BELLEVILLE If trends matter, then the post season is starting at exactly the right time for the Belleville East softball team.
With their 9-3 win over Belleville West Thursday, the Lancers have won seven in a row and 16 of their last 17.
Their 22-9 record with three games left to be played seemed like an unlikelihood even five weeks ago when they first reached the .500 mark already 16 games into the season.
Yet they've worked their way near the top of the Southwestern Conference with just four seniors on the roster after having lost nine players from last season's 28-win regional championship team.
"I think the best thing about coaching a young team is that they are the ones who improve the most throughout the season," said head coach Natalie Peters. "It boils down to the work ethic of this team. They come to the field ready to play whether it's a practice or a game.
"In 11 years of coaching, they are certainly one of the hardest-working teams I've had the privilege of working with."
East has two scheduled games remaining before facing O'Fallon in the first round of a wide-open 4A regional that also includes West and Collinsville.
West's longest winning streak of the season has been five games. The good news for the Maroons, though, is that they have only once lost more than two in a row.
They still have a double header remaining in Marion Friday before opening the regional against Collinsville next Wednesday.
"Right now we have two games left to get to the top of the roller coaster," said West coach Casey Garrett. "I'd rather get this one out our system now than next week when we play Collinsville."
East spoiled senior day at West Thursday by jumping on top with four runs in the first inning and cruising to its 13th conference win.
Jessica Belzer and Tawnee Kramer started the game off with singles. Then Alex Boze and Amanda Dermody had RBI hits before Annie Eversman cleared the bases with a single down the third base line.
West scored an unearned run in the third, but the Lancers responded with one in the fourth on another RBI hit by Boze and three in the fifth. Belzer had a run-scoring hit and Rebecca Dahm plated another with a sacrifice fly.
Eversman scored East's final run of the game when she singled and scored on a hit by Belzer in the seventh.
"I think one of the things we did really well was getting the bunts down, moving those runners and we got some really timely two-out hits too," Peter said. "We didn't have those early in the year. That ability, I think, comes with experience and being a little more relaxed in the batter's box."
Junior Olivia Young slammed a home run high over the fence in right-center field to lead off the Maroons' half of the sixth inning. Left fielder Emily Fulton scored her second run of the game in the seventh with Young getting her second RBI on a ground out.
The Maroons stranded eight base runners and committed six errors during the game.
"I've never been a big fan of senior night because it's always a distraction before the game," Garrett said. "Tonight we had six errors. You can't blame that on senior night, but it could maybe be a cause of not being focused. We definitely didn't play our game today."
The Maroons got eight hits off East starter Angela Vanderplyum, who lasted the entire seven innings. She struck out three and walked none until one out in the seventh inning.
"Angie is not afraid to attack the strike zone and that's what we need from our pitchers," said Peters. "She did a great job keeping the ball down and letting the defense play behind her."
Bethany Dain started in the pitcher's circle for West and took the loss after just one inning of work. Isabella Holtrop finished the game for the Maroons.