22-16 overall and 16-4 in league play.
Former Belleville West infielder Kane Sweeney is headed down the stretch of what has been a solid career at Morehead State. The team is 35-20 overall and 20-10 in league play, its best conference record in years and a school-record for overall victories, heading into the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament this week.
The Millstadt resident and senior infielder is hitting .349 for the Eagles with 15 doubles 13 home runs and 56 RBIs in 55 games.
Built for speed
The metro-east is well represented in the St. Louis area stolen base leaders, with Columbia Eagles junior Cameron Touchette ahead of the pack with 37 this spring. Highland’s Will Greenwald has 34, followed by Carlyle’s Adam Alexander (28), Highland’s Cody Bentlage (25) and Althoff’s Sam Haudrich (23).
News-Democrat High School Baseball Rankings
Rankings for metro-east teams; voting by area coaches and News-Democrat staff. First-place votes are in parentheses, records through Sunday.
Large school rankings (Class 3A-4A)
Also receiving votes: Waterloo (19-10), Highland (20-9), Columbia (19-8), Mascoutah (18-14), Civic Memorial (17-14), Belleville West (11-17), Collinsville (15-13)
Small school rankings (Class 1A-2A)
Mater Dei (1)
Also receiving votes: Gibault (15-15), Valmeyer (16-16), Central (14-13), New Athens (14-13), Dupo (10-13)