In a single-elimination situation such as a regional quarterfinal game, conventional baseball strategy says to throw your best pitcher. There is, as they say, no tomorrow.
But by virtue of his surprising 2.13 earned run average in six games pitched, Belleville West junior Cal Kossina earned the chance to lead the Maroons to the semifinal round.
Kossina paid back that trust with a near-perfect performance in a 5-0 West win over Granite City. He allowed a single to the game's first batter, but the only other Granite City batter to reach base had to rely on a slow roller and an error.
"That's what he's been doing lately, which is why he got the start today," said Belleville West head coach Todd Baltz. "We took a calculated risk in starting Cal, because you normally would go with your No. 1. You know he didn't figure into the pitching plans early, but he kind of came out of the woodwork. He certainly earned the right to pitch this game."
The junior struck out five Granite City batters, including a stretch of four-of-five across the fifth and sixth innings.
"I used my curve ball a lot to get them to chase out of the zone," Kossina said. "It also helped them hit a lot of ground balls and they popped out a lot on the curve ball as well."
The win advances the Maroons to the Granite City Class 4A Regional semifinal round against top-seeded O'Fallon. It also improved their record to 17-17, which is a long way off from their 4-14 start.
West has won six games in a row.
"They are all going to be tight games from here on out," Baltz said. "It's all going to be about who gets the sacrifice down, who moves the runners into scoring position, and who is going to get that two-out hit."
That's precisely the kind of offense West displayed against Granite City starter Sam Watson, who allowed three runs in four innings pitched. All of the Maroons runs were scored with two-out hits.
Catcher Jacob Wilson broke the scoreless tie in the bottom of the third with a single on an 0-2 count to score Kossina, who had walked, from second base.
Kossina helped himself in the fourth with a two-out single to score Luke Glaeser, who led off the inning with a double, and Wyatt Parker, who was hit by a pitch.
The Maroons added a pair of insurance runs in the fifth off Granite City reliever Stevie Hartline.
Senior Matt Klosterman led off with a single, followed by a walk to Glaeser. Sophomore Jack Lanxon advanced both runners with a sacrifice bunt and Parker doubled them home, again with two out.
"Sam threw a heck of a game. He blanked them for three innings," said Granite City coach Scott Smallie. "But, as has been the case for us all season, we hit one toward the gap and they ran it down, they hit one and it lands in front of us. Pretty soon we're down a run and our heads are hanging, then it's two runs and our heads are really down. All of the sudden it was 5-0 and it was done — we weren't going to get five off of (Kossina) today."
Senior Bruce Drennan had Granite City's only hit, a first-inning, lead-off single into left field.
Kossina's performance Monday allows the Maroons to match Klosterman against O'Fallon and, likely, senior ace Chris Holba. The game begins at 4 p.m. The winner will advance to the regional championship game between either Belleville East or Collinsville, who play the other semifinal game at 6:30 p.m.
Both pitchers rate among the best in a pitching-rich Southwestern Conference.
Klosterman ran into some tough luck earlier in the season, losing four games in which he allowed two runs are less. Still he has a 1.75 earned run average through 60 innings pitched.
Holba is 6-2 with a .69 ERA and 94 strikeouts through 71 innings pitched.
"I feel real good (about Wednesday's semifinal game) because we've got our ace going against O'Fallon and they'll probably throw Holba at us," Kossina said. "It'll be a good game, whoever wins will probably win by one run."