Big hits, kicks and jumps
You might think a walk-off home run in a postseason game might be tough to top.
For Belleville West pitcher Will Lanxon, whose two-run homer walked off a semifinal victory over Granite City Thursday, outlasting the opposing team’s cleanup hitter in an 11-pitch battle provided him another thrill he’ll long remember.
It also helped provide the Maroons a 6-4 win over O’Fallon in Saturday’s championship game of the Class 4A Granite City Regional at Babe Champion Field.
Lanxon’s dug out of a fourth-inning jam to protect Belleville West’s tenuous two-run lead. The highlight of the inning was the memorable matchup against O’Fallon clean-up hitter Kyle Becker with two outs and the bases loaded.
The two battled for 11 pitches until Becker lofted a long fly ball to right field.
“I knew that at bat was going to play a big role in this game,” said Lanxon, a senior who exited after that fourth inning but still improved to 4-0 on the season. “I pretty much threw him everything and I think the last four pitches were fastballs.
“He finally put a fastball in play and our fielder made a great catch.”
Right fielder Armond Milton initially slipped giving chase after Becker’s fly ball, but steadied himself in time to make the catch.,
“My heart kind of stopped, to be honest,” Lanxon said, “but I don’t think he’s made an error all season, so I wasn’t that worried.”
What was the bigger thrill, the big home run or the big out?
“It has to be that out because this regional title means so much more than that home run,” said Lanxon.
With the win, West (27-7) advances into the Bloomington Sectional where it will play Southwestern Conference champion Edwardsville (32-5) at 4 p.m. Wednesday at a metro-east site to be determined.
The top-seeded Tigers advanced with an 8-1 win over Alton in the championship game of the Alton Regional. Edwardsville and West split their two regular-season meetings.
Josh Gibson hit a two-run homer off Lanxon in the top of the first inning and a Logan Lowery RBI single in the second helped stake O’Fallon to an early 3-0 lead.
A solo homer from J.B. Bierman off O’Fallon starting pitcher Ben Koenig in the bottom of the second got the Maroons on the board.
They then took the lead with a four-run third. Ben Stedman tied it with a two-run single. Collin Shea followed with another single to put West in front.
The inning’s fourth run scored on a wild pitch.
An error and two more wild pitches led to an insurance run for West in the fourth.
O’Fallon did make it interesting in the seventh.
Luke Trapp, who retired six in a row after replacing Lanxon in the fifth, hit Gibson with a pitch to open the inning.
A balk moved Gibson to second and he scored on a single from Wes Collins, making it 6-4.
However, Trapp got Becker to hit a hard grounder to third baseman Ryan Loeffler to start a double play that essentially sealed the win for West.
“I threw an inside pitch there and he took it to third,” said Trapp. “and when I saw that, I had faith my guys would turn it.”
Trapp struck out the Panthers’ Cody Bauer to end it.
The regional title is the first for the Maroons since 2016 and their second under coach Todd Baltz.
“We’ve talked about this a lot, we wanted to come out and play our best game,” said Baltz. “I’m still not sure we’ve played our best game yet. We had an error and we pitched good enough to win. I still think there is more in the tank. I just hope we can find that stride moving forward.”
With the loss, O’Fallon bows out at 25-9.
First-year coach Joe Bauer could not have been prouder of his team.
The 2019 edition of the Panthers were a young team having graduated most of the players from a 2018 squad which had gone 35-4-1 and reached the super-sectional. Long-time O’Fallon coach Jason Portz also resigned in the fall.
“When we took over, nobody gave us a chance, but our seniors had a great year and our underclassmen once they got their feet under them did some things,” Bauer said. “If you asked anyone at the beginning of the year would they imagine us getting here, I am guessing few of them would.That’s a credit to our kids”
Bauer did not coach his team Saturday after being ejected from the Panthers’ 3-0 win over Collinsville in a regional semifinal.
Scott Seipp ran the Panthers from the dugout against West. But Bauer spoke for the coaching staff afterward.