With an 11-game winning streak to start the season, the Belleville Hilgards are rolling.
Things don’t always come together this easily for American Legion baseball teams, which many times are molded together with talent from one or more high schools along with college players.
The Hilgards typically mix players from Althoff, Belleville West and colleges.
“The hardest thing with it is you just want to get everybody together and get them comfortable with each other,” Belleville manager Zach Rakowski said. “We’ve been fortunate to be able to get off to a good start. Althoff made a pretty deep playoff run so we were waiting for those guys, but the other guys on the team did a good job of keeping it moving and doing the things we need to do to be successful.”
Belleville built a 6-0 lead against rival Swansea-Fairview Heights on Thursday and held on to win 6-5, then opened play at the Greenville College Classic with an 8-0, five-inning win over Vandalia on a two-hit shutout by Wyatt Parker. The Hilgards also knocked off Macon County 9-1.
Rakowski has already used 11 pitchers in the early going, an area that should be a strength for the Hilgards. Belleville was 31-10 last season and lost to Swansea-Fairview Heights in the district playoffs.
“We’ve pitched really well,” Rakowski said. “We haven’t walked many guys and the pitchers are pounding the strike zone. We’ve also played really good defense and have made good decisions as far as where to go with the ball.”
Returning starters from 2014 include Sam Haudrich (Althoff) in center, Matt Klosterman (Belleville West) at pitcher and shortstop, pitcher-infielder Austin Keen (Althoff), outfielder John Dozier (Belleville West, Lewis & Clark College), Luke Frazier (Althoff) at second base, pitcher-designated hitter Parker Beine (Belleville West, Jefferson College) and Josh Davinroy (Althoff).
Beine is dealing with a shoulder injury, so the top of the pitching rotation for now includes Klosterman (2-0, 3.85 ERA) and Keen, followed by Kossina, Luke Vallandingham (2-0, 3.00 ERA) and Davinroy with Luke Glaeser, Parker (2-0, 0.00 ERA) and Matt Sisk in relief. Cole Hensel, a sophomore at Vianney High in St. Louis who lives in Millstadt, is also in the pitching mix.
The offense should be solid in a wood-bat league thanks to a lot of team speed and contact hitters.
“We’ve done a good job of putting the ball in play and moving runners,” Rakowski said. “We have a fast team, so we’ve been able to use our speed to take advantage of other team’s mistakes.”
Haudrich (.433, nine RBIs through nine games), who bats leadoff, is off to a quick start along with Beine (.400), Dozier (.385, 11 RBIs), Klosterman (.348, eight RBIs), outfielder Stephen Toenjes (.333, three RBIs) and third baseman Spencer Piquard (.316).
Kossina will see time at catcher along with Andrew Konya and also will pitch and play shortstop while Glaeser pitches and plays outfield. Althoff players Casey Arnold and Jake Frazier are also battling for playing time.
Rakowski said American Legion District 22 is down to five teams this season: Belleville, Swansea-Fairview Heights, the Metro-East Bears (a combination of players from Bethalto, Edwardsville, Alton and Roxana), Highland and East St. Louis. Teams that did not return this season were Smithton, Collinsville and Troy.
A District 22 team has won the Fifth Division championship in each of the last 10 years.
Belleville Hilgards Remaining Schedule
(all home games at Whitey Herzog Field in Belleville; for schedule updates visit BellevilleHilgards.com)
June 13 - TBA at Greenville High School, 2:30 p.m.
June 13 - TBA at Greenville High School, 4:45 p.m.
June 14 - at Greenville College, TBA
June 16 - at East St. Louis, 7 p.m.
June 18-20 - at Battle of Omaha
June 25 - Metro-East Bears, 7:30 p.m.
June 27 - Union, Mo. (DH), 2 p.m.
June 28 - at New Baden (DH), 1 p.m.
June 29 - Aviston, 7 p.m.
July 1 - at Highland, 7:30 p.m.
July 3-5 - Firecracker Classic
July 6 - Pinckneyville (DH), 6 p.m.
July 7 - Festus, Mo. - 7 p.m.
July 8 - Swansea-Fairview Heights, 7:30 p.m.
July 9 - at Creve Couer, Mo. - 5:30 p.m.